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From 'midnight madness' to towering thrill rides: Stampede's 'Scooter' celebrates 43 years on the midway

Calgary Herald logo Calgary Herald 2019-07-09 Sammy Hudes
a man standing in front of a store: Gregg Gregg

He’s the man behind the bright lights, the giant stuffed animals and the towering rides of the Calgary Stampede midway.

For more than four decades, Gregg Korek, known more commonly and affectionately as “Scooter,” has lived and breathed Calgary’s annual cowboy-themed festivities.

“Sometimes I don’t think Calgarians realize how good of a fair they’ve got,” says Korek, a born-and-raised Calgarian.

“On a world-class stage, this is right up there. This is one of the best events in the world, and the premier event for North American Midway Entertainment.”

Korek, 59, serves as vice-president of client services for the entertainment company, which puts on 150 fairs a year across the continent, including the Stampede.

He acquired his nickname as a kid — “I was just faster when I was younger,” Korek recalls — but it’s now the name you call if you need something taken care of on the midway.

“Everybody knows me at Scooter. Nobody calls me Gregg,” says the veteran of 43 Stampedes.

a group of people wearing costumes:  Gregg “Scooter” Korek hands out a prize to 10-year-olds Myha Russell and Quinn Smella after a round of Whack-A-Mole on the midway at the Calgary Stampede on Monday, July 8, 2019. Brendan Miller/Postmedia Gregg “Scooter” Korek hands out a prize to 10-year-olds Myha Russell and Quinn Smella after a round of Whack-A-Mole on the midway at the Calgary Stampede on Monday, July 8, 2019. Brendan Miller/Postmedia

Despite spending eight months on the road annually, he says never gets sick of the grounds — “how could you?” he says — but it’s certainly no easy task putting on the 10-day show.

It takes about 350 tractor-trailers to haul the games, food stands, rides and other attractions that make up the Stampede midway each year.

“We’re completely a self-sufficient city,” says Korek. “We can set up anywhere in the world. The only thing we need is water. We bring everything with us: living accommodations, we bring our electricity with us, we bring a contingency of staff, we’ve got cooking facilities for our staff.

“We travel with about 450 really great folks that make this park happen every day and those are the core people that put on this great show here at the Calgary Stampede and all across North America.”

But he says it’s his hometown fair which is closest to his heart. Korek recalls how the midway has changed over the years, from sideshows which dominated the grounds in the 1980s to thrill rides and participatory attractions today.

He doesn’t go near the corndogs and other insect-laden fried delicacies, though.

“I really don’t stick to midway foods very much,” Korek says. “It wouldn’t be good for my diet.”

a group of stuffed animals sitting next to a child:  Gregg “Scooter” Korek plays a round of Whack-A-Mole on the midway at the Calgary Stampede with 10-year-old Myha Russell on Monday, July 8, 2019. Brendan Miller/Postmedia Gregg “Scooter” Korek plays a round of Whack-A-Mole on the midway at the Calgary Stampede with 10-year-old Myha Russell on Monday, July 8, 2019. Brendan Miller/Postmedia

He’s also been around for his fair share of mishaps and questionable Stampede experiments.

Like in 1977, when the Stampede launched “midnight madness.” The $5 event drew upwards of 30,000 people to the midway from midnight to 8 a.m.

It was eventually shut down in the mid-1980s.

“That was an absolute zoo,” Korek says.

“It was a great thing. It was wild . . . I think it more became kind of a security issue. You’ve got 25,000 people here at 4 a.m. You could imagine what was going on.”

But the sustaining allure of the Stampede has always been “how we attract the world,” says Korek.

“I’m really proud of what we do here in Calgary and how great an event it is, even on the world stage. It’s up there with Oktoberfest. I think it’s on everybody’s bucket list,” he says.

“I’m going to keep on going as long as they drag me around this place.”

shudes@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @SammyHudes

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