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Eugene Weekly : Feature : 8.18.11

A Fair to Remember

For a Good Time, Call Tommy Tutone dials up the Lane County Fair

Plug Into EW’s New Community Stage Local musicians rock the fair

Recyclers at the Fair

Snout and Snout The thrill of pig races

Black Sheep of the Family Natural colored fleece at the fair

 

Snout and Snout

The thrill of pig races

As they round the corner, a stampede of stubby legs and cloven hooves kick up pulpy clots of wood shavings. The racers ham it up for that challenging final length. Big floppy ears slice the wind like tailfins, and those pink flanks chug like pistons. It’s snout and snout as Soapy Smith and Sourdough Jack sizzle for the finish line. The crowd roars. The winner oinks.

This is the excitement of pig racing. If you’ve never witnessed this porcine sport, you’re in for a vision as cute as it is competitive. And thanks to All Alaskan Events Entertainment, anyone attending the Lane County Fair Aug. 17-21 can catch a free gander at this thrilling, family-friendly pastime.

Road manager Donald Noll took over All Alaskan two years ago when his father retired after a quarter century in the circuit. Noll says he starts training his pigs when they are anywhere from 12 to 15 weeks old, after which he takes them on the road from June through early October — though this season started auspiciously with an April gig at Knott’s Berry Farm in California.

The nice thing about pig racing, Noll says — besides the fact that they’re so freaking adorable — is that the animals are treated with kindness and respect. “They are driven to race by positive reinforcement,” he says, noting that the first pig to cross the finish line gets first crack at the grub. “The food in the trough is kind of like the treat you’d give a dog for doing a trick,” Noll explains.

In the end, though, “it’s not even really about hungriness,” he says. “They have their own little competitions going on. They are incredibly smart. The smarter a pig is, the quicker he’ll find a way to win … Never underestimate a pig,” Noll warns.

All pigs are created equal, but some are created more equal than others, at least at times. For instance, Noll has watched certain pigs slyly circumvent the rules to find a shortcut to the trough. Sometimes a pig lifts up the fence and cuts through the middle of the track. “One of the pigs figured out how to jump out of our starting gates,” Noll says. “He just trots around the track. The crowd just laughs.”

All Alaskan’s pig races take place throughout the day Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 17-21, and are free with fair admission; for updated schedules, visit atthefair.com — Rick Levin