“Some pig” indeed!
Longtime favorites Robinson’s Racing Pigs return this year to the Georgia National Fair, with a residency lasting from October 7th through the 17th. The brainchild of Paul and Carlota Robinson, Robinson’s Racing Pigs has its roots in Florida where the couple began racing pigs at the Florida State Fair in 1984. Since then, the act has flourished, becoming a nationwide state fair staple and a prime-time feature on The Wide World of Sports and The Tonight Show with both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. Randall Ross, one of Paul’s earliest hires, and his wife Sharon inherited the act in the late 1990s, securing the Robinsons’ legacy.
A Robinson’s Racing Pigs event is synonymous with irresistible piglets, hairpin turns, seat-of-your-pants exhilaration, and audience participation– the Rosses pick head cheerleaders– Pig Rooters– from the crowd to propel their pig to victory, with the winning cheerleader receiving a blue ribbon and the winning pig getting a much-desired Oreo cookie. Over the years, the act has seen Pot Belly Pigs, Florida Wild Pigs, and Yorkshires burst through the gates in a frenzy to cross the finish line for chocolate and cream-filling chow.
Not to rest on their laurels, the Rosses have added a new dimension to their act, Robinson’s Racing Pig Paddling Porkers. Taking the pigs from land to water, this show features pigs in sets of four taking the pig plunge and making their way through a 24-foot swimming pool.
In anticipation of this year’s appearance, I spoke with Randall about the fair’s appeal after all these years and pig racing in the time of COVID.
CF- The fair is such a magical event for so many people. I was wondering how important the fair was to you when you were a kid. You travel from town to town, bringing joy to folks. Did the fair have that same effect on you when you were younger?
RR- Oh, yes! I used to love to go to the fair. I grew up down in Pompano Beach, Florida. I used to go to the South Florida Fair in West Palm.
Any favorite memories from those times?
The rides and all those shows. It was a neat experience.
With technology and so many options for entertainment like Netflix and video games, why do people continue to flock to the fair? What about it makes people set aside technology to go out into the world?
I think the kids today still love the rides. You can’t actually get on a ride in a video game. It’s a totally different experience than you got at home.
What’s your typical year like with travel, training, and off-time?
We’re on the road about nine months out of the year. We start the Florida fairs down in January. Then we work through May, and then in July, we go up North and work all the northern fairs. We end up finishing up in Jacksonville, Florida, in the middle of November.
So you don’t have much time off? It sounds around the clock.
It’s about two-month time off.
How did Robinson’s Racing Pigs gain its notoriety? Did you do the booking yourself or hire someone to handle that for you?
We used to have a booking agent many years ago. At one time, we had eleven racetracks on the road, and a lot of people have gotten into the pig racing business since we started it. So we only have three units out.
Are there places you’ve yet to visit where you’d like to have the pigs perform?
I have never been overseas with the pigs, but we have had the pigs overseas in Bermuda. The government books us over there about every three or four years. They have a fair over in Bermuda, the state fair, and they always book us for that about every three or four years.
I know that you inherited the act from the Robinsons. Is the act something you will pass down to your family members after you’ve retired?
No, not at the moment. My boss, Paul– Paul and Carlotta, Robinson– I was like their kid to them. They didn’t have any children either. So when I pass on, I’m going to be on the same boat.
I was wondering where you find your pigs? Do you raise them?
We do raise some, and we do buy some. We race all kinds of pigs– pot bellies, regular livestock hogs. We also have a new thing out called Robinson’s Pig Paddling Porkers. The pigs jump in four at a time into a 24-foot swimming pool.
Like I said, we started racing pigs thirty-six years ago, and a lot of people got into it. So we had to come up with something to set us apart from the rest of the pack.
What sort of training is involved?
There’s a lot of training involved. They run for Oreo cookies. We put an Oreo at the end of the track, and the pigs know that cookie is at the end for them. That’s how we train ‘em. It’s all based on reward.
How do you settle on Oreos as the reward?
When we first started doing this, we tried everything. We tried everything from popcorn and cotton candy, and they just seemed to like the Oreos the best.
Have you thought about reaching out to Oreos for an official endorsement?
Well, we did many, many, many years ago, and they said they didn’t want their cookies associated with pigs (laughs)!
That’s ironic given how people pig out on Oreos. That’s kinda the point.
Yeah (laughs)! We go through a pack a day when we’re racing!
Now, you’re racing again, but were you sidelined a bit because of the pandemic? What did you do during the downtime?
Oh, we got done with the Florida Strawberry Festival in March 2020, and everything shut down. We didn’t start back up until the following January. We did one fair in July up in Myrtle Beach and we had about five hundred people come to the fair in ten days.
How did you keep yourself busy and motivated?
We kept ourselves busy by trying to get ready, so when we did open back up, we were ready to go. When we work, we don’t have a lot of time to prepare and stuff. So we took advantage of the time.
I was wondering what your traveling situation was like– if you carry your own rig or if each venue provides you with one?
Nah, nah. We have a [42-foot] Fifth Wheel, and the pigs ride in the back. It’s air-conditioned and fully self-contained. That’s how we roll down the road!
What did you miss the most while you were on hiatus?
Seeing the people. You know, we’ve been doing this thirty-six years. Most of the fairs we go to, we’ve been doing them thirty years or more.
I asked you earlier why fairs are still a draw for people. Why is Robinson’s Racing Pigs still so popular? What keeps people coming back after thirty-six years?
Well, the people like it– old people, young people, that doesn’t matter. They just love pigs! And any animal, period! But when they see these pigs– I think most people think of pigs as fat, lazy animals– how these pigs come out and run around the track in about six seconds, it gives them a different perspective on things.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about pigs?
Most people think that pigs are dirty, and that’s a myth, far from the truth.
What’s your favorite memory from your days with the act?
I don’t know about my favorite memory. But the thing I like best about it is seeing all the people smile and laugh when they come to the show.
What’s one thing you’d like people to know before they come to the show? What can newcomers expect?
Well, they can expect to come out and have a good time. We pick out Pig Rooters for each pig when they run, and we get them to cheer. They just have to come out and see it to believe it!
Robinson’s Racing Pigs return to the Georgia National Fair October 7-17!
October 7: 5:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm, 9:00pm
October 8: 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 5:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm, 9:00pm
October 9: 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 5:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm, 9:00pm
October 10-15: 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 5:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm, 9:00pm
October 16: 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 5:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm, 9:00pm
October 17: 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 5:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm, 9:00pm