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Pigs will be rounding the track Sunday in Nevis

Fans cheered as the porkers rounded the racetrack. There were contests among lawyers, businesses, politicians and more. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

On your mark, get set - oink!

And they're off, rounding the first corner with lightning speed, the crowd cheering.

Nevis Muskie Park will become Muskie Downs Sunday, July 10 when renowned pig trainer Gary Dauer arrives with his pinks - and high jinx - for an afternoon of entertainment.

This year's event, the third annual, will feature two runs, the gates opening for the swiftest swine off the line at 1:05 p.m. and 4:05 p.m.

Gary and Glenda Dauer will be traveling up from Leader, a town with a population of seven, for the International Pig Racing Federation-sanctioned event.

Last summer, pig-racing fans arrived in number for the Nevis event, mirroring the mania in LA (Leader Area) on weekends. The village swells to 600-plus when people from across the globe arrive for the renowned races.

The Dauers were introduced to pig races about 10 years ago in Montana, where wagering was part of the action.

"It would be fun to try it," they decided, but without betting.

They brainstormed a couple of years and 10 summers ago, the races debuted, about 50 people arriving. But a simple run around the track was over in seconds. "It didn't seem exciting enough."

So the Dauers added some tomfoolery to the trough.

Ringmaster Dauer engages the audience, generating excitement and humor.

The Nevis event will have sponsors who've adopted a pig to run the race, each porker adorned in "dashing" capes this year.

Last year, Tom Horner, Independence Party candidate for governor, arrived to meet and greet, kissing a pig in the process.

Loony, original games for kids and adults in the centerfield tickle the funny bone between races.

'Very, very smart'

Gary Dauer begins training the pigs when they're 6 to 10 weeks old, at about 15 pounds.

"Pigs are very, very smart," the former Central Lakes Technical College-Staples instructor said of his stew-dents. "They listen well and communicate well," Dauer said. "They talk to me - in their own way - especially if they want something."

And the "burrow-breds" love running. Doughnuts are waiting when they cross the finish line.

Dauer spends about two weeks, three hours a day, training his protégés on the track. During his self-developed schooling, he creates a trust.

The bell (and a lifted gate) sets them on their way accompanied by rock 'n' roll tunes, Cotton Eye Joe the pigs' favorite.

Unless distracted - or in the early training stages - they head "wide open" around the track, crossing the finish line in 12 to 15 seconds.

By summer's end, about 150 pigs, four sets, have competed.

Once the piglets reach 45 to 50 pounds, they become teenagers, he said. And like their human counterparts, they are less apt to cooperate.

At that level, the pigs are sold to local people - moving from the racetrack to the digestive tract.

But they don't lose their appetite for the run. Dauer's brother-in-law, who'd purchased some retirees, was returning home with his radio blaring and the car window down on lazy summer afternoon.

Hearing the music, the 200-pound pigs took off at record pace, no doubt wondering what happened to the doughnuts at the race's end.

Bringing home the bacon

The Nevis pig races come at the baconing (aka beckoning) of the former mayor.

Dave McCurnin happened upon them a few years ago and decided to take his family down for the event. He found it to be a grand form of entertainment.

Now he's bringing home the bacon in an effort to draw people to the lakeside village.

The Nevis firefighters will be serving BBQ pork (politically incorrect, but good) sandwiches.

Belle the Pig will be official hostess, meeting and greeting. She will be available for photos.

Tickets for the event are available at all T&M Express locations in Park Rapids, Nevis and Akeley. Cost is $3 for ages 6 and up. Wristbands will be color-coded for the 1:05 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. race times.