Two days of action scheduled or the legendary Dyberry Oval this year
It hardly seems possible but the start of the 157th Annual Wayne County Fair is now just a week away.
Fair officials are deep into preparations for this year's edition of the much-anticipated event, which runs from Friday, August 2 at 9 a.m. through Saturday, August 10 at 10 p.m.
While there are countless reasons to visit the Wayne County Fair every summer, harness racing tops the list insofar as sports goes.
Longtime race secretary and track announcer Jeff Firmstone is always excited to be a part of this tradition.
He's a third generation fair official who puts in countless hours of hard work in preparation for each year's extravaganza.
“I love the people,” Jeff said. “The harness racing community is very tight-knit and they're a pleasure to deal with. It's a lot of work every year, but I love every minute of it. The Fair and harness racing are near and dear to my heart.”
Roger Dirlam is the current Wayne County Fair President and he's also a big supporter of harness racing.
“It's one of the longest-running traditions we have,” he said “Harness racing has played a big part in the Fair since the very beginning and I'm definitely excited to have it back for another year.”
There are only 15 fairs left in Pennsylvania that host harness racing, and the vast majority of those are in the western part of the state.
Fans can enjoy two days of harness racing at this year's fair. Post time for Tuesday's action begins with a 2 p.m. post time, while Wednesday's heats begin at 4 p.m.
Tuesday features two-year-olds while Wednesday focuses on the three-year-olds. In addition to the usual PA Sire Stakes Paces and Trots, there will also be a Free-for-All event each day which is open to horses of all ages and abilities.
Dirlam is especially pleased with the line-up on Wednesday, which is also one of the Fair's Senior Citizen Discount Days.
“Boy, that's going to be a really great day!” Roger exclaimed. “We've got the harness racing, then live music and our fireworks show to close out the night.
“I'd encourage everyone to come on out and enjoy a fun day at the Fair.”
On the Oval
Harness racing fans will once again be treated to a wide array of beautiful horses and talented drivers.
Roger Hammer is expected to lead the way once again this year.
Known as the “King of the County Fair Circuit,” Hammer is among the most decorated drivers in Commonwealth history.
Roger is the current holder of several records at the Dyberry Oval and will always be remembered for winning the Hambletonian behind Vivid Photo.
Todd and Tony Schadel of Gratz are expected to have a large contingent of horses on hand. Other familiar names likely to be in attendance include: David Brickell and Drew Chellis.
Arty Jones leads the local contingent. A lifelong Wayne County resident and horseman, Jones will be back in the bike at age 73 … looking for one more victory at the Dyberry Oval.
“Arty's been a fixture here at the Wayne County Fair for many years,” Jeff said. “He pretty much focuses on training these days, but it's always fun to see him climb back in the bike for our Free-for-Alls.”
While this year's Wayne County Sports Hall of Fame Class hasn't been officially announced yet, don't be surprised to see a certain septuagenarian horseman listed as an inductee.
“One of the beauties of harness racing is that you can do it later in life,” Jeff said. “I think Arty would probably tell you that he's getting down to the end of his career, so it will be good to see him out there again.”
Harness racing is one of the very oldest traditions at the Wayne County Fair.
According to Keith Sutton's seminal book “Wayne County Sports History: 1872-1972,” official records of races during that first decade are understandably scarce.
However, our longtime Sports Editor uncovered ample documentation of events held at the start of that second decade.
For example, a much-ballyhooed two-horse showdown between “The Bay” from Hawley and “The Stranger” from Honesdale drew a big, enthusiastic crowd.
The race took place on the Dyberry Oval with bragging rights between the two towns hanging in the balance. “The Stranger” won this exciting race and the $75 purse that went along with it.
In 1872, there were two full days of trotting with purses ranging from $30 to $200. Interestingly, fairs back then were held in October instead of August.
Additionally, there were harness racing events staged during July outside the purview of the fair.
For example, a gala event took place over the July 4th weekend in 1892. Some of the big Independence Day winners hailed from Calkins, Waymart, Honesdale and Cabondale.
This summer holiday tradition continued for several years, including an event in 1894 that drew more than 1,000 paying spectators.
Drivers came from all over the area for this one. Winners were crowned from Seelyville, Bethany, Port Jervis, Aldenville and Equinunk.
Dr. William J. Perkins was President of the Wayne County Agricultural Society for more than 30 years. In holding that position, Dr. Perkins was also named President of the Wayne County Fair for each of those years.
His brothers (Cy, Alfred and Don) were also heavily involved with the fair and with harness racing for more than three decades.