COLUMBIA — A man who introduced himself as "professor" Timothy D. Swinehart stood barefoot above the race track in a bowler hat, red checkered shirt and overalls.
"What does a pig say when it’s been out in the hot sun?" he said into a microphone.
Race No. 1: The Muscleman Competition
- Arnold Schwartzenhogger
- Sylvester Stalloin
- Jean Claude Van Hamme
- Rush Limhog
Winner: Arnold Schwartzenhogger
Race No. 2: The Celebrity Showdown
- Lindsay Loham
- Oprah Swinefrey
- Dale Swinehardt Jr.
- Sarah Jessica Porker
Winner: Lindsay Loham
Race No. 3: The Battle of the Bands
- Hammah Montana
- Squilly Nelson
- Elvis Pigsley
- Snoop Hoggy Hogg
Winner: Squilly Nelson
After a pregnant pause, he said: “I’m bacon!”
More than 30 people seated on metal bleachers fanned themselves and chuckled as Swinehart, whose real name is Tim Hart, delivered pun after pig-related pun to advertise Hedrick's Racing Pigs on Thursday evening at the Boone County Fair.
His fellow showman, "Brother Elroy," whose real name is Steve Gault, brought out four small piglets and put a colored racing jersey on each.
A recorded bugle sounded, a bell rang and Hart dropped a lever to release the pigs.
In less than 9 seconds, it was all over.
“They say the horses run for the roses, the dogs run for the rabbit and the pigs run for the cookie,” Hart said. “They know it’s there. They’re very smart.”
Although the race was over, all four continued to root around for stray crumbs, even after the prized Oreo — served on a silver platter — was snatched up by the victorious swine, Squilly Nelson.
For that particular race, Squilly Nelson beat out Snoop Hoggy Hogg, the “H-O-double-G,” who Hart said had previously been dominating the competition.
Each race, including the Muscleman Competition, Celebrity Showdown and Battle of Bands featured pigs with appropriately themed monikers. The spectacle is put on by Hart, Gault and the 12 pigs they brought with them to the fair as part of Hedrick’s Educational Petting Zoo.
Before the races, Hart polled the crowd to see who had ever watched a pig race. Only two people — three if you count Gault — raised their hands.
To prepare the crowd for the spectacle they were about to witness, Hart had Gault run through the U-shaped track to demonstrate.
“Look how good he does it, folks. He’s only missing a cute little tail,” Hart said of Gault, who immediately checked to see he did not actually have one poking out of his overalls.
For Renee and Fiona Conklin, both 8, from Hallsville, it was a first visit to the fair and their first pig race as well.
Afterward, the two agreed it was “pretty cool.” Fiona didn’t have a favorite pig, but Renee liked Hammah Montana, who came close to victory during the race themed Battle of the Bands.
Hart was satisfied with the crowd that came out to see the first set of races Thursday and was sure even more would attend after the sun went down. He said he hoped people enjoyed his swine-related jokes, most of which he has come up with himself.
“The more fun they have, the more fun I have,” Hart said. "And the more fun I have, the more fun they'll have."
If the crowd grows large enough, Hart and Gault pass out pom pons and gather cheerleaders for each pig, encouraging them to be as loud as possible.
The pigs are trained athletes and are impervious to loud noises, including screaming fans, marching bands and fireworks displays.
"You can't just grab any pig and expect it to run down a track," Hart said.
It takes about two weeks and some rigorous, repetitive practice for the 3-to 4-month-old animals to be ready to appear in front of a crowd. Hart has been working with the cookie-crazy animals for 15 years but wouldn't say exactly how he trains his elite athletes.
“That’s a trade secret,” Hart said with a wink.