LOWELL -- Checkered flags and banners will line Dutton Street on Saturday as antique cars race up and make a right for Middle Street. Drivers from Massachusetts and New Hampshire will lead the pack escorted by police motorcycles.

There will be a nostalgic feel in the air as 100 classic cars line cobblestoned Middle Street for the 31st annual Hemmings Motor News Great Race. The race down the East Coast will make its first overnight stop in Lowell and bring with it a traveling museum.

The arrival of the race will turn Lowell into the epicenter for car culture in Massachusetts for the weekend.

CLASSIC MUSCLE: McPherson College X-Cup team members, from left, Tony di Valentin, Austin Hiebert, Jacob O’Gorman and Justin Smeltzer, show off their
CLASSIC MUSCLE: McPherson College X-Cup team members, from left, Tony di Valentin, Austin Hiebert, Jacob O'Gorman and Justin Smeltzer, show off their '57 Ford, one of 100 classic and antique machines that will roll into Lowell Saturday as part of the 31st annual Hemmings Motor News Great Race. See a video at lowellsun.com. COURTESY PHOTO

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It is part of a day of festivities beginning at 11 a.m. and lead up to the arrival of the cars. Race cars are scheduled to start arriving at 4:45 p.m., with one driving by each minute.

"Everything we do is about promoting and showcasing the city," said Deb Belanger, executive director of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, who helped organize Lowell as the first stop. "I hope people will say, 'Wow, Lowell, was one of the best stops.''

In attempt to rival the race cars, Lowell will host its own car show featuring vehicles from all over New England at Jeanne D'Arc Credit Union, Lowell Five and Tsongas Center. Some of the registered cars include a 1929 Ford Model A, a 1932 Ford Roadster and a 1937 Plymouth P4.

Larry Hickey, 58, of Lowell plans to drive his 1965 Plymouth Barracuda to the show with his sons Zackary, 10 and Andrew, 7. "I wanted them to develop an interest in cars."

He bought his car less than two months ago and cleaned the car up for the show. But he said car shows extend past the vehicles. "It's more about the people. The cars are beautiful, but it's more about the social aspect."

In addition, the city has allowed 25 cars to reserve spots on Merrimack Street and cruise the city.

Humpy Wheeler and his grandson, Austin Hardy, brought "Doc Hudson" from the Pixar movie Cars to life. They’ll be sharing it with the public
Humpy Wheeler and his grandson, Austin Hardy, brought "Doc Hudson" from the Pixar movie Cars to life. They'll be sharing it with the public during the 2014 Great Race from Maine to Florida. COURTESY PHOTO

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It is a throwback to the 1950s when people would hop into their cars and randomly drive around town.

That is tacked on top of a family day, which will take place on Middle Street. It will feature an antique firetruck, a monster truck and a replica of the Batmobile. There will also be face painting and balloon animals for children.

In 1908, Lowell hosted its own 250-mile automobile road race. Ten photos from the race will be featured in downtown windows.

"They really do have a passion for their vehicles," Belanger said. "I love to see cars that are part of our history."

The race begins on Saturday morning on Ogunquit, Maine, and will cover 10 states in nine days. The 2,100-mile race will end in The Villages, Fla.

John Corey’s ’32 Buick speedster will turn heads when it rumbles into Lowell on Saturday. Corey, of Mechanicville, N.Y., will be behind the
John Corey's '32 Buick speedster will turn heads when it rumbles into Lowell on Saturday. Corey, of Mechanicville, N.Y., will be behind the wheel while David Ullman of Independence, Ore., handles the navigating duties. COURTESY PHOTO

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The oldest car in the pack is an American-made 1915 Hudson 6-40. To qualify for the race, a car has to be manufactured in 1972 or prior to that year.

Lowell legend and World Boxing Union junior welterweight champion "Irish" Micky Ward will be present to greet spectators and drivers as they park their prized possessions.

The cars will be displayed on Middle Street from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Middle Street, Palmer Street and Shattuck Street will be closed to traffic the day of the race.

For Belanger, a year of planning will finally of paid off.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the first car come in to Middle Street," Belanger said. Then she will know her vision became a reality. "Wow, this is really here."

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