Tragic midway accidents in 1979 and 1983 led to the adoption of a ride safety program that is considered a model for the amusement industry. Opening Saturday of 1985 was designated as “Eddie Robinson Day.” The legendary coach of the Grambling University Tigers led his team to victory over Prairie View in the Cotton Bowl to become the winningest coach in college football. In 1986, Fair Park was designated a National Historic Landmark, and the State Fair of Texas hosted a 31-day exposition celebrating both the Texas Sesquicentennial and the Fair’s own 100th anniversary.
As the Fair moved into its second century of operation, new leadership assumed command. In 1988, Errol W. McKoy was named president with responsibility for the organization’s daily operation. The traditional fair season was extended from 17 to 24 days, and corporate sponsorship began to play an increasingly important role in programming. Involvement by major companies made it possible for the State Fair of Texas to offer its visitors a range of exhibits, entertainment and services that are unmatched by any annual exposition in North America.