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Cookies fine fuel for Show-Me Swine Racers at county fair

PALMETTO

The track was down.

The railings were up.

It was time for a trial run Monday morning.

Stock cars?

Try pig racing, brought to you by Show-Me Swine Racers at the 95th annual Manatee County Fair.

But neither Hammy Swynette nor Christina Hoguilera would budge.

Neither would Hammah Montana nor Magnum P.I.G.

Or Arnold Schwartzenpigger.

“They run for cookies,” said Joe “Hambone” Smithson.

Not just any cookies, understand.

Frosted oatmeal, if you please.

So James “Pork Chop” Crook obliged, tossing pieces of the pigs’ favorite treat into the starting gates.

Then away they went, around the 100-foot track.

Back to a pan -- of more frosted oatmeal cookies.

Why not chocolate chip? Or Oreos?

“I pick out what they like, because I eat as many as they do,” Smithson said.

“Can’t you tell?” Crook joked, nodding at his cohort’s stoutness.

Roughly 72 hours after arriving from their native East Prairie, Mo., (pop. 3,400), Show Me Swine Racers was open for business.

A business, both have been in for a combined 25 years.

“Grandpa had a hog farm, I’ve always worked around animals,” said Smithson, 37.

“It’s fun for kids and you can act like a kid yourself,” said Crook, 31.

Which goes for transporting 14 porkers that weigh from 50 to 200 pounds -- Hampshires, Spotted Poland China hogs and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs -- in a 42-foot trailer.

“It’s like traveling with kids,” Crook said. “They’re in the trailer behind our living quarters and they’re noisy, they move around a lot and when they do that, the trailer moves. You tell them to be quiet and stop moving, but they don’t listen -- just like kids.”

They do a lot of traveling, too.

The Manatee County Fair is the first stop in a Florida tour that lasts until April. They’ll also do Fort Pierce, Naples, Okeechobee and West Palm Beach among other destinations before heading off to points north and west around America.

“We probably drive 50,000 miles a year,” Smithson said.

Dan West is glad they’re here.

“We’ve had racing ducks, racing dogs ridden by monkeys, but pigs are the mainstay,” said the fair manager. “Pigs have personality.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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