Entertainment

Water-skiing squirrel turns novelty act into mission

Charlotte Motor Speedway

A resume that includes Brad Paisley’s “River Bank” video, television commercials, the films “Anchorman” and “Dodgeball,” and appearances on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “Good Morning America” would make any performer look good on paper.

But you should see Twiggy in the flesh. The water-skiing squirrel – who’s been delighting crowds at boat shows and auto fairs and making sporadic appearances in film and television for almost 40 years – is returning to the Pennzoil Auto Fair at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where she’ll hop on her skis for three shows on Friday and Saturday.

It all started in 1978, when Chuck Best bought his daughter a remote-control boat for her birthday. When he ended up playing with it more than she did, he joked that he’d really bought it to train the family’s rescue squirrel to water ski.

Sounds ludicrous, but Best followed through. (He’d already taught two French poodles how to coast behind a boat and later taught miniature horses, a black cat, and an armadillo.)

Almost 40 years and eight Twiggys later, Best’s widow LouAnn Best and two of the couple’s children continue to grow the family business.

The journey hasn’t all been a bag of nuts, though. After her husband drowned rescuing his stepfather in 1997, LouAnn Best was ready to quit. She was flooded with calls requesting appearances, but there was another problem. Twiggy No. 3 died shortly after her husband.

“I did not have a squirrel,” she says, calling from her parents’ home in South Carolina Monday (she and Twiggy live in Florida). She adopted another rescue squirrel and took to teaching it to ski. But this time, when Twiggy zipped across the water, Best made her wear a life jacket. Then, she added a skit about water and boat safety to the act and encouraged children to learn to swim and float.

“I figured that was the Lord’s purpose, but I didn’t really get it until I was at these water parks in Texas. This little boy came up to me and said, ‘I went out there and learned how to float just like Twiggy said,’ ” she recalls. “The lightbulb came on. Kids weren’t listening to me. They were listening to Twiggy. It’s like Smokey the Bear. They can work wonders. Water safety became Twiggy’s mission.”

The new goal not only helped Best carry on the family business, but helped ease the grief over her husband’s death.

“It helped me in every way,” she says. “I was so shy. I had to get a job after he died. In March – he died in November – I started getting calls from people wanting me to do these shows.”

Before long, Twiggy’s calendar was booked.

There have been nine Twiggys in all. No. 8 died, but No. 7 will perform Friday and Saturday. No. 9 is still training. While squirrels in the wild live three or four years, one Twiggy lived to be 13 and a half. Others average 8 to 10 years in captivity.

That’s not to say all of Best’s rescue squirrels are ready for the big-time.

“They’re not all trainable,” says Best. “If they don’t work out, outward they go. I usually raise them up and let them go back into the wild.”

AutoFair

When: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Twiggy skis at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway, 5555 Concord Pkwy S., Concord.

Tickets: Single-day tickets $11, four-day pass $32, kids 13 and younger free.

Details: 1-800-455-FANS; www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

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