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North County Times: DEL MAR: County fair set to kick off Saturday

June 10, 2008

DEL MAR ---- The calendar may say summer doesn't start for another two weeks, but for many folks, it really will begin Saturday with the opening of the San Diego County Fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

"Every summer, the water warms up, we lose our wet suits and we have our fair," said Dan Hatt, a Del Mar resident who has been attending the annual event with his family for more than 20 years.

"I can't wait for opening day," added Dan's wife, Martha, who said she was looking forward to her yearly treat of deep fried zucchini ---- a hot and crunchy, calorie-laden snack she can't find anywhere else.

The Hatts are among the roughly 1.2 million visitors who descend upon the fairgrounds each year, said fair spokeswoman Kina Paegert. The fair is the fifth-largest county fair in the United States, she said.

This year's theme ---- "Summer in Sports" ---- will mean a few heavy hitters may be seen roaming the fairgrounds, including Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and former world boxing champ Julio Cesar Chavez. They are among a host of world-class athletes who will be making guest appearances at the fair this year, Paegert said.

Gold medal soccer player and Escondido native Shannon McMillan and Olympic track star Steve Scott will also make appearances, as well as off-road racer Ivan Steward and jockey Julie Krone.

Special attractions

In honor of the Olympic Games, an extensive collection of Olympic memorabilia ---- as well as collegiate and professional sports collectibles ---- will be on display with medals from all games held from 1896 to 2000, an authentic Olympic torch and a world map of all the Olympic sites throughout history.

Fair vendors, exhibitors and entertainers are also expected to echo the sports theme in some of their products, officials said.

For the aficionado of outdoor cuisine, what is being billed as the world's largest barbecue ---- the Outlaw Grill ---- will make its debut at the fair. Measuring 20 feet high, weighing 27 tons and covering nearly 100 feet of grill space, this massive piece of equipment can cook more than 1,000 items at the same time, Paegert said.

Other new food items include grilled Caesar salad, fish sliders, deep-fried Spam, street tacos, carne asada fries and deep-fried macaroni and cheese on a stick.

There will be plenty of races and contests to play on this year's fair theme, too.

On June 22, the Aflac Iron Girl Del Mar 10 K and 5K Run/Walk will be held. The route takes participants around the Del Mar Racetrack, up to Highway 101 in Solana Beach and back to the fair for breakfast. Participants will also receive two tickets to the fair.

Other new sporting activities planned include boxing, wrestling and America's Strongest Man competitions and interactive Hippity Hop Horse races at the new "Tribute to Horse Racing" exhibit.

Exhibits will offer fairgoers a chance to act like an NFL player in the Quarterback Challenge, shoot hoops on a miniature NBA basketball court, or deliver jabs in a custom-made boxing ring. They can then get their photograph taken on a mock Olympic medal stand and have it put on a sports trading card.

Fair hours

The 350-acre, state-owned fairgrounds is just west of Interstate 5 on 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd. The freeway exit is Via de la Valle, but on weekends, free shuttle services (and parking) will be available from Torrey Pines High School, MiraCosta College's San Elijo Campus and the Racetrack Horsepark.

The fair runs 21 days through July 6. Gates open at 10 a.m. daily. The fair is closed Mondays, except for June 30.

Exhibit halls close at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The carnival area, or "Fun Zone," is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays, Sundays and July 6.

The Kiddieland area ---- the junior version of the Fun Zone ---- is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Parking lots along Jimmy Durante Boulevard can hold about 7,000 vehicles. The fee for a slot is $9. Recreational vehicles pay $15. Coveted parking nearest to the main gate ---- the fairgrounds calls it "preferred parking" ---- costs $15.

Tickets for anyone ages 13 to 61 cost $12; children ages 6 through 12 pay $6; adults 62 and older pay $6 and children 5 and under are admitted free.

Fair discounts

With a little planning, frugal fairgoers can save a few bucks at this year's event.

On Friday, Ralphs grocery stores in San Diego County will sell $1 admission tickets for Tuesday, June 17, (with a $10 minimum purchase at Ralphs.) During the remainder of the fair, Ralphs will sell adult admission tickets for $10.

Tuesdays are Kids Days, and children 12 and under get in for free.

Military personnel and their dependents can buy discounted tickets at outlets on military bases.

Children who read 10 books, and receive their teacher's or librarian's signature confirming as much, can present a certificate good for one free admission ticket. The forms are available at public libraries and schools.

For $30, visitors can buy a wristband that allows unlimited rides Wednesdays and Thursdays.

For more information on this year's fair, visit http://www.sdfair.com/fair

Contact staff writer Ruth Marvin Webster at (760) 901-4074 or rwebster@nctimes.com.

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