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South Florida Fair brings racing back to the fairgrounds

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For many years, weekend warriors and professional racers alike would travel to the old Palm Beach Fairgrounds Speedway. Some of the early stars of NASCAR, including Bobby Allison, Donny Allison, and members of the "Alabama Gang" would race their stock cars on the banked half mile race course, allowing locals to see some of the finest racers in the country without having to trek several hours up the road to Daytona.

After the speedway was torn down, the sportscars of IMSA made the facility their home, as part of the fairgrounds was transformed into a semi-permanent road course. Champion drivers such as Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, and Scott Pruett zoomed around between the concrete barriers from the late 1980s until the mid-1990s.

When the popularity of IMSA waned, the race course was dismantled, and the sounds of professional racing were not heard at the facility again. At least not that kind of racing!

With the exception of a small break a couple years ago, the South Florida Fair brought back racing to the facility in the late 1990s, this time of a porcine variety! For the past two years, Ham Bone Express pig racing has brought “the swiftest swine off the line,” and those who take part in any of the 17 days of fun during the South Florida Fair, opening on Friday, Jan. 17, will have a chance to judge for themselves.

The show has four races with four pigs in each race. The “swinemaster” introduces the celebrity contestants for each of four teams: Nashville Runners, Hollywood Runners, Political Runners, and World Champion Heavyweights. Before each race, he introduces the celebrity team’s contestants – including Synnona Judd, Arnold Schwarzenpigger, and Claude VanHam.

He also assigns cheering sections with one special cheerleader each. The special cheerleader for the “swiftest swine” is awarded a prize at the end of the race. The winning pig gets an Oreo.

Ham Bone Express pig racing is owned and operated by the Boger family, a name associated with family entertainment since the early 1960s. One of the Bogers’ three independently owned and operated units, Charles and Carol Boger bring you Ham Bone Express 3 from Fayetteville, Arkansas. A veterinarian inspects the racing pigs from snout to tail every 30 days, and they meet or exceed the requirements of the USDA Animal Welfare Act and state and local regulations.

Of course, the pigs aren't the only thing you can see at the South Florida Fair, Jan. 17 – Feb. 2. The 102nd annual South Florida Fair’s theme is “New York City: Be a part of it!” Fair visitors will be welcomed to the sights and sounds of Manhattan’s Times Square when they enter the main gates. Fair goers will see a number of Big Apple attractions in the Fair’s 80,000 square foot featured exposition hall, including the building of a Statue of Liberty sculpture using more than 200 tons of sand and an impressive replica of the Empire State Building, which will be constructed out of food cans. For Broadway show fans, a first-class ice skating show will be held three times daily as the professional skaters perform to the music of Broadway’s biggest hits.

Country music artist Craig Morgan will kick off the national entertainment lineup on Tues., Jan. 21. Wellington’s hometown favorite singer-songwriter Cassadee Pope — who gained national attention when she won season three of NBC’s “The Voice” — will take the stage on Wed., Jan. 22. The Beatles tribute band, The Fab Four,” will close out the Fair’s entertainment. Known for their uncanny, note-for-note live renditions of Beatles’ songs, the band will perform Thurs., Jan. 30.

In addition to Cassadee Pope and the Swon Brothers, four other acts will perform in between the opening and closing concerts. Rock ‘n’ roll icon Eddie Money, whose hits included “Two Tickets To Paradise,” “Baby Hold On,” “Walk On Water,” “Think I'm In Love” and “Shakin,” will belt out his tunes on Thurs., Jan. 23. The 5th Annual Rock Tribute Band Competition on Sat., Jan. 25, will feature the Turnstiles, a Billy Joel tribute band; Smells Like Grunge, a Nirvana tribute band; Rocket to Russia, a Ramones tribute band; Crush, a Rush tribute band; Time with Tom, a Tom Petty tribute band; and Shot Down in Flames, an AC/DC Tribute to Bon Scott. The always popular Leroy Van Dyke Country Gold Tour will take place on Mon., Jan. 27. The Lone Bellow, a Brooklyn-based indie trio featuring three-part harmonies, will perform on Wed., Jan. 29.

The 2014 South Florida Fair is located at 9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach. Advance discount tickets are on sale now at all Palm Beach County Publix Supermarkets and continue through Jan. 16. Adult admission, 12 and older: $10 advance, $15 gate. A child’s admission, under 12, is $5 advance, $8 gate (5 years and younger are free) and seniors 60 and older, pay $7 in advance, $9 gate. For more information, call 561-793-0333.

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