“Soo-ey,” the crowd called to the pigs.
Four Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs then darted around a track set up near the Howell Theatre in downtown Smithfield. Four groups cheered for the four pigs: Hammy Hamlin, Squilling Tony Stewart, Butter Busch and Piggy Gordon, all named after NASCAR drivers.
Their bellies dragging slightly on the ground, three pigs finished the race quickly to claim their prize: a handful of cheese doodles. The last one trailed behind and arrived to an empty plate.
“The winner gets the cheese doodles, and the losers, they get the crumbs,” Brent Cook had told the crowd earlier. Cook is part of Circle C Farms in Newton, which once again brought its Hogway Speedway to Smithfield’s annual Ham & Yam Festival.
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The festival, which brought thousands of people to town May 2-3, began in 1985 as a competition between Smithfield, N.C., and Smithfield, Va., ham producers.
“There’s nothing I don’t like about it,” said Faye Littleton of Pine Level, who came with her grandson and daughter-in-law.
Littleton said she enjoys seeing people she doesn’t normally get to see. Plus, the food is great. “It smells like a state fair,” she said.
On Saturday, the festival’s main day, more than 150 booths set up along East Johnston Street offered crafts and other items for sale, election candidates greeting potential voters, carnival games for kids and a variety of food. People had a chance to try different barbecue recipes, salty ham biscuits, roasted yams, yam smoothies and even yam ice cream.
When asked their favorite part of Ham & Yam, most people answered, “The food.”
The pigs – both on the plates and on the speedway – weren’t the only animals around. Circle C Farms also raced goats and ducks, and many people brought their dogs.
Adults who first came to Ham & Yam as kids are now sharing the festival with their children. Brittney Moore of Benson brought her daughter, Kyleigh, 5. “I’ve been going here since I was little, so it was something for her to come out to,” Moore said. “I just want her to get out here and have some fun.”
Spending time with loved ones was a theme of the day. “I get to enjoy it with my family,” said Justin Peedin, 8, of Benson. And his favorite food? The pizza.
For the Mitchell siblings – Nelson, 11, and Lillie, 8, of Micro – spending time together meant pelting each other with water balloons. The two played one of the carnival games: standing in metal cages and firing water balloons at each other with slingshots.
Nelson was proud that he drenched his sister multiple times. Lillie managed to get her brother’s hat wet; he had taken it off in an attempt to keep it dry. “I got revenge,” Lillie said.
The festival was also a chance for local performing groups to share their talents with the community. Sofia Ramirez, 11, lives in Smithfield and is part of Artistry in Motion, a dance school that performed at one of the festival’s venues. “It’s exciting, and (I’m) kind of hoping to get other people to go to our studio,” she said.
Saturday night ended with Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band, which performed on the Neuse River Amphitheater.