Fairgoers can get their photo taken with Big Tex, who will be wearing a mask that’s 7 feet wide.
Although the State Fair of Texas has been canceled for 2020, fair executives announced late Wednesday that it will welcome smaller groups of people into Fair Park for drive-thru picnics and pictures with Big Tex.
The State Fair of Texas would ordinarily welcome at least 2.5 million people to Fair Park over its 24-day run. This year, it’ll allow up to 50,000 cars, which is well under 5% of the usual crowds, to drive through the fair grounds and pick up a Fletcher’s corny dog and other fair foods. Attendees can then drive to a designated parking lot and enjoy the food in their cars or as a picnic, as long as the groups social distance.
It’s an unusual year, says Karissa Condoianis, senior vice president of public relations for the State Fair of Texas, and that calls for an out-of-the-ordinary event.
“It’s been an emotional time,” Condoianis says, “and we still wanted to find a way not only to continue to fulfill our non-profit mission but to keep the State Fair spirit alive.”
The Big Tex Fair Food Drive-Thru will take place on the Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between Sept. 25 and Oct. 18, when the fair would have taken place. The exception is Saturday, Oct. 10, when the drive-thru will not open because of the University of Texas vs. University of Oklahoma Red River Showdown football game. To make up for it, the drive-thru is tacking on two dates: Monday, Oct. 12 and Thursday, Oct. 15.
The fair is also launching a photo-only drive-thru to kick it all off, on Sept. 19 and 20.
Interested participants will sign up and pay in advance, online, at bigtex.com/drivethru.
The Fletcher’s family — which sells one of the State Fair of Texas’ most iconic foods — is prepared for the event to sell out. Amber Fletcher, head of marketing for the company, says the team may be able to fry more than 1,000 corny dogs during each hour that the drive-thru is open.
“When the fair canceled, we had so many people say, ‘I’ve been eating one of these for 20, 30, 50 years, and this will be my first year without one.’ Well now they won’t have to say that,” Fletcher says. The company will not be selling its veggie corny dogs — though they are available at the brand’s popular pop-up events.
Those who snag a spot will get in line, in their cars, on their designated day and during a specific window of time. The people in each vehicle will have the opportunity to get a professional photo taken with Big Tex.
And Big Tex will be dressed in his 2020 best: He’ll be wearing a mask that measures 7 feet wide, nearly 4 feet tall.
Each vehicle is allowed to hold up to eight people, and the fair is not admitting limos, buses or trailers.
Here’s what the State Fair is selling:
- Photo package: $25, available Sept. 19 and 20 only. Patrons will get out of their cars to pose in front of Big Tex. They will be texted a downloadable photo on the spot.
- Fair Food & Photo Package A, $65, available Sept. 25, 26 and 27, and Oct. 2, 3, 4, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17 and 18. Includes a downloadable photo with Big Tex, two Fletcher’s corny dogs, an order of Jack’s French Fries, an order of Stiffler’s Fried Oreos, a bag of cotton candy, a bag of Pioneer kettle corn and two soft drinks or waters.
- Fair Food & Photo Package B: $99, available Sept. 25, 26 and 27, and Oct. 2, 3, 4, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17 and 18. Includes a downloadable photo with Big Tex, four Fletcher’s corny dogs, two orders of Jack’s French Fries, two orders of Stiffler’s Fried Oreos, two bags of cotton candy, two bags of Pioneer kettle corn and four soft drinks or waters. Participants can also participate in a Midway game — while staying in their cars — where “everyone will win a prize,” Condoianis says. No other information about the game was immediately available.
Package A is meant to feed one to two people; Package B is meant to feed three to four. Cars can order up to two packages.
When fairgoers interact with anyone on State Fair grounds, they will be asked to wear masks, even in their cars.
Attendees can also pay for extra food from a short list of fair favorites: two Smokey John’s sausage on a sticks for $12; two Smokey John’s turkey legs for $24; two Sweet Connie’s corn on the cob for $10; or two more Fletcher’s corny dogs for $15.
The co-owners of Smokey John’s said it was an “honor” to be included in the drive-thru.
“We feel extremely blessed to be able to have this opportunity, to mitigate some of the loss [from the COVID-19 downturn],” says Smokey John’s co-owner Brent Reaves. His brother Juan Reaves, also a co-owner, says participating in the State Fair of Texas’ event offers them “a much bigger reach” than they could have found by trying to promote their own food during the pandemic.
Tickets go on sale Sept. 2. Anyone who signs up at bigtex.com/insider will hear first about when tickets will be available.
The fair was canceled in 2020 for the first time since World War II. Condoianis calls the drive-thru “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” not only because it’s unique to 2020 — but also because she hopes the State Fair of Texas will be back to normal in 2021.
Update at 8 a.m. Aug. 27, 2020: The State Fair spokeswoman originally said the drive-thru would accommodate 100,000 cars. She corrected that number to 50,000 the morning after this announcement.