“Once I retired from teaching at Central Lakes College, I still needed something to do,” said Gary Dauer, co-owner of The Bear’s Den in Leader, Minnesota. “There was a little bar-restaurant for sale in the town where my wife was born. We decided to buy it, grow it, and make a good little income.
“A few years later we took a trip to Montana to visit my wife Glenda’s family. They took us to a bar that had a little pig racing show. We never saw anything like it before.
“We got to thinking maybe it was something we should do back home. We knew people can’t gamble on pig races over here like they do in Montana, but we figured they would show up just for fun and prizes. So we built our own track behind The Bear’s Den and started having little pig racing shows of our own.
“We attracted maybe 50 people a night when we first started out. They were all having fun, but after 15 minutes even pig racing can become the same old same old. So my wife said ‘You know, if we let kids play games and contests out there, we could make our shows into a family attraction.’
“We started having kids down to compete in sack races, bouncy ball races, inflatable horse races, hula hoop contests, and bubblegum blowing contests. Proud parents loved watching their kids compete for fun, and we eventually added contests for them, too.
“Every summer more and more people are driving in from Fargo & the Twin Cities to have dinner with their families and enjoy the two hour show. Our audience grew from 50 to 100 to 300, and now we get 600 people per night.
“We get our pigs from a farm just north of here. I buy 25 of them or so at a time, and bring them home in a special trailer I designed. It takes seven to ten days to teach pigs how to race around our 100 foot track. All they really have to learn is that the bell and music mean to start running, and that there’s something they’ll like at the end.
“The pigs usually only eat pig food. It’s good, nutritious pig food, but a pig is always motivated by a cookie or a marshmallow or anything with a little sweetness to it. Pigs are very smart animals like that.
“I’ve been around pigs for 18 years now, and I know they enjoy what they do, absolutely. Racing is their first chance to enjoy life outside of sitting in their pen, and they’re excited and squealing the whole time they’re racing for that marshmallow.
“But go figure: When pigs become teenagers, they become difficult to work with. They just want to lie in their air conditioned trailer all day. After about a month it’s time for a group of racing pigs to retire, so I sell them to people in the neighborhood — people who want pigs, that is.
“My whole family is part of the show. I’m the one in the middle of the track wearing the American flag shirt, throwing beads and keeping things lively. One of my granddaughters starts off every night with her rendition of the national anthem. My other grandkids train the younger pigs to sit, roll over, and stand on their hind legs. That’s always a crowd-pleaser.
“I don’t know how our name got out there, but it sure did. We’ve taken our show on the road to Nashville, San Antonio, and county fairs and celebrations all over Minnesota. But wherever we might go during the summer, we always spend Friday and Saturday nights in Leader.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done here. Watching people happy to spend time with their families, and the smiles on their faces when they’re all leaving … it does a lot for us.
“Sometimes this world is kind of rough to deal with. You need pig racing.”
Visit the Leader Area Pig Races on Facebook for info about upcoming events!
By David Scheller