Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina State Fair is ready to pack in crowds looking to enjoy rides, concerts and mouthwatering food as the event's 144th edition starts an 11-day run Thursday.
"We look forward to a successful fair and all the things that this fair means to the state of North Carolina," state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said.
"It's a celebration of North Carolina agriculture, North Carolina heritage and all things family fun and fried," fair spokesman Brian Long said.
Started in 1853 as a showcase for North Carolina agriculture, arts and crafts, the fair has also become a yearly destination for hundreds of thousands of people looking to play games and enjoy eyebrow-raising food, like cheeseburgers sandwiched between two doughnuts.
"We have lots of great food. The No. 1 reason people say they come to the fair is the food," Long said.
This year's new culinary creations include cupcakes shaped like hot dogs and deep-fried versions of brownies, Kool-Aid, bubble gum and chicken pot pie – "good for the cool days, cool nights we'll have coming up," Long said.
Fairgoers seeking healthier fare can check out the brand-new, 40-foot-long Got to Be NC RV featuring North Carolina produce.
"The purpose of the RV is to promote North Carolina agriculture," said Joe Sanderson, public-safety chief for the state agriculture department.
"This is a wonderful, wonderful exhibit of what we do," Troxler said.
A stand-out among the rides is Sky Diver, a Ferris wheel-like ride that puts riders in cages that can twirl in barrel rolls.
The Sky Diver was popular in the 1960s but was eventually abandoned.
"We refurbished the ride from the ground up and put over 100,000 LED lights on this ride," said Charlie Belknap, with Powers Great American Midways. "It's absolutely spectacular."
Inspectors will fan out across the fairgrounds Thursday, checking if rides are safe before they are allowed to start operating. North Carolina has some of the country's strictest guidelines for ride inspections.
Organizers hope this year's fair will exceed the success of last year's event, which set an attendance record of more than 1 million people.
"It's real simple. We want everybody to come to the fair, have a great time and have a safe time," Sanderson said.