Saturday, August 1, 2015

Run, Piggy, Run

Pig races are a crowd favorite
at the Peak City Pig Fest.
You really haven’t had an exciting summer unless you’ve been to a pig race. When I was in Apex for the Peak City Pig Fest, I knew that I couldn’t leave until I had watched one of the four pig races. They were a featured part of the festival, which included a barbecue cookoff with 48 cooking teams.

As the crowd ambles into the area of the “Hogway Speedway,” honky-tonk music blares on loudspeakers, interrupted by an occasional “Howdy” by a Minnie Pearl-sounding voice. As race time nears, Brent Cook, the emcee, counts down the minutes remaining. Then “The Call to Post” blares loudly. It sounds as authentic as the one at Churchill Downs before the start of the Kentucky Derby. However, at Hogway Speedway, the 33 high-tempo bugle notes are a recording rather than live, but they alert the crowd that a race is imminent. Because the notes are insufficient to call the pigs, Cook leads the crowd in a boisterous call of “Soo-o-o-o-ey” that ricochets down the street among the festival tents, displays, and food vendors.

The crowd surrounds the "hogway" before the start of each race.

Cook is from Newton, home of Circle C Farms, where the pigs bask in their glory between events and are groomed for their next weekend race. After “The Call to Post” recording, Cook introduces each racing pig as it runs to the starting gate and explains the special lingo that Hogway Speedway needs: the far side of the raceway is a hamstretch (rather than a backstretch) and a hambulance is called for any injured racer who pulls a hamstring or collides with others in a pigup (not a pileup).

Brent Cook starts a race.
The racing pigs also have names and numbers just like NASCAR heroes. For this festival, four pigs competed in each race. Although their names are a humorous resemblance of real drivers, their numbers are the same: #11, Hammy Hamlin (instead of NASCAR’s Denny Hamlin), #14 Squealing Stewart (instead of Tony), #24 Piggy Gordon (Jeff), and #88 Oinkhardt Jr. (Dale Earnhardt Jr.).

Just like NASCAR drivers on a real course, pigs run counterclockwise (must be a natural tendency). Oinkhardt Jr., the crowd favorite, won the 9:30 a.m. race. After the race is over, you learn why the pigs run so fast: it’s the reward. The winner gets to munch on a special plate of Wise’s Cheez Doodles. No treats for the losers, who have to wait until next race for another chance or the next meal after the long ride home.

Racing pigs pick up speed after a sharp turn.

When the races are over, the crowd returns to other areas of the festival to enjoy pork barbecue, ice cream, and other food. As everyone leaves, Cook calls out, “Don’t tell the pigs if you eat barbecue. They might squeal on you.” The pigs from Circle C Farms are also an annual tradition at the N.C. State Fair in Raleigh each October. Don’t miss them!

Note: This post appeared originally in the August 2015 issue of OutreachNC, a monthly magazine distributed in 10 counties of central North Carolina. Click here to see the article as it appeared in print.

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