The weather was sultry, the crowd was small, and the regular announcer was sick with a stomach virus, but the racing pigs were unfazed as long as food was waiting at the finish line.
Yesterday afternoon at the Howard County Fair, four little pigs ran gamely around the oval track padded with wood shavings. Four more pigs followed them in a second race, and then the "ugly pigs" came out for their turn - looking suspiciously like two groups of ducks waddling wildly to win. Lastly, a quartet of pygmy goats made their run.
After they do the racing, the reward is feed waiting in their pens.
The crowd of about 30 people was low-key, but appreciative. "It's just good fun," said Jean Bennett of Relay, who watched with her daughter Rachael, 8. "It makes you smile."
After an absence of at least seven years, daily pig racing has returned to Howard County Fair. During the weekend, it drew cheering crowds in the hundreds. Organizers expect a better turnout in the evenings and when the weather is cooler. At other fairs and venues, the Sue Wee racing pigs have drawn 1,500 to 3,000 spectators at a time.
Those attending the Howard County Fair have been curious about the event. After queries of where to find a restroom, "that is the next [most common] question: Where are the pig races?" said Mickey Day, president of the fair board.
"It comes down to having fun with what you are doing," said Derik Snow, who traveled to West Friendship from Jackson, N.J., to take over announcing duties at the races. He has been a part of F&F Productions - which operates the animal races - for three years, and said it is a family- and friend-oriented business.
F&F started five years ago, when David Feimster, a middle school technology teacher in Jackson, was racing skunks to earn money during the summer, Snow said. Then Feimster expanded to other animals to keep the show interesting.
The company has several teams of racing pigs and other animals traveling around the country. Feimster's wife, two sons and two daughters have all worked for the family's animal racing business. His daughter Suzanne Feimster, 24, was running the show at the Howard County Fair until she became ill Sunday.
Snow, a close friend of Feimster, joined the business when he became a teacher several years ago. He is a retired air traffic controller and decided to use his newly freed summers to travel with his son and one group of racing pigs.
Many of the shows' other employees are Jackson-area students who want to earn money over the summer.
The contingent of racers - ducks, goats and 12- to 16-month-old pigs - are being housed in an open trailer, where they can get used to the environment. Previously, they had traveled in an air-conditioned trailer, but they were less inclined to come out for races.
Snow said it is important to keep the animals clean and comfortable.
Once the show begins, announcers entertain with crowd participation.
Yesterday, Snow started by choosing spectators to serve as the starting bell, team cheerleaders and finish-line judge. He shared the pigs' humorous names, such as Dennis Rodham, Shaquille O'Squeal, Arnold Schwartzen-burger and, of course, Kevin Bacon. (One group of ducks has to make do with Bob, Bob, Bob and Bobbie). And Snow shared pig trivia, including their place on the scale of smart animals - just below dolphins and way above cats and dogs.
Michael Nathan, 14, of Columbia was excited that he won $2 from his friend Evan Hartranft, 15, also of Columbia. It would have been more but "Jean Claude Van Ham ... didn't pull it out in the end," Michael said.
"Roseanne Boar broke away early, but she couldn't keep it up," added Evan.
Still, they were hooked.
"We'll probably be back for the next show," Michael said.