Fun, laughter and cracking metal

Published 11:15 pm Friday, October 5, 2018

It was a scorching Friday afternoon at the Suffolk Peanut Fest, but the festivities at the Suffolk Executive Airport kept going with a day of rides and family-friendly fun capped off by cheers for wrecking cars.

The Gooberland Family Area hosted numerous families with children leaping inside the bounce house, playing with bubbles or enjoying Dobbin’s Mini Petting Farm pony rides.

The Teeny Tiny Farm petting zoo was also packed with visitors wanting to see some animals. Children got to feed pigs, cows, llamas and goats of many colors with cups of either carrots or feed.

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The goats were especially excited when they came by with that feed.

“We’re going to need more food,” Julia Vanwinkle said as her daughter Aubree Davis, 4, kept feeding the goats. “We haven’t even made it to the other (animals) yet.”

There were plenty of vendors selling all kinds of cold beverages and tasty treats. There was a seemingly endless supply of fresh peanuts passed out by the Goober Gang, a group of Suffolk high school student volunteers.

“I’ve already dug up six boxes of peanuts, and we’ve still got a couple of days left,” said high school volunteer Anna Feagans.

These volunteers earn community service hours each year while representing their schools, according to Goober Gang coordinator Heather Wiggins. This festival marks the fifth year Wiggins has been involved, while her fellow coordinator Pam Goodman has been doing this for more than a decade.

“These kids do a great job every year,” Wiggins said. “They work really hard, interact with the guests, put on costumes and take pictures with the kids.”

While volunteers posed for pictures with mascot “P-Nutty” and families snapped other photos in front of the 24-foot long Planters’ NUTmobile, concession stand employees were cooking up more delicious ways to fight hunger.

Festival favorites were plentiful: corndogs, cheeseburgers, hotdogs and pulled pork with barbecue sauce, plus Chinese, Filipino and Puerto Rican dishes. There were also tents frying up mouthwatering offerings like fried Oreos and funnel cakes that smelled like a baker’s fried delight.

For her first Peanut Fest visit, Inez Randolph got a plate of Philly cheesesteak, with her eyes set on fried fish and French fries later in the evening. The 74-year-old was part of a senior group that came from Portsmouth, and the festival had already made a good impression on her.

“I’m enjoying it,” she said. “I’ve seen so many different creative things being made by people, like this peanut hat.”

That peanut hat came from the Rad Hatter tent, where visitors got to take pre-made paper bag hats and decorate them however they saw fit. Owner Tony Melendez was helping children attach pipe cleaners and glitter and all sorts of other wild decorations.

“Each person has their own chance to make a whimsical hat for the festival,” he said. “It’s a keepsake from the event.”

Abby Burchard, 12, and her brother Ben, 9, were working on their own wearable keepsakes in the shaded tent.

“It’s going to look like a flower pot mostly,” Abby said and pointed to one of the hat’s decorations. “I already got one down right here.”

The temperature receded and the wind picked up when the skies got darker Friday evening. There was a slight drizzle, but that wasn’t going to stop the arena-area audience that demanded crashing cars that night.

“Rain or shine, let it grind,” said Trever Gardner, 9.

The festival’s annual Demolition Derby once again filled bleachers with spectators and drew more than 30 drivers in their modified cars. But first up were the six youngsters in the derby’s inaugural power wheels competition.

The children had to pop the balloons attached to the others’ power wheels. Their parents and other volunteers walked beside the small wreckers to help move them in the right directions.

They may not have followed all of those directions, but the derby’s first children’s challenge still turned out to be plenty of fun.

“We had a good time and the kids enjoyed it with smiles on all their faces,” said Scott Wiggins of the festival’s derby committee.

Carter Ferguson, 7, emerged victorious in his green paintball mask and his arms pumping in the air in excitement.

“Now he’s going to want to do every derby. He’s so excited,” said Heather Ferguson, Carter’s mom. “That was so stinking cute.”

There were four heats in the demolition derby before the grand finale round, two for compact-sized cars and the other two for full-sized creations. Each one is modified according to safety rules and stripped down to essentials. Their gas tanks are relocated. The doors are welded or chained shut to prevent them from flying off.

The same goes for fiberglass and other unnecessary parts that could potentially become projectiles.

“We’re just out here to have fun as safe as possible and put on a big show for these guys,” volunteer Chris Moore said during the pre-show briefing for drivers.

This event runs on the volunteers and family members in a community of drivers that help each other build cars before they smash into each other in the arena.

Ferguson and committee member Scotty Buchanan — who’s earned the nickname “The Wrecking Ball” — had their children Courtney, 21, Lindsey, 18, and Zachary, 17, competing on Friday. It was Courtney’s first time in the arena and that’s largely thanks to badgering from her siblings.

“They wanted to call me a little chicken, so I had no choice,” Courtney said.

Every round of the competition blistered with roaring engines and clanking metal. Some hits earned applause and others simply knocked off bumpers or created sparks. Dirt scattered, smoke filled the air and the cars just kept hitting back and forth.

Each heat kept going until a predetermined number of cars remained active. Only front-on and driver’s door collisions are banned. Furthermore, there’s no “sandbagging,” meaning every driver has to make an aggressive move each minute or be eliminated.

There’s prize money, Mad Dog trophies and bragging rights to be won. But the adrenaline rush is the real hook.

That’s what Courtney felt after she advanced past her first heat in a flurry of precise hits and screeching tires.

“It felt really good,” she said after her helmet was off. “It was like pure energy. That’s all you feel.”

The Peanut Festival is being held at the Suffolk Executive Airport, 1200 Gene Bolton Drive, and will be open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday