Another Iowa State Fair has come and gone.
The annual 10-day statewide celebration came to an end late Sunday night as the last of the million-or-so folks who attended the affair finally walked out of the grates and headed home.
I’m sure it was another money-making fair. When it all ended, the fair itself came out with millions of dollars in their coffers, the owners and operators of hundreds of midway rides and games pocketed big sums of dollars, and those who fed hungry Iowans for 10 days with something-or-other-on-a-stick walked away with pockets loaded with cash
But, not a single dollar of those bundles of cash came out of my pocket.
You see, I’m still on a one-man boycott of the Iowa State Fair. It’s personal. Not the Iowa State Fair, not the ride operators, not the million-dollar grandstand entertainers and not the food and drink vendors walked away with a penny of my money.
I also know that not a single person who relies on the Iowa State Fair for large portions of their yearly income will miss my meager contribution. Let’s face it, I’m not a big fair spender anyway. A day at the fair for both my wife and I, including parking and fair admission, would total less than $100. That paltry sum wouldn’t go far when spread among the several folks who’d be on the receiving end of our dollars.
Selling one less foot-long hot dog, one less pork chop on a stick, one less container of real-squeezed lemonade wouldn’t make much of a dent in anyone’s overall financial health.
I may not be a big spender when it comes to the Iowa State Fair. But I am stubborn.
When Fair Manager Gary Slater made a sudden announcement that the century-old half-mile race track would be removed, the announcement was akin to thrusting a dagger through the collective hearts of thousands of Iowans who’d raced on that historic ribbon of Iowa clay since the track was first built in 1907.
I submit you don’t even have to be a fan of automobile racing to recognize such names as A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Johnny Beauchamp, Tiny Lund, Ernie Derr, Ramo Stott, George “Gus” Schrader, Emory Collins and many others who have sped around that half-mile oval during careers that led both to Indianapolis and Daytona.
Of course, Slater — when he announced the track would be removed — was quick to point out that the removal was only temporary, that a new, shorter track would be built on the west edge of the historic track, that the “new” track would run more north-south than east-west and would also feature a new grandstand to be used entirely for events at the new track.
That promise was met with skepticism and that skepticism grows almost daily among the many Iowans who find entertainment in speeding cars running wheel-to-wheel around a dirt oval. Well, Mr. Slater, the time has come for you to back up the promise you made. Next year is 2018 and that was the year you said the new track would be built at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
Don’t blame me, nor the many people like me, who simply don’t believe you. You’ll have to prove to me that you were sincere when you uttered those words. It’s hard for anyone to believe you ever intended to replace the track, especially given the fact that a pair of central Iowa businessmen pledged $2 million to build that new track a few years ago. That’s $2 million in outside money; $2 million less that Iowans would have to spend on a new track.
Yet, you wouldn’t accept that money when it was offered. I don’t know if it’s still available, but I suspect it is. I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.
When you unveiled the new design showing the old historic track removed, those plans also showed the “new” track. Yet, when pressed about the new track and even about the promised outside money, those circumstances have been evaded.
So, what is it?
There are those of us who won’t forget your promises. There are those of us who have seen the drawings with the “new” track. There are those of us who remember you said the new track would open in 2018. There are those of us who want those promises fulfilled.
And, it’s not just the racers who are waiting. Truck and tractor pulls have long been a staple of Iowa State Fair entertainment. Was this the last year for them, too?
I contacted the fair in June for a comment. Mindy Williamson replied via email. She said, “We are working on the first phase of three phase northern fairgrounds renovations that includes the midway/’amusement area this year and renovations to the grandstand stage and events area in the future. Funding has been secured for phase 1 at this point, so there is a lot of work that will be going on after the 2017 Fair for phases 2 and 3.”
When pressed about the “outside” money promised to build the new track, she answered back only that “I have answered your questions.”
I’m not the only Iowan awaiting fulfillment of a promised new track. We’ll be watching.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.