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Speed Street kicks off in uptown Charlotte

Thursday, May. 23, 2013

A certain Dale Jr. is looking forward to his first ever NASCAR race this weekend.

That’s 9-year-old Dale Gonyo Jr. of Chazy, N.Y., whose family was taking in the sights, sounds and tastes of uptown Thursday afternoon at the Food Lion Speed Street festival.

The event is under way for its 19th year celebrating NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 race weekend with food, music and driver meet-and-greets in center city. Event organizer Jay Howard, president of JHE Production Group, which operates Speed Street, said he expects about 100,000 people to visit the festival by day’s end.

Dale Jr.’s father, Dale Gonyo, sported a No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirt as his family paused along Tryon Street to chow down on some fried festival fare.

Gonyo won tickets for himself, his son, his wife and his daughter to attend last weekend’s Sprint Cup All-Star race and Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. They’ve been staying in a camper outside Charlotte Motor Speedway all week, where Richard Petty dropped by earlier in the week to meet the fans.

“He is the coolest cat I’ve ever met,” Gonyo’s wife, Amy, said of Petty.

Amy Gonyo said she’s never seen anything like Speed Street before. Men and women dressed in business suits mingled with families in racing gear as they navigated slowly through crowds, stopped to people-watch and waited in vendors’ lines along Tryon Street.

Howard said in the past he’s seen about a half-and-half split in the crowd between locals and visitors.

“What that means is we’re showing visitors our city while they’re in town for the race, and we’re showing our community the marketing power of NASCAR,” Howard said.

Speed Street continues Thursday night, with R&B performers Jon B and SWV headlining the first night of the festival’s concert series starting at 8:45 p.m. The festival is free and continues from noon to 11 p.m. through Saturday.

Ellis: 704-358-5298