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Race Festival Makes Turn off Tryon Street

Source: Charlotte Observer  

April 03, 2006

Charlotte's annual celebration of fried treats, loud music and NASCAR is getting bigger. Food Lion Speed Street has outgrown its Tryon Street home. Starting May 25, the three-day event will begin at Third and Graham streets, move up Third and then -- in true NASCAR style -- make a left turn onto Tryon Street. The Tryon portion of the festival will stretch from Second to Fifth streets, instead of Stonewall to Seventh.

Organizers and city officials said Tryon alone couldn't hold the crowds, which reached an estimated 400,000 in 2005, the festival's 11th year. We were out of space, said organizer Jay Howard. The event had outgrown its footprint. The festival occupies a prime spot on the NASCAR calendar, between the Nextel All-Star Challenge and the Coca-Cola 600. Thousands of fans who camp at Lowe's Motor Speedway -- and thousands of Charlotteans -- soak up freebies from the sport's sponsors. The annual hoopla could grow even more after the NASCAR Hall of Fame opens in 2009 or 2010. The week of the all-star race -- assuming it stays in Charlotte -- is a natural time for the hall induction ceremony.

The new event layout actually steers the festival away from the hall of fame site off Brevard Street. That's because the city didn't want to disrupt business at the Convention Center, said Brad Richardson of the city's economic development office. Using Third Street also means that two of the three main stages will be in large parking lots, providing more room for crowds and exhibitors. City officials said they don't want to end Tryon's prominence as Charlotte's prime street for festivals.

But they also want to take advantage of a new development -- Mecklenburg County's urban park in Third Ward. The park, which isn't built yet, is slated for land bounded by Second, Fourth, Mint and Graham streets. But the park could move even closer to Tryon if the city, the county, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the finish a complicated land swap under discussion. The changes to the festival's layout also mean a new set of street closures and traffic alerts. Workers on North Tryon Street should have it easier this year, because Fifth and Sixth streets won't be closed. But the southern half of uptown could be messier.

Third Street, which carries commuters from Interstate 77 to parking decks across uptown during morning rush hour, will be shut down, starting the day before the festival. Part of Church Street will be closed, too, and for many drivers, traffic won't be so speedy.
Racing Festival Makeover
• What: Food Lion Speed Street.
• When: May 25-27, 11 a.m. to midnight.
• Where: Tryon and Third streets.
• What's New: Bigger layout, new traffic pattern.