Punkin' Chunkin' could be headed to Dover International Speedway this fall.
Punkin’ Chunkin’ appears to be headed to Dover this fall.
The World Championship Punkin’ Chunkin’ Association (WCPCA) is currently seeking approval from its membership to move the pumpkin-tossing charity festival to Dover International Speedway (DIS) – its fifth location since1986 and its first outside of Sussex County.
“DIS plays host to multiple large events throughout the year, including two NASCAR weekends and Firefly Music Festival, and will be able to help WCPCA continue to thrive in Delaware,” WCPCA President John Huber said in a press release issued late Wendesday night “The DIS property provides WCPCA chunkers with opportunities for longer world-record chunks than ever before, well over a mile is possible on the property.”
The search for a new home for the annual event began last year after Dale Wheatley, owner of Wheatley Farms in Bridgeville, informed event organizers that, due to liability concerns stemming from a pending lawsuit, he would no longer host Punkin’ Chunkin’.
“I can’t afford to lose everything I’ve got,” Wheatley said in April. “It’s a shame I can’t do something about it; but I can’t stand the risk.”
Wheatley’s concerns were in direct response to a lawsuit filed in New Castle County Superior Court on Oct. 23 by Daniel Fair, of Lewes, a former volunteer who’s been left paralyzed by an all-terrain vehicle accident that occurred during Punkin’ Chunkin’ 2011. Fair has named the Punkin’ Chunkin’ Association and Wheatley Farms in the suit, which seeks more than $4.5 million.
Negotiations between Wheatley Farms and the Punkin’ Chunkin’ Association have been ongoing since the lawsuit was filed.
In an effort to provide protection to Wheatley Farms and the hosts of other large events in Delaware, state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) drafted legislation in December modeled after Maryland law that would limit non-economic damages for personal injury or wrongful death at special events to $710,000.
However that bill hit a roadblock when it not only failed to receive enough support to be introduced, but also saw immense pushback from the Delaware Trial Lawyers Association, whose representatives called Pettyjohn’s bill “ineffective and unnecessary.”
“There are other options that could be used rather than putting a cap on what someone could collect if they’re injured,” said Larry Kimmel, president of the DTLA. “One of the options is an indemnification clause so the landowner would be indemnified from any damages.”
The WCPCA reportedly explored a variety of options for a new location, including sites in Maryland and elsewhere in Delaware.
“We feel confident that we have vetted all possible locations in Delaware and our surrounding region,” Huber said in Wednesday’s prepared statement. “Dover International Speedway provides a home for Punkin’ Chunkin’ that allows the event to live on and prosper. Without Dover International Speedway, the 2014 event would likely have been cancelled.”
Many of the sites that the association vetted were ruled out due to a lack of adequate space, creating a potential for something to go wrong, Huber said in an interview on Thursday.
“We’ve vetted more than 50 properties [and] with many of them, we just didn’t feel comfortable with the risk,” he said. “If [a pumpkin] turned and hit a road or an adjacent property that has structures on it, we were very concerned about that. We take that very seriously.”
The proposed plan is for Punkin’ Chunkin’ to be held at The Woodlands, which is also the home of the annual Firefly Music Festival. Huber said there is lots of buffer for chunkers to send their gourds flying away from any residences or businesses and towards a swap that runs behind area.
An area on the other side of Del. Route 1 would potentially be used for parking and camping, Huber said.
Once the WCPCA receives approval from its membership to move the event, Dover International Speedway and WCPCA will begin to negotiate a business agreement, he said.
Short of something going awry during those negotiations, Huber said he doesn’t see anything standing in the way of Punkin’ Chunkin’ setting up shop in Dover.
“Dover makes the most sense,” he said. “It’s available and we can make it work. If it comes down to either going there or potentially not holding an event or moving the event out of the state, I’d say the membership is going to approve the Dover move. I have high confidence in that and I have high confidence, based on discussions with the parties, that we will be able to put together a business agreement that make sense and that we’re all happy with.”
A final decisions about the move is expected to be made in the next month, Huber said.