Adrenaline still pumping, Brad Cooley stepped out of his 1986 Toyota Tercel and took off his helmet after his last race on a hot Saturday afternoon.
“You got the best time,” one of his friends told him as the last few cars rumbled toward the obstacle course entrance at the 31st Annual Sutherlin Blackberry Festival.
It was the first year the festival hosted a Gambler 500 rally-style car race. Custom cars took sharp turns around tractor tires before speeding through a straightaway to hit a rope at the end of the race. Adding another challenge, some parts of the dirt track were wet and others were dry.
“I think the hardest part is probably that first tire just because it’s so tight and it’s still slick through there,” said Cooley, a lifelong Sutherlin resident. “I wish they would just let us do this for the rest of the day.”
One of the last few racers ended up beating Cooley’s time, but he said he hopes he’ll get another shot if the race is back next year.
People poured into the festival’s second of three days on Saturday to soak in a car show featuring hundreds of classic and modern cars, eat a slew of blackberry deserts and other vendor foods, participate in festival staples such as mud volleyball, and buy raffle tickets with the hope of winning a burgundy 1966 Ford Mustang.
There were about 5,100 raffle tickets left at the start of the day on Saturday, but by 10:30 a.m., Michelle Olsen, a ticket seller, said they were almost sold out. The festival started selling 25,000 tickets at local business in March.
“A guy came over and said, ‘Is it going to make you really mad if I buy one hundred?’ and I said, ‘no, I’ll fill out every single one of them for you,’” Olsen said.
Some years it’s difficult for organizers to find the right car for the raffle, said Pat Greer, secretary of the festival committee. They always manage to buy one that catches people’s eye, Greer said, and this year was no different. The 1966 Mustang was from a seller in Glide, she said.
Greer has been working for the festival since its second year, she said, making this the start of her third decade. She said she’s been proud to see it grow over the years.
“After 31 years, we must be doing something right,” she said. “To look out here and see everybody having a good time, you can say, ‘Wow, OK, we did good.”
Greer remembers when a group of community members got together in her restaurant, Pat’s Kozy Kitchen, and decided to hold a summer event in town. “As I’m waiting tables, they’re saying, ‘what do you think of this, what do you think of that,’” she said.
The first festival was held by Sugar Plum Bakery, which used to be where Abby’s Legendary Pizza is now, Greer said. It was a single-day small car show then, but now, new events such as the Gambler 500 are added every couple years.
“It’s the work of love for most of us,” she said.
People still enter events for the first time.
“I’m really nervous,” said Christen Gardner, who works at Kruse Farms and wanted to enter the blackberry cook-off for the first time. “I’m trying to hide out,” she said as she saw the judges taking the first couple bites of her blackberry pie.
Gardner frequently bakes for friends, who encouraged her to enter the contest this year.
She picked blackberries from the farm where she works. She said the heavy rain earlier this year made some of the berries smaller than normal, so she hesitated to make the pie. But she risked it anyway, without making any practice pies before the cook-off.