COSTA MESA (CBS) — The Orange County Fair begins its 122nd annual summer run Friday under the theme “Home Sweet Home,” with nightly tributes to the military on the program.

As the fair’s organizers were brainstorming ideas around the theme of “Home Sweet Home,” the image of airport homecomings kept coming to mind, especially given the return of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, said the fair’s new chief executive officer, Jerome Hoban.

“And we’re close to Camp Pendleton,” Hoban said. “That was a tie that was very important. And our main hall is newly renovated and the theme in the main hall is celebrating the heritage of the property, which used to be the Santa Ana air base during World War II.”

Nick Berardino, a new OC Fair and Event Center board member, is looking forward to the nightly tributes, which will include fireworks, a laser light show and a 5-minute video.

“I’m a Vietnam veteran and I must say … it’s going to be a beautiful video with music. It’s going to have pyrotechnics attached to it and it’s going to be a display of appreciation and honor to those veterans every night that’s second to none anywhere,” Berardino said.

Fair highlights this year include an exhibit on chocolate and confections, the display of a beam from the World Trade Center, a salute to the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, Willie Nelson performing on opening night and Duran Duran on Aug. 11, Hoban said.

Popular mainstays include the fifth annual action sports competition, bull riding, a demolition derby, the online “pig cam,” which allows fairgoers the chance to see when a sow is about to give birth, and the “All-Alaskan Racing Pigs.”

One mainstay that won’t be back are the elephant rides, which the fair board decided in March to cancel, ending a 25-year tradition that had enraged animal rights activists.

And, of course, there’s the food. Hoban said besides the chocolate exhibit and the celebrity chef shows, fairgoers may want to try the “giant turkey leg wrapped in a pound of bacon.”

The fair runs Wednesdays through Sundays until Aug. 12. For more information about the fair, including hours, click here.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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