And Away They Go...

Fabulous Hats Mark Opening Day at Del Mar

As he looked around at this year's contestants, last year's champ said the key to winning this year will be batteries

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The competition for this year's annual Opening Day Hats Contest at Del Mar was fierce. Just ask last year's grand prize winner.

    For 18 years, Chris Banner of Valley Center has entered into the annual contest that marks the first day of the Del Mar summer racing season. He's even been named champion a time or two.

    As he looked around at this year's 331 contestants, he said the key to winning this year will be batteries.

    “Competition is getting pretty good,” he said. “A lot of glitter, glare, a lot of showy stuff and I think moving parts.”

    WATCH: Motorized Hats on Opening Day

    [DGO] WATCH: Motorized Hats on Opening Day
    NBC 7's livestream showcased the participants in the Opening Day at Del Mar Hats Contest including these motorized hats.

    Thousands gathered Thursday afternoon to "see and be seen" as race fans stopped by the Plaza de Mexico to enter into the annual competition of flowers, feathers and tulle.

    Lori Shelton of San Diego is another longtime contest participant and repeat winner.

    She decided to go historic for the special 20th anniversary celebration.

    Her gigantic red hat was filled with feathers and photos of all of the hats she’s created over the years.

    Her most memorable, she said, may be the time she created a hat out of a lampshade and put her 15-month-old daughter on top.

    In the end, Shelton's unforgettable 20th anniversary creation earned her first place in the contest's "Best Flowers/All Others" category.

    Belinda Berry from Walnut Creek started working on her creation since the day after last year’s Opening Day.

    Her hat named “Go Navy!” was a combination of feathers, fabric, jewelry and Christmas decorations perfectly balanced atop her head.

    “You just have to let the creative juices take hold and go with it,” Berry said.

    “You have to do a lot of re-dos, some things that you think are going to work, they fall off your head,” she explained. “There’s a lot of engineering.”

    The hard work Berry put into her year-long project definitely paid off.

    She was crowned first place winner of the "Funniest/Most Outrageous" category, followed by the ultimate victory: winner of the Bing Crosby Grand Prize -- the top honors at the hats contest.

    Randy Wilson of Monrovia, California, won the grand prize back in 2006 and said this was his first time entering the contest again since his victory eight years ago.

    With an elaborate racing-themed hat that included a replica of the track, mini horses, jockeys and an announcer figurine that actually talked, it was clear Wilson was serious about reclaiming his crown.

    When the contest was said and done, Wilson took home first place in the "Best Racing Theme" category, so he considered his "comeback tour" a sweet success.

    Of course there were those people who weren't interested in being the "most" anything with their hats but were just enjoying the spirit of the contest. For example, Chloe and David who arrived in coordinated lime green and purple.

    “There’s only three days a year you can wear something like this, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and Opening Day,” David said laughing.

    For those future hat contest participants who are serious about nabbing the prize, the veterans have some words of wisdom.

    Several were painfully aware that the wind is not your friend. Others explained how they needed to deconstruct their hats to fit into vehicles just to get to the contest.

    For "on-the-go" fixes? Shelton suggests fellow hat builders bring along a battery-operated glue gun.

    And arguably the most important advice comes from Berry: make sure you can wear the hat "hands-free" to allow plenty of eating and drinking throughout the day.

    Event organizers said additional winners of the 20th annual Opening Day Hats Contest included: El Cajon resident Natalie Spaans, who won first place for "Most Glamorous" topper and Carlsbad resident Melissa Cheng, who took home the top prize in the "Best Fascinator" category.

    Second place winners in across all five categories included: Rancho Santa Fe resident Richard Polacek for "Best Racing Theme"; San Diego resident Kayla Carnevala for "Most Glamorous"; Emily Winters of Carlsbad for "Best Flowers/All Others"; Tessa Robeson of Escondido for "Funniest/Most Outrageous"; and Vista resident Crystal Larson-Loonie for "Best Fascinator."