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Race festival to offer fun for all ages

Local children are bound to be impressed by the sight of onehundred bicycles slicing down Whitworth Avenue at 40 mph, leaninginto the turns and competing pedal-to-pedal at this weekend’sMississippi Gran Prix, the premier bike race of the South.

But if they’re not, the tried-and-true combination of fun jumps andcotton candy ought to keep them happy.

The second annual Mississippi Gran Prix Race Festival will begin at5:30 p.m. Friday in the south city parking lot on Railroad Avenue,and will feature plenty of activities for children to enjoy whiletheir parents watch the cyclists race around downtown Brookhaven.Festival organizer Joe Fleming, manager of local toy store JustKiddin’, said his store has gone “all out” to make this year’sfestival a good one.

“It’s the one and only festival we do every year, and it’s all forthe kids,” he said. “Just come out and have fun.”

Admission to the festival is $5.

The festival will feature attractions from Mr. Charley’s Fun Jumps,the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’shooting gallery, a display by the Lincoln County Sheriff’sDepartment Response Team, concessions, face painting and otheractivities.

But the Flemings are taking care of the adults, too.

This year’s festival is complete with entertainment, GulfCoast-area performer Rochelle Harper performing at 8 p.m. after thebike race’s conclusion. Harper and her band are repeat winners ofthe Covey Award and perform frequently around the coast, havingopened for established performers like Richie Havens and T-BonePruitt.

Wesson band Jason Avants and Technical Difficulties will open forHarper, performing a country and rock mix at 6 p.m.

Items to be given away in a drawing include an outdoor furnitureset, an Airrus fishing rod, fish cooker, gas grill, John Deeretrick bicycle and more. Tickets will be available during thefestival.

Proceeds from the festival will go to Mentees to Mentors Ministryof Lincoln County, a recently established youth program meant toreplace Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mississippi after the latterprogram closed down most programs last summer. In the past, theMississippi Gran Prix has donated to the Blair E. Batson Hospitalfor Children in Jackson, but the decision has been made this yearto keep the money in Lincoln County by supporting a localcharity.

The festival will be dedicated to 23-year-old Lance Cpl. Justin K.Whatley, a Marine from Brookhaven who was wounded by a bomb blastin Afghanistan during his second tour of duty. The Mississippi GranPrix Time Trials on Saturday will also be held in Whatley’shonor.

Whatley is also scheduled to speak to the Noon Lions ClubTuesday.

“He’s a kid that kept us safe and let us have the fun and thefestivals we have,” Fleming said. “He’s an American hero.”