A Richard Petty bobble head. My picture taken with the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet when it was Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car. A handmade, wooden step stool. Cutting the rug with Snap, Crackle and Pop (the guys on the Rice Krispies cereal box). Oodles and oodles of coupons and free samples of food, Tylenol, more food, cleaning products and even more food. A hellacious hangover on more than one occasion. Yep, these are all some of the things I've accumulated over the years at the Food Lion Speed Street festival.
The annual family-friendly event takes place each May, the week prior to the Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. To put it lightly, it's truly a special time for the Queen City -- a time when Uptowners get the hell outta Center City (after eating a Philly Cheese Steak and funnel cake, of course) and NASCAR fans take over, hunkering down for a three-day-long party featuring live music, driver appearances, kid's activities, race-related exhibits and most importantly, tons and tons of free stuff.
Think about it: If there's one thing most folks know about NASCAR, besides every turn is to the left, it's the fact that it's a sport fueled by sponsorships. And just about every single one of those sponsors show up in full force for Speed Street.
Home Depot usually sets up a work station for kids where they'll help you craft something handy. Cereal makers General Mills and Kellogg's are known to be on hand, passing out box after box of Cheerios and Chex. Miller Lite and Budweiser each sponsor a music stage. Yoplait has been known to hook you up with a Go-Gurt ... albeit they were a tad warm last year.
But thankfully, you don't have to live on samples alone. There are also plenty of food and beverage vendors lining the streets. Gyros, pitas, chicken kabobs, funnel cakes, homemade ice cream and an assortment of nonalcoholic and alcoholic drinks are for sale at somewhat reasonable prices -- well, let's just say more reasonable than arena or amphitheater prices, for sure.
If past years provide any indication, families are encouraged to show up early and do their thing during daylight hours. By dark, the streets are typically packed (and we mean packed) with partiers who are there to catch the bands (or just to be seen), and there isn't much room left for strollers.
If you want to try and get an autograph from your favorite driver, you'll need to check the event Web site frequently for appearance times and instructions -- be prepared to show up early to get a wristband then come back and line up again to meet your guy. And just a word to the wise: We've seen some wicked lines for the really popular fellas like Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, so good luck.
Not surprisingly, country music fans probably fair the best when it comes to the live music at Speed Street. This year's festival includes our girl from right up the road, Kellie Pickler, along with Gary Allan and Travis Tritt. Mainstream rock fans can check out Seether and Chevelle. And folks looking for a party might want to check out Jagged Edge or The Landsharks. Hey, we did already mention that admission is free, right?
Oh yeah, and if you watch Speed Channel (and what NASCAR fan doesn't?) you have to come out Friday night for a live broadcast of Trackside Live where you'll have your very own chance to take a dozen or so cellphone-camera photos, which will likely look really crappy. But who doesn't like trying?
The 14th annual Food Lion Speed Street will take place 11 a.m.--midnight May 22-24 on Tryon Street between 4th and 8th streets. Admission is free. Check out www.600festival.com for a schedule of events and an event map.