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Wallendas, brother and sister, to skywalk at Speedway

Nik Wallenda Tightrope
T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
World famous daredevils Nik Wallenda and his sister Lijana Wallenda gave a sneak peek performance at the square today in uptown Charlotte.

Nik Wallenda had so much fun walking the tightrope last year at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he’s bringing his sister along this time.

Speedway officials announced Thursday that Wallenda and his sister, Lijana Wallenda Hernandez, will participate in a dual skywalk 140 feet off the ground prior to the start of the Bank of America 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Oct. 12.

The two will begin from opposite ends of a 500-foot cable, crossing paths along the way.

“You all will have to join us, to see how we do that,” said Nik Wallenda, a member of a family that has entertained crowds for 200 years walking tightropes. He spoke at a midday news conference at the Square in Charlotte’s uptown.

The speedway walk will be about one-third the length and one-seventh the height of Wallenda’s most famous recent stroll – a nationally televised tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon on June 24. But Wallenda, 34, said crossing the front stretch area of Charlotte Motor Speedway carries its own challenges.

“We take every walk seriously, whether it’s 20 feet off the ground or 200 feet,” he said. “You can’t let up for a second. One of the challenges is entertaining the crowd. I always keep that in mind.”

He said he has performed before with his sister, but the two don’t appear together frequently.

“The crowd was mesmerized last year, and when we talked about him coming back this year, he wanted to do something different,” speedway president and CEO Marcus Smith said. “He suggested doing the walk with his sister.”

Wallenda’s walk across the Grand Canyon attracted 21 million Discovery Channel viewers, and big crowds watched his 2012 walk across Niagara Falls from New York into Ontario. His walk next month at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be before about 140,000 people, but Wallenda said it is more thrilling in some ways.

He said few of the Grand Canyon viewers were there in person. “Here, I know everyone is below me and watching,” he said. “Last year, it was dead silence. I had to tell them on the microphone, ‘Hey, make some noise.’ But the silence told me they were mesmerized.”

Lijana Wallenda Hernandez, 36, said she and her brother practice frequently with other family members at their base in Florida. “We have the same style,” she said.

Scott Cooper, vice president of public relations for the speedway, said the Wallendas’ walk will be timed to start shortly before the introduction of drivers before the Oct. 12 race.

“We’re really excited to have Nik back, and excited about his sister joining him,” Cooper said. “It was obvious last year that the crowd loved what Nik did.”

Steve Lyttle: 704-358-6107 Twitter: @slyttle
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