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Pumpkin Kings and Moto Maniacs: It’s all in a day at the Topsfield Fair

Woody Lancaster and his grandson Ryan Lancaster celebrate his victory in the Topsfield Fair's Giant Pumpkin contest. His gigantic gourd weighed in at 2003.5 pounds. (Courtesy Photo)

TOPSFIELD — Sian Espana, 19, puts on his helmet and cautiously rides his motorcycle into the  huge steel dome. Before long, he’s zooming along at 60 miles per hour, parallel to the ground, hugging the inside curves and defying gravity.

A large all-ages lunchtime crowd at the Topsfield Fair roars its approval. Wait, what’s this? His dad, Ivan, 50, is riding his bike into the MotoSphere. No way! In short order, the two daredevils are zigging and zagging and somehow avoiding contact. At 60 mph. And then gymnast/assistant Avery Cherie casually steps into the pleasure dome, moving her hands like a model on “The Price is Right.” The bikes fly past her. Safely outside the dome, Allison Biel, Ivan’s wife, nonchalantly urges the audience to cheer louder, as if further encouragement is needed.

What an adrenaline rush. Sir Isaac Newton be damned.

Before that, Ivan rode his red Honda Rebel on a highwire and then his “cyclone cycle” on a platform; both times Avery was on an attached tightrope. She twisted and spun, like Wonder Woman, her long hair hanging straight out. Allison then performed a gymnastics routine, tying what looked like a huge bedsheet around her body, spinning and turning, until the bedsheet unravels; she’s speeding toward the pavement, but, at the very last second, the plummet stops. That was close. Or so it seems. Allison calmly waves.

Just another day at the family business.

Welcome to the Moto Maniacs show at America’s oldest fair (199 years and counting). It was one of many highlights during a visit yesterday.

Does Ivan have a death wish? “No, it just might seem that way,” he said with a laugh after the performance. “If I did this on the street, then it would be dangerous. But for Sian and me, it’s a calculated risk. We practice nearly every morning.” He said Sian has been riding motorcycles since he was 4.

“We have been on the road since June, doing this at fairs, theaters and the shrinking number of circuses. The adrenaline sticks with you.

“I’m from a flying trapeze family, five generations. I was born to do this.”

Check out the Moto Maniacs; they’re at the fair all week.

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Growing giant pumpkins is second nature to Woody Lancaster. The Topsfield resident won the Giant Pumpkin competition at the fair on Friday, with a ginormous gourd that weighed in at a whopping 2,003.5 pounds. It’s on display behind a glass case in the Vegetables and Fruit barn. One year ago, the winner tipped the scales at a record-setting 2,075.5 pounds.

Although Lancaster didn’t beat the record, he also won in 2013 with a 1,746.5 pounder and has  finished second twice and third once.

So, what’s his secret?

“There really isn’t a secret,” he said. “With the Internet, all the information is available. Check out BigPumpkins.com. It’s all there. Plus, pumpkin growers share their information with one another. It’s a friendly community, an international community.” In other words, they’re not out to squash others’ dreams.

Lancaster said he is mentoring 15-year-old Henry Swenson of Topsfield, who has a keen interest in growing monster pumpkins and winning the Topsfield Fair contest someday. “This is his second year growing giant pumpkins, and he had a beauty, 1,275 pounds or so, to enter this year. But it rotted out, from the inside, probably because of the weather. That happens to us all.”

The New England Giant Pumpkin Growers Association, he adds, is another great resource for fledgling pumpkin growers.

Lancaster was awarded $6,500 for winning the weigh-in. Still, even though some coveted seeds bring in as much as $200 each — sort of like a Kentucky Derby winner’s … well, you know — this is a hobby and not a get-rich proposition for Lancaster and most pumpkin growers.

“I give my seeds away if someone wants ‘em, if they are really interested in the fun and camaraderie of pumpkin growing,” he said. “I’ve won twice at the fair, plus finished second a couple of times and third, too. I’m still in the hole (moneywise).

“It’s easy to get started, just get some seeds and, if you can, find a mentor.

“Twenty-one years ago, my son, Alan, wanted to grow pumpkins. I said, OK, that’ll be fun. When he was in his teens, he lost interest. But I kept going. I love it.”

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