Illinois State Fair kicks off 10-day run this Friday - Quad-Cities Online: Illinois

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Illinois State Fair kicks off 10-day run this Friday

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Posted: Monday, August 10, 1998 1:00 am

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Ah, the familiar scents of the Illinois State Fair: corn dogs, elephant ears, miniature doughnuts ... and the Drag Racing Stinkers?

A skunk-racing show is one of more than a dozen new attractions officials hope will bring the sweet smell of success to the fair this year.

Old favorites like harness racing, husband-calling, motorsports and livestock shows will greet the crowds when the 10-day fair starts this Friday. The Stinkers (scent-free, despite their name) will join a teen-age Elvis impersonator, 10 Bengal tigers and a husband-and-wife unicycle team in making their fair debut.

The fair -- now in its 146th year -- began as a way to highlight the latest in state agriculture trends. But since then, it has blossomed into a mix of carnival rides, food, novelty acts, farm shows and big-draw concerts.

This year's grandstand lineup includes country superstars LeAnn Rimes and Alan Jackson and pop acts Savage Garden, Billie Myers, Sister Hazel and Seven Mary Three.

Those who want a blast from the past -- whether it's the '60s, '70s or '80s -- can check out concerts ranging from Fabian and Bobby Rydell to the Rock Never Stops Tour with heavy metal acts Slaughter and Quiet Riot.

Fair officials hope the grandstand variety, along with low admission prices, will draw visitors from all corners of the state. Admission is $3 for adults and free for children 12 and younger.

``We have so much to offer. The driving distance isn't that difficult,'' said Fair Manager Joe Saputo. He added that a typical family could spend all day at the fair for much less than they would pay at a theme park.

The fair has been struggling over the past several years to become a self-supporting venture. Officials thought they had achieved that goal last year, but a state audit said the fair actually lost about $68,000.

Still, Saputo said he's confident that admissions, grandstand receipts and donations from corporate sponsors will help keep the fair in the black this year and in the future.

Frequent fairgoers will notice a few changes at this year's fair, including a newly paved carnival area that keeps cords underground and hanging flower pots around the grounds.

But the biggest changes will be in entertainment, where newcomers like the Stinkers hope to wow the crowds.

The ``drag-racing'' skunk act almost didn't get to the fair, Saputo said. State natural resources officials worried that the act would encourage children to touch skunks or keep them as pets.

But Saputo said the act will include an educational session about the dangers of skunks and stress that they are banned as pets in Illinois. The rest of the show will bring the audience in as cheerleaders, race officials and even the cleanup crew.

Other new fair events include Bluebeard's Treasure Hunt, where children will follow the X to buried treasure, and Barn Tours, where visitors will tour the agricultural industry.

Meanwhile, Jamie Aaron Kelley, the teenage winner of this year's Central Illinois Elvis Contest, will make the crowds swoon with his impersonation of the King of Rock and Roll. And the audience will swoon into a trance when hypnotist Alan Sands takes the stage daily.

Saputo urged out-of-towners to ``get in the car and give us a try.''

``Believe me, they're going to be pleasantly surprised,'' he said.

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