The other day at the Prince William County Fair, which runs through Saturday, members of the Snyder family could be spotted yet again at the pig-racing track. They said they couldn't get enough. The Snyders had driven all the way from their home in Norfolk to see the pigs, and this was their fourth time at the races since the fair started Friday.
"I like it because you get to cheer for them," said Julia Snyder, 6.
"I love pigs! I love pigs!" yelled her brother Jacob, 5, hopping up onto his bleacher seat.
"Use your inside voice!" said Jacob's grandmother Barbara Reese, who wrestled him down just as he was launching himself skyward. "I've been taking my own children here since 1979. It's changed over the years, but it still has that old-fashioned charm -- Jacob, sit down!"
The fair has been around since 1949 and remains Virginia's largest county fair. About 100,000 visitors are expected to roam the fair's 86 acres over its nine days of operation. As they made their way from the demolition derbies to the baby contests and other events, some visitors snacked on fried Oreos or smoked turkey drumsticks the size of a caveman's club.
This is the first time in five years that the old-fashioned sport of pig racing has returned to the grounds, fair manager Keith Johnson said. After importing Bengal tigers and Asian elephants in the past few years, Johnson said it was time again to bring home the pigs. He said he and the fair's attendees have -- as this year's promotional line suggests -- gone "hog-wild."
Steve Boger and his 17 young pigs -- a collection of York, Hampshire, Duroc and older Vietnamese Potbellied pigs -- make up the traveling Ham Bone Express, whose three units visit about 100 cities a year. Pigs race on a reward system: There are cookies waiting for them at the finish line.
"If you hear any sonic booms," Boger said, "that's one of my pigs rounding the turn!"
Hyperbole and pig-related puns come with the show -- parents might want to tell their kids beforehand what hamstrings are, and who Kevin Bacon is. In truth, a domesticated pig's top speed is 11 miles per hour, which makes it faster than a chicken (9 ) but slower than a squirrel (12). But the Snyder children thought the pigs were the fastest things they had ever seen.
"Let's just pray that No. 3 wins," Julia said, as she placed her hands together and closed her eyes briefly.
"She prays a lot," said mother Victoria with a smile.
Julia was praying for her brother Jacob, who was assigned pig No. 3 as a part of Boger's game. Should No. 3 win the race, Jacob would win a prize. No. 3 was in the lead when it kicked up sawdust at the final turn of the 132-foot racetrack, but then pig No. 4 dug deep inside and gave a miraculous final push, crossing the finish line first. Once he registered his loss, Jacob started crying.
"Jacob, come here!" Victoria called from the stands, but Jacob wanted to play again. "You only get one turn, now come here!"
A race later, Jacob was again disconsolate as he watched his sister claim a prize after her pig came in first. He wanted to run up with her, but his mother said it was Julia's moment to shine.
Jacob's tears finally stopped as the pig races came to a close and a red-gold sun set behind the flagship silhouette of a turning Ferris wheel. The first colored lights of the midway flickered on.
Julia's prize was a free ticket to see Big Bob, a 7-year-old pig who weighs more than 1,200 pounds.
"He was one my original pigs. He started racing when he was real young," Boger said. "And then he started getting bigger and bigger."
Panting and plopped over on his side like an overturned tractor, Bob was so fat he seemed incapable of moving.
"Wow," a group of kids whispered as the pig gave a violent snort to an unwelcome fly. Then the giant animal went back to his peaceful slumber as though he had discovered the secret to life.