Punkin Chunkin lives, but not in Sussex County

Iconic event started in Lewes in 1986 resurfaces at venue in Oklahoma
September 17, 2023

World Championship Punkin Chunkin is back, but not in Sussex County or Delaware. According to director Frank Payton, the event will take place Saturday, Oct. 28, in Vinita, Okla.

Payton said the Vinita Rotary Foundation reached out to the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association wanting to stage a sanctioned event to replace an event they previously had.

“Our organization really doesn't have anything to do with it other than leasing them the trademarked name as we have done with other organizations in the past,” Payton said. “We will recognize the winners as it is the world championship. It is our hope that this is the beginning of something that will allow the competition to continue for future generations.”

The event started in 1986 when a few friends in Lewes built rudimentary machines to chunk leftover Halloween pumpkins. Over the years, the event grew larger and larger, and attracted national and even international attention, thanks in part to an annual Thanksgiving television special aired by Discovery/Science Channel. As it grew in popularity so did the need for lots of room – like 200 acres – because of the advancement of technology used to build and fire air cannons and large trebuchets. Crews came close to shooting a pumpkin one mile.

Legal, insurance and logistics problems surfaced from 2013 into 2014 when the event was canceled for the first time after being scheduled at Dover Motor Speedway. Logistics problems, including the size of the parcel, were issues forcing the cancellation.

Over the next five years, the event was held only one time in 2016. It was cancelled in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 before moving to Illinois for one year in Rantoul, Ill., in 2019. It was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and did not take place in 2021 or 2022.

In its heyday, more than 100 machines – including air cannons, trebuchets, torsions, catapults, centrifugals and human powered machines – participated in the event, with 50,000 to 70,000 spectators looking skyward. The record of 4,694 feet is held by American Chunker from the 2013 event.

More than 30,000 spectators attended the 2016 event, the last time it took place in Sussex County. Over the years, the association donated more than $1 million back to the community.

The most serious of two lawsuits – the first one was dismissed in 2015 – came after the 2016 event when a Discovery Channel producer was hit in the head with a piece of metal from a malfunctioning air cannon. The network canceled airing the event.

The lawsuit was eventually resolved in federal court with no admission or finding of fault for Punkin Chunkin organizers.

About Vinita

County seat of Craig County, northeast of Tulsa, Okla.

Population – nearly 5,200; founded in 1871-72, second-oldest town in Oklahoma

Future home of a $2 billion, 1,000-acre American Heartland Theme Park and Resort

Once had the world’s largest McDonald’s at 29,135 square feet

The city promotes its historic downtown and its proximity to Route 66

It started as a Cherokee Indian village.


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