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Ex-U.S. figure skating star Harding says she'll miss Southwest Georgia

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- During her visit to Southwest Georgia this week, former U.S. Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding did it all.

She hunted. She fished. She raced cars. She greeted fans. And she even got her nails done.

"People are just so awesome here in South Georgia," Harding said Friday during her appearance at the U.S. 19 Dragway in Albany. "You really get that southern hospitality here. I enjoyed this last week so much."

Harding flew into town late Monday night for an appearance Friday at the Dragway, where she was scheduled to take part in a series of drag races and compete against local racing fans on the go-kart track. But thanks to the rain, the drag races against local female racer, Sheryl Giles, had to be cut a little short, while the go-kart races was canceled altogether.

In the drag-strip showdowns they were able to get in Friday, the racing between Harding and Giles went back and forth with Harding winning the finale by finishing the 1/8-mile strip in 11.34 seconds at 64 MPH -- just ahead of Giles, who ran it in 11.35 at 63 MPH.

"I was nervous at first not knowing the car," said Harding, who regularly races her 1931 hard-body A-coupe, nicknamed "Lickity Split," on the world famous Salt Flats in Bonneville, Utah. "But once I got going, it was so exciting. I had a blast."

Giles said afterward it was just an "honor and delight" to spend time with Harding this week -- and then cap it with their series of races Friday.

"She's just a great person and a joy to be around," Giles said. "We spent time together all week doing all kinds of things and she even took me and my niece to get our nails done (before our race). Racing her was a challenge, but at the finish line it was all hugs and kisses."

Racing, however, was only part of Harding's agenda this past week. She also returned to Ken's Fish Hatchery -- where she caught her state record catfish a year ago -- and reeled in another monster, this one falling two inches shy of her own record. Harding also said she shot two hogs during a mid-week hunting trip.

"From fishing, to hunting, to racing and figure skating -- she did it all this week," said U.S. 19 Dragway owner and manager, Tim Pafford, who arranged this week's activities for Harding after the two first met last year during an event in Douglas. "She's something else."

Harding returned to the Dragway on Sunday for the WJIZ Car & Bike show, where she raced in a car called, "Smokin' Gun." The car's name is a play off the TV show she currently is a contributor for, "The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest ...", which broadcasts home video clips of people involved in a variety of shenanigans.

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Herald freelancer Shane Lee and sports editor Danny Aller contributed to this report