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Esperanza Bonanza in Marion (Eastern Arkansas) this weekend


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Earnhardt Jr. racing exhibit highlights Marion in May Lance Murphey/The Commercial Appeal

Justin Speiser sets up the "Dale Jr. Experience" in Marion, Ark., in preparation for Esperanza Bonanza, the city's annual festival. The Dale Earnhardt Jr. exhibit features a 40-seat theater with behind-the-scenes footage of the NASCAR driver. The May 4-6 festival also features a barbecue contest and carnival.Story Tools

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By Pamela Perkins


May 4, 2006

Marion is getting a little racy with its barbecue this week in the town's complement to Memphis in May festivities.

The "Dale Jr. Experience," an interactive exhibit focusing on NASCAR's ultrapopular Dale Earnhardt Jr., will be the centerpiece of the 14th annual Esperanza Bonanza festival which runs from 3:30 p.m. today through Saturday at the Marion Sports Complex near Marion High School.

"The last two years we had the Clydesdales. We wanted to do something this year that's new ... something to bring some excitement to this area," said Scott Heinz, vice president of sales and marketing for Arkansas Distributing Co. in West Memphis.

The company created the "Experience" in 2004 to show off Budweiser's sponsorship of Earnhardt's No. 8 race car.

It joins the festival's full-blown carnival -- the Backyard BBQ cooking contest, rodeo, adult and youth karaoke contests and Kid's Fest children's activities. Esperanza proceeds fund various needs in the town, about 10 miles northwest of Memphis, such as park and school equipment.

About 60 teams signed up for the Backyard BBQ contests for the best sauce, chili, beef brisket, hot wings, salsa and Bloody Mary. Prizes range from $25 to $300 and also include trophies, plaques and T-shirts.

Kids Fest will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday with a rock-climbing wall, bungee run and other games -- all new this year, said Linda Baser, executive director of the Marion Chamber of Commerce.

"We have tried really hard to make it more family-oriented," Baser said. "We have stuff for big people and we have stuff for little people."

But the big-people and little-people stuff won't mix.

The free, three-part Earnhardt exhibit will be open only to ages 21 and older. It includes a 40-seat theater with stadium seating for viewing a 10-minute video of behind-the-scenes footage of Earnhardt's time on and off the track.

Earnhardt's white and red Chevrolet that won the Daytona 500 in 2004 is on display with a Daytona 500 trophy cup replica as well as racing video games are part of the "Experience."

It also has a "beer garden" with 12-ounce beers each on sale for $1.

But organizers say the family atmosphere will still be maintained despite the presence of alcohol, which is only allowed at the Earnhardt exhibit and fenced-in cooking team areas.

"It won't be like Memphis in May," Heinz said. "People will not be walking around with beer."

-- Pamela Perkins: 529-6514


Esperanza Bonanza

Hours: 3:30-10 p.m. today, 3:30-11 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday.

Admission: $2 today, $5 Friday, $7 Saturday and free for children ages 11 and under. Carnival wristbands today cost $12.

Parking: Available at Marion High School, on a service road and visible from northbound Interstate 55 just before the Marion exit. Free shuttles from the school.

For more info: Call (870) 739-6041.

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