Pig races are a reason to squeal at the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton
Here's the truth about pigs at the DuPage County Fair, and you can take it to the piggy bank: Racing porkers are vastly superior to the prizewinning swine.
The latter spend most of the fair's five-day run in Wheaton relaxing in pens until it's time to step inside the show ring with their handlers. These pigs are so content -- just look at those snouts -- to sleep under the breeze of a fan, they don't even notice all the visitors who come to see them and their hoity-toity blue ribbons in the hog barn.
But the racing pigs? They're allowed to look down on -- or should we say, rib -- their county fair counterparts. They're the athletes and showmen who dazzle crowds in daily races at the fair that opened Wednesday and continues through Sunday.
The 15 pigs are staying in a trailer alongside their racetrack, "Pork Chop Downs," near the west gate to the fairgrounds. They perform around the country as the "Show-Me Swine Racers," a traveling production that hails from the Show-Me Safari Petting Zoo in East Prairie, Missouri.
"They're smarter than a dog in my opinion," said the race-caller, Colton Brown, aka "Pork Chop." "Extremely smart animal. We have to have certain types of levers in our trailers to keep them from getting out because they learn to open. They can solve problems."
But it's not their smarts that draws crowds to the races five times a day. It's their impressive speed. Before you can say smoked center cut bacon, the fastest pig will cross the finish line.
"The louder you scream and cheer, the faster these little piggies are going to go," Brown told the audience at the first pig race of the fair Wednesday morning.
Five pigs race at a time, with three heats highlighting different breeds. Brown introduces them one by one -- by their given, celebrity-inspired name -- alongside his sidekick, Monte Boyer, the other guy in the overalls and cowboy hat who answers to "Hambone."
"Hambone's personal favorite, she's out here shaking her bacon for all of you to see, Miss Piggy Minaj!" said Brown as the potbellied pig made an entrance.
Hambone releases the pigs from the trailer, and the swine are trained to head straight for the gates. They take their places because there's a reward waiting for them there after they're done running the track covered in pine shavings.
"They've got a mighty darn sweet tooth, and they love them some cookies," Brown said. "So does Hambone. That's how we get you to work everyday, ain't that right?"
So are those cookie treats especially baked for pigs?
"They're made for just about anybody who wants 'em. You can buy them at your local grocery store, ma'am," a polite Brown tells a clueless reporter in his Kentucky drawl. "That's how easily available they are. Yes, ma'am."
Brown's beloved potbellied pig he's raised since she was a piglet isn't here at the fair, but she would probably like the iced oatmeal cookies Hambone provides for the racers. Brown calls her "Piggy Mama," and she tips the scales at a modest 400 pounds.
"She'll climb the gate and eat cookies out of my mouth and all that," Brown said.
Veteran and rookie racers of all ages take the course. They retire from racing when either a) they're too big for the gate or b) don't want to run anymore and stop coming out of the trailer.
"We don't force them to do anything," said Brown, who learned from his mentor, James Crook, the original "Pork Chop."
Some of the prizewinning pigs, meanwhile, will end up at, er, a pig roast. That sounds like a hog-gone shame, so dare we ask: What happens when their racing days are over for these piggies?
"At that point they go back to the farm and they live out their life in the pig pen," Brown said. "Their golden years are spent in East Prairie, Missouri."
Now that sounds like hog heaven.