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Fair kicks off today with new look, tradition, Stewart speculation

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Visiting the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair this year? Hometown racecar driver Tony Stewart will be — at least Wednesday.

Fair officials expect Stewart will appear that day, but they are not sure if the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup series champion will race again in the Midwest TQ Racing League event scheduled for Wednesday night, as he did last year.

Stewart’s schedule is clear on Wednesday evening, spokesman Mike Arning of True Speed Communication said.

However, Stewart has a commitment to participate in a commercial shoot the following day in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“My bet is that he will not be in Indiana the night before,” Arning said.

Fair Board President Larry Fisher said the Columbus native might be just coming out to support the spirit of the fair, which kicks off at 5 p.m. today.

Stewart has been known to roam the grounds during fair week, taking in the food and atmosphere of the annual event and mingling with other fairgoers.

“That spirit is about catching a show at the Grandstand, eating dinner from a food vendor and then taking the kids to the midway,” Fisher said.

Some highlights of this year’s fair, marking its 57th anniversary, include the greased pig contest at 7 p.m. July 11 and demolition derbies at 7 p.m. Saturday and July 12.

Along with new 4-H exhibits that will bring new animals to the barns, there are improvements to the grounds.

Some worn-down paths have been paved.

The waterlines that were installed in the 1960s have been replaced, which Fisher said will result in fewer leaks and better water pressure for vendors and the barns. That project cost about $14,000.

New trees were planted to replace ones removed during roadwork surrounding the fairgrounds several years ago. The trees were donated in memory of Frank Burbrink and Makenzie Brown.

Burbrink, who died in a car accident in 2007 at the age of 17, was active in 4-H, FFA, Junior Fair Board and National Junior Swine Association.

Brown, who died last month just days from graduating from Central Middle School, was a member of the Kiddin’ Around Goat Club for the past five years.

“Our fairgrounds are some of the nicest in the state,” Fisher said. “It’s about making it a nice setting instead of a bare field.”

Braidon Martoccia and Abby Hunnicutt are two 10-year members of 4-H who are going into their final fair as exhibitors.

What will they miss most? The food.

Martoccia said his favorites are the pork burgers, corn dogs, funnel cakes and pineapple ice cream.

He stayed with 4-H because his grandfather, Eugene Eckrote, was an extension agent in Columbus for many years.

“I know he would be proud of my commitment,” Martoccia said.

Hunnicutt will be showing pigs and goats for her 10th and final year at the fair, but she’s not sure she can top her first year when she had the grand champion goat.

“I’m going for showmanship this year because I’m not sure we can get much else,” she said. “It will be bittersweet.”

More than 100,000 people are expected to visit the fair this year. Fisher said attendance has been on the rise for the past 15 years, and there’s no reason to believe it will slow this year.

“Columbus is a growing community, a very diverse community,” he said. “People from other countries have never been to the fair, so I think it’s, in part, curiosity. It’s also because it’s really an all-around community event.”

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