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These athletes may be veterans, but they're really quite retiring-uniformly reluctant to come out of their shells. But that doesn't stop people from laying their money down on the Nascrab circuit.

Tim Jardas has been pitting hermit crab against hermit crab in Southwest Florida venues for some 18 years. Over the past decade, he's split the winnings 50/50 between the people who participate and the United Way. So far that's meant $100,000 for the United Way coffers.

Jardas' most regular gig is at the Crows Nest at 'Tween Waters Inn on Captiva, where he does two shows every Monday night. "The 6 o'clock is the family show," he says. "The 9 p.m. show is adults only. It's the PG show versus the R-rated show, Disney versus Vegas."

You get the idea.

As many as 100 crabs may race in a single heat, which is apt to take two or three minutes, depending on how energetic the competitors feel as they move along the three-foot course. Each show lasts about an hour, so it's as much about Jardas interacting with the crowd as it is about the actual races. He supplies the contestants with hermit crabs in shells, each with a number on its back. People who want to take part ante up $2 per crab.

"Everybody picks a crab, and they have to name it," he says.

Speedy, Bubba, Road Runner, Lightning and Flash are all popular monikers. Does a good name help spur the contestant on to victory?

"It's hard to lose when you get a name like Speedy," he says. "That name wins quite a bit."

NASCRAB races, 6 and 9 p.m. Mondays at the Crow's Nest, 'Tween Waters Inn, 15951 Captiva Drive, Captiva. (239) 472-5161.

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