PERRY -- All across the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter, people were working Friday to usher in the bright lights of the midway for hundreds of thousands of people.
With good weather, officials hope the 11-day Georgia National Fair will break the half-million attendance mark this year.
The fair begins at 3 p.m. Thursday with Sneak-A-Peek night. After that, it will be open from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. each day through Oct. 18.
On Friday, workers were setting up vendor booths, tents and giant barbecue pits made of stacked cinder blocks. Others were sprucing the place up.
But perhaps the most important work being done was by the crews setting up the midway rides. New this year is a roller coaster temporarily called Galaxy that cost $1 million and is making only its second appearance after recently debuting in New Mexico.
Jeff Alberts, safety coordinator for Reithoffer Shows, which is supplying the fair with rides, was overseeing the assembly of the Stinger ride Friday as he discussed the precautions taken to ensure safety.
The Stinger is a giant pendulum that swings riders in a complete vertical circle. He said it takes six men about 10 hours to set it up.
Alberts said every part of each ride is checked and rechecked before being put into operation. Then each ride is checked daily, with some checked multiple times each day.
The most important consideration, he said, is simple: “Make sure all the bolts are tightened.”
Alberts said he likes coming to Perry because of “the Southern hospitality,” but also because it’s near his home in Tampa, Florida. His wife, children and grandchildren are going to be in Perry next week to see him.
Another fair worker setting up Friday was getting even closer to home. Wayne Rogers was putting up the canopy for one of Cox Concession’s roasted corn booths. He travels the country for the company to such events as the Kentucky Derby, NASCAR races and various national fairs.
Not surprisingly, the Georgia National Fair is his favorite because he lives in Perry. But Rogers said he does like the traveling part of his job because “you get to see a lot of different places.”
Cox, which also has a large barbecue pit and other food booths, has a traveling crew of about 10 people and typically hires up to 100 people at each location, Rogers said.
Kevin McGrath, of Fort Myers, Florida, was overseeing the setup of a large barbecue pit for his company, The Best Around. The pit is constructed of stacked cinder blocks that will be painted.
The time it takes for set up varies, he said.
“If you have two weeks, it takes to weeks,” McGrath said. “If you have two days, it takes two days.”
He said the Perry fair is one of his favorites.
“It’s one of those fairs where the community, the fair board, the vendors who work out here ... everybody is just a good group of people,” he said. “The fair patrons are just good people. You don’t have a lot of shenanigans going on.”
The fair drew about 456,000 people last year, which is the second highest total ever, said Stacy Campbell, spokeswoman for the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter. The largest attendance total came in 2010 with 465,053 people.
That leaves a big step to pass the 500,000 mark, but she said there’s good reason to believe that can happen.
The fair has some big-name musical acts and is adding an additional day to its free concert lineup this year, starting with Grand Funk Railroad on Thursday. Other free concerts are the Charlie Daniels Band on Oct. 12, En Vogue on Oct. 13, and the Marshall Tucker Band on Oct. 14.
“We tried to bring in a lot of well-known genres,” she said. “We feel like it meets the needs of 8 years old to 80.”
Two fair headliners will cost $50 per ticket: Alabama on Oct. 10 and Rascal Flatts on Oct. 17.
For more on the fair schedule, go to www.georgia nationalfair.com.