COSTA MESA — The 121st Orange County Fair has broken its all-time attendance record, officials said.
The fair broke its former record of 1.15 million visitors at 3:55 p.m. Thursday, said fair spokeswoman Robin Wachner. As of closing Thursday night, 1,183,971 visitors had passed through the fair gates, she said.
"It's very exciting that we're being embraced by Southern California the way we have been," Wachner said.
Chief Executive and President Steven Beazley said they anticipated breaking the record around that time, but it was apt that it happened Thursday — the day before a special promotion offering free parking and attendance between noon and 1 p.m., and free skyrides until 4 p.m. to celebrate the high attendance.
"It kind of feels fitting to pass our attendance record and then give a big thank you to the community," he said.
The former highest attendance record was set last year, when 1.15 million visitors shattered the 2007 record.
Officials have reported 20% higher attendance at the halfway mark than last year and crushed several day attendance records this year.
Beazley attributes the fair's unprecedented success to its money-saving promotions, a diverse lineup of entertainment, the fair's theme of "Let's Eat!," and the nearly double number of Super Passes sold.
Beazley is looking at closing the fair with about 1.38 million visitors. But with two days left, anything is possible, he said. The fair opened July 15 and runs through Sunday.
"We don't know what the weekend will hold," he said. "Closing weekend is always a big weekend."
The last weekend generally brings out all the procrastinators, and a large crowd to check out the demolition derbies and tribute bands, he said.
It's also the last chance to take advantage of the Rise & Shine promotion, which offers visitors $2 admission from 10 to 11 a.m. on weekends.
Rise & Shine has been the most popular promotion in the fair's 121-year history this year — doubling attendance during that hour.
The promotions, plus the popular events — not to mention the weather — set the stage for a spectacular end of the fair, Beazley said.
"All the conditions are right to have a record-setting last weekend," he said.