If you love muscle cars, trucks, motorcycles or just about anything with wheels, you'll be right at home in Wichita this weekend.
If you don't, you'll want to steer clear of Century II and much of downtown, especially on Saturday.
Either way, organizers and supporters of the first-ever BlackTop Nationals — a four-day gamut of car-related happenings that kicks off Thursday — say the event is a win for the community and could grow into a nationwide annual draw.
"There's an awful lot of potential for something special to come out of this," said Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell.
"We're bringing in some people who have never spent big bucks here. It's going to be televised nationally (via Fox Sports this fall).... Other folks are coming to town just because of what they've heard is coming together here.
"This should provide a great opportunity for us to showcase Wichita and the potential we have here."
The BlackTop Nationals, founded by local businessmen and car enthusiasts Rick Nuckolls and Frank Upton, landed Ford Motor Co. as a main sponsor earlier this summer. Ford will display and demonstrate some of its high-performance vehicles at the event, which is slated to be one of the nation's largest car-truck-motorcycle shows.
Ford officials say the event could draw 100,000 people or more to downtown Wichita.
"The community of Wichita is a perfect fit for Ford," said Steve Ling, the company's director of car marketing.
Home to companies such as Boeing, Raytheon Aircraft, Bombardier Learjet and Hawker Beechcraft, the Wichita area is "rich with talented and skilled individuals in the aerospace industry," Ling said. And many aircraft people are car people.
"So it's the perfect place to debut and feature some of the most advanced automobiles on the planet."
That means lots of potential business for area hotels, restaurants and other merchants, though officials say the fledgling festival's impact may be hard to gauge.
"We know the first year of any event is the proving year," said Maureen Hofrenning, vice president of Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"But we know this is kind of a car community.... We know there is a lot of interest locally and regionally, and we really anticipate that it will be well attended and successful."
For decades, experts have touted the value of regional festivals to boost economic development. Atlanta consultant Alf Nucifora, who in 2000 wrote a 500-page blueprint for community leaders to build tourism in Wichita, pointed specifically to NASCAR as a way of luring tourists.
Jesse Powell, spokesman for the BlackTop Nationals, said Ford representatives initially doubted Wichita's ability to draw crowds for the event.
"But when they actually started doing some research, looking at the dealers in the area and how this market is so heavily saturated with (car) enthusiasts, they kind of said, 'Yeah, this is Ford country,' " Powell said.
"I live on the west side of town, and you can't drive around here without seeing a classic car in someone's garage," he said. "It's not like that everywhere."
Powell, too, points to the aircraft industry as a reason.
"There's a lot of really skilled fabricators and metal workers," he said. "It takes a certain mindset and skill set to be able to restore a car and work on a car, and there's a lot of that here."
Add the city's lengthy love affair with wheels — Darryl Starbird's annual salute to hot rods, the Automobilia show in Old Town, motorcycle treks to rural Kansas, generations of cruising along Douglas or South Seneca — and it just makes sense to have a nationwide event in Wichita, Powell said.
"Wichita is easy to get to. We know guys coming from Wisconsin, Michigan, and of course a lot of regional folks — Salina, Kansas City, Hays, Oklahoma City," he said.
"People who haven't seen these monster national shows and the amount of people they can bring in — I don't think they realize what a big deal this really is."
Activities include a premier car and bike show with prizes in more than 21 classes, a classic-car auction, driving and riding events, and cruises through Park City and along Douglas. Most activities will occur in and around downtown Wichita, from roughly the Delano district east to Main and from Waterman north past Douglas.
Admission is free to all events except the classic car auction at Century II. Registration for the auction is $50 and includes admission for two and a sale catalog.
BlackTop Nationals founders say they would like the event to become a family-friendly, late-summer tradition. Hofrenning, the Go Wichita official, hopes that's the case.
"To have these major events that we can tout every year really is key," she said. "There is real potential for some ongoing shows, so we're hoping the BlackTop Nationals will find its legs this year and just grow."