By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
It starts Saturday with the 19th annual Mayor’s Cup Grand Prix, but all through the month of May things will be hopping around Anderson. It’s the annual Little 500 Festival — a month’s worth of activities and events aimed at family fun and community causes.
“This is the 26th year,” said Rick Dawson, president of Anderson Speedway, and driving force behind the Little 500 Festival.
The festival was originally launched by the late Dixie Contos, a member of the family that formerly owned Pay Less Super Markets. Pay Less continues to be a big part of Little 500 activities. Dixie’s vision was to create a month of activities to build excitement toward the Little 500 race at Anderson Speedway while raising money for local charities.
“All of the events have to have a charitable cause behind them,” said Dawson. “To date, we’ve raised over $1.5 million for local charities.” This year’s beneficiaries include Gateway Association, Hopewell Center, Little 500 Festival, Gruenewald House, Sertoma Club, Lions Club, AIMS, Rotary Charities, East Central Indiana CASA, Dixie Contos Memorial Scholarship Fund, Diabetes Education and Family Forever Ministries.
Meg Fields has been named queen of this year’s festival. She’s a senior at Lapel High School. Julie Jenkins, a junior at Liberty Christian School, is the runner-up. Both will attend various festival events.
“There’s something for the entire family,” said Dawson.
The action kicks off Saturday with the 19th annual Mayor’s Cup Grand Prix. Go karts will take to the streets of downtown Anderson at Central Avenue and 9th Street. Practice and qualifying starts at 9 a.m. The racing runs from noon to 5 p.m. with free admission for the public.
“We think this is going to be a pretty good event,” said Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith. Last year, the event drew 51 entries, raising funds for the Anderson Sertoma Club, which seeks to aid a number of causes including the hearing impaired, at risk youth, the mentally handicapped, the hungry and more.
Also on Saturday is the Randy Green Big Wheel Race at 9 a.m. in the Cross Street Pay Less parking lot.
“It’s neat. You’d think they’d won the Indianapolis 500 when they get a trophy,” said Dawson.
There’s also a carnival at the Applewood Pay Less from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The festival features a number of events already familiar to the community, but there are a few new ones on the calendar this year. That includes a Bingo night at the Cross Street Pay Less on May 8 and the Cross Street Pay Less Softball Tournament at Pulaski Park on May 11.
On May 16, the East Central Indiana CASA features a Wine Tasting event from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Edge.
“It’s outside on the terrace,” said Annette Craycraft, executive director of CASA. Executive wine consultant Pete Hopkins will offer a sampling of 12 different international wines along with hors d’oeuvres. Tickets are $25 per person by calling 649-7215. The funds go to support CASA’s work advocating for abused and neglected children in the courtroom.
Also new this year is the Applewood Pay Less Charity Bowling Tournament set for May 18 at the Lucky Strike Bowling Lanes in Elwood.
Returning events continue to be popular in the community.
“They all get very good responses,” said Dawson. He noted that the AIMS Little 500 car show on May 18 has become very popular, drawing around 200 vintage cars, and a lot of vendors. “That one has been growing by leaps and bounds.”
“One of my favorites is Chickens for Charity. I like to eat,” Dawson confessed.
Of course, as the month-long festival draws to a close, everything’s ramped up for the big event.
“The whole month culminates with the 65th Pay Less Little 500 on May 25,” said Dawson. The Little 500 is a 500-lap sprint car race on the quarter-mile oval of the Anderson Speedway.
“We’ll start 33 cars. We’ll have 45 or 50 try to make the race from all over the country,” said Dawson.