Food Lion Speed Street begins Thursday, kicking off its 16th year with a different footprint to include Charlotte's newest attraction - the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The annual street festival marking the start of the Coca-Cola 600 race weekend will stretch from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Fifth Street along Tryon Street. In previous years, the festivities extended north to Sixth and Seventh streets.
This year, the Hall of Fame and an area bordered by Church, Third and Mint streets, and MLK Boulevard will be added to the venue instead.
"We were able to utilize space on Third Street, and at the same time we wanted to be as close to the Hall of Fame as possible," said Jay Howard, the promoter and producer of the festival for the last 15 years.
A sidewalk and one lane on MLK from Tryon to Brevard Street will be sectioned off to create a pedestrian walkway, allowing easier access to the Hall of Fame.
Organizers said they expect about 400,000 visitors this year. Preparations begin this morning at 9:30. The festival areas will be closed to traffic until noon Sunday. Third and Fourth streets, however, will be open Thursday and Friday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. for the morning rush hour.
Commuters should be patient when driving to work and are encouraged to use public transit, said Linda Durret, spokesperson for Charlotte's Department of Transportation.
Extra LYNX cars will be in service throughout the weekend, with two trains running every 71/2 minutes between 6 and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, said Rocky Paiano, general manager of Charlotte Area Transit System's light rail line.
The street festival's guest list this year features NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees Richard Petty and Junior Johnson, in addition to several current drivers such as Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch. The drivers will hold Q&A sessions, sign autographs and make stage appearances throughout the weekend.
On the entertainment side, Josh Turner, Luke Bryan, Everclear and Grammy winner Pat Benatar are among those scheduled to perform.
"The dynamics of Speed Street have always been twofold," said Howard. "We're allowing visitors who come to town to see the races to also get a taste of Charlotte. At the same time we're taking festival-goers and music fans, and giving them a taste of NASCAR."
The race festival has always drawn mixed reactions from city businesses located along festival streets, said Robert Krumbine, chief creative officer of Charlotte Center City Partners.
"Some businesses scream about Speed Street, because they think it will hurt their business," he said. "But others want it nearby. We try to work with everyone on this."