The N.C. State Fair reopened last Thursday after a one-year hiatus. Before 2020, the last time the fair wasn’t held was during World War II, from 1942-45.
The return of the “Old North State” Fair one week after an exciting “Red River Showdown” between NCAA schools Oklahoma and Texas at the Dallas-based Texas State Fair can remind us all of the old links between fairs, food, families — and football. For many years, N.C. State hosted UNC every other year in Carter-Finley Stadium during the fair. Since that stopped, the N.C. State Fairgrounds have been without football during the fair, unlike in Texas.
This presents a unique opportunity for N.C. high school football. The Fairgrounds’ Sam Rand Grandstand has a multifaceted legacy. It was home to what was then NASCAR’s last dirt track race in 1970 (before this year’s race at Bristol), and has hosted horse racing. The Grandstand has remained mostly unchanged while the fairgrounds around it have — including the Exposition Center (built in 2005), Martin Building (2006) and Public House and Tobacco Pavilion (both 2015).
The Grandstand’s 4,000 permanent seats (2,800 covered) and open bank on one side of the canopy can accommodate spectators and additional seating developments. There is plenty of parking, and plenty of food options. While other facility details — including entry and exit points, event participant accommodations, and playing surfaces — would have to be cultivated, now is as good a time as any to renew an effort to play football at the fair.
Why not unite families with myriad food options, and high level entertainment, to include a marquee high school football matchup, one that could be remembered years on down the line for its unique location and festival atmosphere?
A fair environment with football could be a signature tradition. Student-athletes, families, school and municipalities would recount oral histories of a “once in a lifetime” fair experience for generations. Officials could schedule up to four games over two weekends and could celebrate eight schools.
The impact a renovated Rand Grandstand could have on the community at large is, well, large. It would be a big draw for multiple events, and though NASCAR and horses — the latter ever true to the Fairgrounds agricultural beginnings — are likely long gone from the possibilities, perhaps a return to the time-honore football traditions could help breathe life back into the venue beyond two weeks in October.
With this year’s N.C. State Fair renewal, scores of people gathered again celebrating home-grown foods, fun and the region’s roots.. One day, maybe, these gatherings will include football, too.