When James was in Kindergarten, the two of us played hooky to attend the first day of the Virginia State Fair. It was such a success that I repeated the tradition with Julia.
Part of the allure of first day is that most people get there late, so the kids can enjoy all the rides with none of the lines. To do it proper, you’ll either have to get up at the crack of dawn (the fair opens at 10a and 95 traffic is a bear), or secure a hotel room the night before.
The hotel options nearby are sub-optimal — something was growing in the pool of La Quinta when Julia and I went in 2018 — but it’s a (half) step up from camping.
There are also some fantastic things to do on the eve of opening day. I like to walk around nearby Ashland, which has a small college campus and a nice main street. There’s also Ashland Skateland, which is of anthropological interest for those of us who are unfamiliar with the culture and traditions of Red State America.
Rides are open every day, and the main attractions rotate every year to include Chinese acrobatics, motorcycle jumping (see above), pirate shows, horse races, a drum corps and more. The food is a cut above the typical fry bread, and the little ones will delight in the “more than 5,000 animals in Virginia’s largest outdoor classroom.” 
- Chase, William D. Chase’s Calendar of Events. Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.