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New attractions in America’s Heartland

Courtesy Paul Bunyan’s Northwoods Lumberjack Show

Ride a corkscrewing wooden roller coaster, experience Marco Polo’s exploration of China, watch lumberjacks face off in a hot-saw competition, lay down a qualifying lap in an IndyCar simulator or relive Ralphie’s soul-crushing slide down Santa’s Mountain from the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” — “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Groups can do it all at these new attractions and adventures in America’s Heartland.

Paul Bunyan’s Northwoods Lumberjack Show
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Mary and Trevor Hickey opened Paul Bunyan’s Northwoods Lumberjack Show in June next to the famous Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty, which the Hickeys’ family owns.

Each show lasts about an hour and 15 minutes, manager Eddie Fernandez said, and,  just like lumberjack competitions on ESPN, includes several events that pit lumberjacks and lumberjills — female lumberjacks — against each other. The show is held in an open-air venue with covered bleachers for up to 550 people and a performance area with climbing poles and a pool for water and log competitions.

During each show, lumberjack athletes (lumberjathletes?) compete in several events, including the standing block chop, the springboard chop, the axe throw, the obstacle pole, the log roll and the hot saw.

“It’s part competition, part entertainment,” he said. “There’s some comedy in there, live action and crowd interaction. It’s great for everyone.”

The show is the brainchild and baby of Geno “The Big Push” Cummings, a Wisconsin resident and 21-year veteran of the sport who regularly competes in and wins lumberjack competitions.

During a speed climb event, athletes must scale a 50-foot pole as fast as they can before sliding back down. The hot-saw event requires competitors to use a modified chainsaw to cut off three pieces of a wooden block in seconds. During the springboard chop, lumberjacks must balance on boards notched into a pole as they race up their “trees” to be the first to chop the block at the top.

The pool at the center is where athletes compete in log rolling and boom running events. Log rolling, a crowd favorite, requires the competitors to keep their balance on top of a spinning log, and boom runners must run across logs that are tied end to end and floating in the pond.

Every show features plenty of audience participation, including helping judge events, keeping score and having a “Hey yo” cheering contest. The lumberjack show is seasonal, and its last show was Labor Day weekend; but the owners may opt to keep shows running later into the fall next year, Fernandez said.

Discounted tickets are available for groups and for those who want to pair a lumberjack show with a lumberjack meal at the Cook Shanty.

Dallara IndyCar Factory
Speedway, Indiana
It’s difficult to watch an IndyCar race and not wonder: How are those cars made? What’s it like to drive one? How can pit crews change tires so fast?

Rabid racing fans and those who know nothing of the sport can visit the Dallara IndyCar Factory in Speedway, Indiana, just outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to learn about Dallara IndyCars, how they’re made, and what it’s like to drive or ride in one. The factory opened for tours in 2012.

“You can come in here and be a complete novice about racing and have a great time,” said corporate events manager James Sell. “You can come in and touch racing.”

The factory offers tours of its manufacturing operations, as well as an interactive zone with exhibits and racing simulators. Tours are available Monday through Saturday, and special tours can be arranged for large or private groups, Sell said.

The guides who lead the tours have been trained by Dallara engineers about the manufacturing process. During the 45-minute factory tour, guests watch as crews mold the carbon fiber car bodies and smooth out any seams and rough edges. The body is then taken to fabrication and machining, where the suspension is made, Sell said.

Guests also tour the quality control area, where chassis parts are given chemical baths and inspected for imperfections. Each tour concludes with the group’s gathering at a fully assembled 2012 Dallara IndyCar.

In the interactive zone, visitors can watch a short film about Dallara, learn about the company’s history and check out hands-on exhibits that detail the science, technology and engineering of an IndyCar. Three wind tunnel models, including a 2011 and a 2012 IndyCar and a 2002 Le Mans model, all from the Dallara facility in Parma, Italy, are also on display.

Two full-size car simulators or two box simulators, which are similar to racing video games in arcades, run iRacing software to give guests a taste of racing an actual IndyCar, and visitors compete to see who can lay down the fastest qualifying lap.

“It never fails: There will be one or two people who you cannot get out of the simulator,” he said.
For an additional fee, groups can also take the pit stop challenge when Dallara staff teach them how to jack up a car and use air guns to change a tire.

Guests can also sign up to ride in a street-legal IndyCar that has been modified to fit two people. A driver will take a helmeted and buckled-in guest for a spin on city streets. No, you won’t go 200 mph. And no, you can’t drive.

“You can take someone out in a real IndyCar car and obey the laws of the road, and you’ll see them come back with a smile on their face and their fist in the air every time,” Sell said.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.