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Fair Officials Hope for ‘Seriously Twisted Fun’ + Great Weather

The 2007 North Carolina State Fair boasts the largest midway in North America. Organizers hope it will help draw enough visitors to set new attendance records.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The smell of popcorn and turkey legs is in the air. The State Fair kicked off Friday, and organizers hoped for 1 million fairgoers to set a new attendance record.

"I want this to be the record attendance year for the fair. I think we've got all the combinations to do it," state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said.

The fair boasts the largest midway assembled in North America with 112 rides, Troxler said. State inspectors had cleared 104 rides to open by Friday afternoon.

North Carolina has some the nation's strictest ride inspections standards. Equipment must meet 100 percent of specifications before it can operate.

Fairgoers, including Senator Elizabeth Dole, said the fair has fulfilled its theme, promising "Seriously Twisted Fun."

"Through the years, I've enjoyed the rides," Dole said, adding she can be found in the "front seat on the roller coaster."

 At least one concert – by North Carolina's Chris Daughtry – was already sold out Friday, but the Dorton Arena still has plenty to entertain music fans. Country music stars Sara Evans and Trace Adkins are slated to appear, as well as  American Idol stars Ruben Studdard and Kellie Pickler.

An appearance by the Food Network's Paula Deen on Wednesday is also sold out.

Speaking of food, vendors also lined the midway, hawking cotton candy, turkey legs and fried anything that can thrown in hot oil – Oreos, Snickers bars, Reese's peanut butter cups. Fried peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches stood out among this year's culinary novelties.

"I guess you can deep fry anything and make it taste good," fairgoer Howard Everette said. "But this tastes good, really good," he added, as he bit into a fried PB&J sandwich.

Good weather, with sunny skies and highs in the mid 70s predicted through the weekend, might also help boast attendance. Temperatures should be in the mid to upper 50s when the nightly fireworks go off, WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

"Everything looks like clear sailing from a fair standpoint on through Tuesday of next week, so that bodes very well for high attendance numbers," Fishel said. "It is gorgeous out here, just a nice little breeze. And everybody seems to be happy.

"The drought is not the concern here at the moment. It's the fact that it's comfortable and you're at the fair and you're having a good time. And that's all that matters at the moment."

If fairgoers look closely, however, they will see the effects of the drought – and a late frost and record temperatures – on the fair's exhibits. Growers said the weather has affected both the quantity and quality of their produce. Fair officials expected fewer entries in some categories.

"It has been tough. This is not a year I would have designed for agriculture," Troxler said. But he predicted the produce entered by farmers will still impress fairgoers.

"We (farmers) are a resilient bunch. In the spring, you've got to bet basically everything you've got that we're going to have good weather, the insects aren't really going to eat it up, disease won't get it. So you've got to be resilient to do it."

One agricultural exhibit already set a new record: A pumpkin grown by Sam Lovelace, of Sparta, smashed the previous record for largest pumpkin when it weighed in at 1,178.9 pounds.

Grower Mark Britt got creative; instead of his biggest tomato, he brought his best-quality, smallest tomato.

Growers said they hope the fair will help educate the public about the challenges farmers face. And Troxler hoped Dole's visit to the showcase of the state's best would help her sell North Carolina agriculture on Capitol Hill.

"Anytime that we have senators and congressmen come to the state fair, I think that just adds to the prestige of this great event we have that's been here for 140 years," Troxler said.

Changes to parking had traffic flowing easily around the fair grounds Friday evening. Wade Avenue, Edwards Mill Road and Youth Center Road are now designated as tow-away zones.

Free parking is available at the RBC Center and Carter Finley Stadium. Limited parking is also available in the Blue Ridge Road lot.


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