WINSTON-SALEM — David Sparks has a relatively short resume. His work history section includes two primary entries — WXII television and the Dixie Class Fair. The West Forsyth High graduate never strayed too far from his Piedmont area roots for education either as he attended Wingate for junior college and then UNC Greensboro. After 12 years as a producer and director for local station WXII, Sparks became the assistant fair manager in 1988 and ascended to fair manager for the 1993 Dixie Classic.
This year’s fair marks his 31st fair as an employee of the most prominent fair in the Piedmont, and his last. He will retire after this year’s fair. Sparks says his work experience ties together well.
“I had no experience working at a fair before I came to the fair in 1988,” said Sparks. “But my experience at WXII was similar.”
Sparks says television producing and fair management share many similarities.
“In fair management, you pull in these different things — competitions, concessions, contracts, entertainment, carnival rides, marketing and people,” he said. “In television, you pull together a lot of different parts and put them together for a 30-minute show.”
This year’s iteration of the fair is off to a great start with more than 85,000 people through the turnstiles by the end of the weekend, according to fair spokeswoman Siobhan Olson. Advance ticket sales are pacing ahead of last year, and the three-day opening numbers are about 6 percent higher than the five-year average.
Sparks says he attributes the fair’s success to the paid staff and volunteers who work to make the fair better each year.
“I’m going to miss the people I work with every day, and I’ll miss the volunteers that join us each year,” he said. “Every year, I see people that I’ve known for years and really just see them once a year at the fair.”
One of the challenges of the fair, according to Sparks, is that planning is constant.
“The fair really starts for next year during this year,” he said. “We change things this year to see if we continue the change next year.”
Those changes this year include several new shows and five new rides on a midway that includes 63 rides. Fairgoers will experience a new horse show, motorcycle show and a ninja exhibition. Olson says that 60 food vendors will operate 87 different food booths. This year’s fair also features the largest traveling fun house in America ,which has not been to Winston-Salem in 10 years and recently underwent a total remodel.
One of the major changes under Sparks’ leadership has been the more than $10 million in capital improvements made at the fairgrounds since he took the helm.
“The capital improvements have been my legacy — the buildings, the infrastructure,” said Sparks. The fair operates as an enterprise fund within the city of Winston-Salem’s government. It has funded all of those capital improvements through revenue generation.”
While the attractions have grown and changed, Sparks says the fair is still primarily a celebration of agriculture.
“That’s the most important thing we do,” he said. “We showcase agriculture and education people on the importance of farming and where our food comes from.”