After a boffo debut last year, SUN ‘n FUN reconvened its “When Pigs Fly South BBQ Challenge” Nov. 15-16 in Lakeland, Florida. Expectations were high. But crummy weather muted the event, which drew 51 competitors this year.
BBQ pros hailed from as far as Columbus, Ohio, Kansas City and Las Vegas. During set-up one worker exclaimed, “Hey, that’s Stretch!” Turns out, this Kansas City cooker had starred on cable TV’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and “BBQ Pitmasters.” He, like others, is a country culinary celeb with tongue-firmly-in-cheek.
Their humor was widely in evidence. Signage was a hoot — some of it on the edge for family consumption, but usually subtle. Cookers themselves were a colorful bunch. It seems they live for this, every weekend, somewhere.
SUN ‘n FUN-based organizations were there, too. Internet retailer PilotMall.com drew a crowd to its on-site Aviation Superstore with free Tums for BBQ samplers. A giant electronic highway sign blazed the message “Too Much BBQ?” followed by directions to the free Tums and “Gifts, Toys & More.”
The Central Florida Aerospace Academy Boeing 727 was open for cockpit tours.
The Seaplane Pilots Association had members enjoying the inclement day on its big back porch. Some 10 amphibs where on hand among the two dozen or so fly-ins, plus show planes. To my eye, weather was marginal VFR at very best. Beyond local showers and drizzle, heavy rain trained across Central Florida blocking access to KLAL from the north.
Hearing of the event’s huge success last year, I wanted to see for myself. Verdict? The concept is a winner. Give people what they want. It’s a draw that scores with the community and gives pilots a tasty reason to fly. The weather? SUN ‘n FUN management was philosophical: “It happens.”
After all these years, SUN ‘n FUN is still working to get its due from the community. Among pilots, they want to grow beyond the traditional once-a-year extravaganza. A new year-round schedule helps both causes. The “When Pigs Fly South BBQ Challenge” is one of the most potent new offerings.
Did it work this year? Let’s just say the weather stunk. Yet, perhaps a couple thousand people came out. Want to try it at your airport on a better day?
© 2013 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved