The Bonanza Extravaganza is not all about the prizes. Not that they're not spectacular. But a lot of the draw at the Bonanza Extravaganza is about hanging with people you love.
Rick Conrad is happy to provide a good party to bring people together. Conrad, event organizer with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1605, is selling tickets to the Bonanza Extravaganza, one of the union's biggest annual fundraisers.
This week, he's been busy.
"Phones are ringing off the hook. Tickets are flying out the door," he said.
The Bonanza Extravaganza is a 30-hour party with food, drinks, live music and 100 door prizes. It takes place at Hagerstown Speedway, always on Mother's Day weekend, Conrad said, and pulls in proceeds of roughly $100,000 a year.
Conrad said the union has distributed $525,000 to local fire departments and nonprofits over the five years of the event's existence.
Leslie Bussard, a Clear Spring resident, said she has attended every year.
"We've never won anything. But we have a good time," she said. "We buy tickets for the VIP tent. The food in the VIP tent is prime rib, seafood. And there are special gambling tables in the VIP tent."
Regular admission tickets allow participants access to complimentary picnic food - hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, lasagna and so on. Refillable soda or beer mugs are available for purchase. Bands perform on stages at opposite ends of the event. Prizes - including new cars and trucks, camping trailers, motorcycles - are out on display. This year, there will be a cornhole tournament. Plus, there are games of chance and raffles for guns and other items.
Bussard said that, despite a crowd of 15,000 or more, there's a family atmosphere at the Bonanza Extravaganza.
"We know a lot of firefighters," she said. "And there are bands playing, people walking around, looking at the prizes. We see people we haven't seen since high school."
The Bonanza Extravaganza means family to Doris Robbins, too. Robbins drives up every year from Warrenton, Va., with dozens of friends and family members.
"This will be our fourth or fifth year," she said. "The first year we went, it was just my family. My son won a camper. And my other son won a gun cabinet. This year we have over 50 people coming. We rented 20 rooms in a hotel."
Robbins praised the organizers. With cars, trucks, motorcycles and cash prizes from $1,000 to $100,000 awarded every five minutes from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, things could get chaotic. But she said the Bonanza Extravaganza comes off smoothly.
"We've been to other events like this and they're not as big and not as well organized. Rick (Conrad) does a really good job with the drawing. He's right on time all day," she said. "And there are staff people all over with bright shirts. They're cleaning up all the time."
Winning prizes is always fun. But Robbins said she's happy just to share a good time with friends and family. She said she likes to attend the Gold Cup horse races near The Plains, Va. But when the two events fell on the same day this year, Robbins wanted to attend the Bonanza Extravaganza.
"It's just a wonderful time. We look forward to it," she said.
If you go ...