BRIDGEVILLE, Del. -- Nature helped to squash some hopes and steered others to pumpkin glory Sunday as thousands crowded a windblown firing line for the final day of the 28th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin in a stubbly cornfield east of Bridgeville, Del.
New Hampshire-based American Chunker Inc.'s 4,694.68-foot shot in perfect weather Friday was never threatened during the rest of the weekend-long competition, giving the 4-year-old team this year's win for the popular Adult Air Cannon category as well as claim to a new world championship distance.
Distances were held down somewhat Sunday as winds near 15 mph and gusts near 20 mph bore directly into the faces of competitors and their rigs. Some also said that more pumpkin launches than usual disintegrated shortly after going airborne this year, a phenomenon that some speculated was the result of heavy rains early in the pumpkin growing season.
The contest ended with a bang as last year's defending champion, Milton, Del.-based Young Glory III, blasted off a 30-foot section of its barrel in the last shot of the day. Young Glory set a 4,483.51-foot record in 2008 that held until Sunday.
"We gave it all we had, which we normally don't, but under the circumstances, we did, and the barrel came out -- it just blew 500 feet or so," said Jake Burton, team captain. "The pumpkin was in that section, and there were pumpkin chips flying in every direction.
"This thing was cranked up 25 to 30% higher than it normally is," Burton said. "It definitely had a different tone to it when it blew."
Brian Labrie, American Chunker's captain and the owner of a landscaping company, said he and other team members scouted the 2009 Punkin Chunkin before designing their 120-foot, red, white and blue rig. The team, which draws heavily from engineering and scientific fields, recruited a team last year from FLIR Systems, a global producer of thermal imaging systems and analytic techniques, to help fine tune its launches.
"We're very happy and we've made a tremendous number of friends down here," Donald Gross, an American Chunker team member, said. "We're looking forward to coming back."
The Punkin Chunkin began in 1986 with a casual challenge among mechanically adventurous friends in a small field near Georgetown, Del., with the longest shot measured at 126 feet. Over the years the annual event has become a sizable fall tourism attraction, with attendance topping 20,000, and a large contributor to charitable causes. This year's competition drew 115 teams in 15 categories, with competitors coming from as far away as Australia.
Spinoffs have taken root across the country, and Discovery Communications has emerged as a major sponsor, with the Science Channel scheduling a Thanksgiving Day special on the contest.
Punkin Chunkin approaches ranged from simple human tosses and Rube Goldberg theatricals to elaborate, engine-powered mechanical spinners, medieval-technology catapults and twisted-rope "torsion" flingers. Compressed air cannons, with 21 teams and sometimes-massive profiles, accounted for the most entries.
Every scheme had enthusiasts, however.
Bob Carbo, whose Team Onager has competed since 1995, was cheered by others in his category as "the grandfather of torsion" Sunday after his tightly-wound rig notched a 3,105-foot toss and won the category.
"Incredible. A dream come true," said Carbo, who competed in a medieval-style chainmail suit and helmet. "To get into the 3,000-foot club is a huge thing."
Butch Lanasa of Baltimore took up a spot early in the day behind the air cannons with his wife and daughter's family.
"This is where the big ones are," said Lanasa, who owns a second home in the Salisbury, Md., area. Lanasa said that his daughter and son-in-law picked the spot, adding: "I just like to see it. They've started one in Maryland now, but we already planned to come to this one."
Ralph Eschborn, captain of Big 10 Inch air cannon, this year's second-place winner, said he was hoping for a completely unofficial consolation win of the average longest throw over three attempts. Big 10 Inch's more-than 3,800 foot third shot Sunday bested American Chunker's but made no difference in the final outcome.
"Second place is first loser, but we've got fire in our belly now," Eschborn said. "We'll be back."
Big 10 has multiple wins in Delaware, and holds a Guinness Book of Records mark for a 5,545.42 launch in Utah, in thinner air, nevertheless making it the first launcher to break 1 mile.
Frank Shade, one of the event's organizers and managers, said that he had not heard of any problems caused by the final round barrel failure. Although final crowd estimates were not available, Shade said.
"The campground and parking area were full on Saturday. I don't think we set a record, but it was a good year."
Jeff Montgomery, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal