Family Fun at Del Mar Fair

Times Staff Writer

Visitors to the Del Mar Fair won’t see a 600-pound lady, a two-headed mummified cow or a sword swallower this year.

The carnival freak show, long a staple of the Del Mar Fair, has gone the way of beer stands. That is part of the effort to make the fair, which opens today, more family-oriented and eliminate the seediness many people associate with carnivals.

Since Roger Vitaich became fair manager in 1982, he has cleaned up the midway. This year, for the first time, the midway is independent; 10 individual owners run the rides rather than a single carnival company. Also, two inspectors have been hired to keep constant watch to make sure ride owners abide by safety codes.

In 1983, beer stands around the fairgrounds were eliminated and replaced with beer gardens to restrict drinking to small areas and curtail drunkenness.


Vitaich, a former Boy Scouts of America administrator, is determined to make the fair good, clean fun. “We don’t think the freak show is suitable for family entertainment,” he said Wednesday. He spoke as he toured the bustling fairgrounds, racing around in a golf cart on a last-minute check of details for an evening fund-raising dinner.

“Fairs are an integral part of American society,” Vitaich said. “We try to remember what our heritage is and bring it together. I’m trying to bring the community spirit here.”

Residents have contributed 36,000 fair exhibits, ranging from peach jam to elaborate floral arrangements to prize steers.

Exhibits and demonstrations this year reflect some popular trends. There is a category in the flower arrangement competition for “Punk Rock” flowers. And, some birds--pigeons, to be precise--will demonstrate a form of break dancing.


For the families there are horse shows, a Mexican rodeo and cow-milking demonstrations. Entertainment will be provided by Kris Kristofferson, Jesse Colin Young, The Lennon Sisters, Los Lobos, and others.

On the midway Wednesday--or “Fun Zone” as fair organizers call it--shirtless workers swung sledgehammers and ran electric drills, assembling the 54 rides. These include the brand-new Zyklon, a figure 8 roller coaster that reaches a height of 45 feet.

At the softball toss booth, workers were arranging prizes--200 pink and white, 20-foot-long, stuffed snakes. To win, a player has to get two softballs in a springy peach basket. (The secret, according to one carney, is to hit the dead spot of the basket.)

Across the fairground, in the livestock area, Sheila the Chartreuse Sheep was a dirty shade of green. James Dyer, sheep superintendent, said the 4-month-old sheep had been dyed with food coloring but needed re-tinting. Sheila succeeds Petey the Purple Pig, a standout of last year’s fair. Dyer is talking about a featherless chicken for next year.


Nearby, stubborn hogs squealed in outraged protest as their owners shoved and pulled them down the ramp of a trailer.

Livestock superintendent Brooks Parry said the purpose of the livestock show is to educate urban children--and adults--about farm animals.

Last year, one livestock worker recounted, a man looking at prize Holstein cows told his son, “Look at the deer.”