ROCK ISLAND -- Sunday's 19th running of the Rock Island Grand Prix in The District of Rock Island was a homecoming of sorts for Andy Poffinbarger.
The 1994 Davenport West High School alum raced behind the wheel of a go-kart before he could even get a driver's license, at age 12, at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds. He won a number of Friday night races and is good friends with Davenport's Michael Dittmer, one of the top Grand Prix drivers.
"It was awesome. I loved it. That's how I learned how to drive," Mr. Poffinbarger said of his racing days, which ended when he was 20, and at Monmouth College. "I think about it all the time."
He never raced in the Rock Island Grand Prix but was a spectator often in its early years. Living in Rockford the past seven years (where he works for a BMW dealer), Mr. Poffinbarger came back to Rock Island Sunday to see the furiously fast races with his parents, his three kids, and a friend from junior high.
"It's better now," he said of the Grand Prix. "There are more people, more karts, cooler equipment. It's all gotten better, like anything else. They advance over time."
"I'm so thrilled to be here," said his father, Terry Poffinbarger, who also lives in Rockford. A former kart racer himself, he said the Grand Prix has improved greatly in safety features and equipment, but he still was amazed at the drivers who tear around the course at speeds of 100 mph.
"If you hit a corner, or a tree, you're dead," Terry Poffinbarger said.
Charles Bolton, father of Grand Prix driver Todd Bolton, of Bowen, Ill., (an eight-time event champion) said his son worked hard during the past eight months to lose 112 pounds and return to the races after a few years off because of his weight.
"It's his dedication in wanting to do this again," Mr. Bolton said, noting that his son (who is in his early 40s) stuck to a diet, regular bicycling and ran 5Ks to shed the pounds. "He wanted to come back here, to prove to these younger guys he can still do this.
"I think it's been good," he said of this year's Grand Prix. "There are a lot of close races today. It's good to get back and see a lot of friends. It's like a racing family."
The crowds of spectators along 20th Street, stretching to 2nd Avenue, included many families who had tailgate and tent parties during the sunny afternoon, with plenty of food and coolers.
One was Don Miller of Milan, whose cousins Travis Porter and Tony Porter of Rock Island were racing. Mr. Miller set up his big green party tent and tables at 4:30 p.m. Friday at his favorite spot -- near the turn at 2nd Avenue -- as he does every year. More than 30 friends and family members came out with him Sunday.
"It's the world's largest street race," Mr. Miller said of why he enjoys the Grand Prix. "I think it would get more recognition because of that."
He speaks from experience, having qualified to race in it in 2011. He owns two karts, and it was on his "bucket list" to race himself.
"It's anxiety like you would never believe," Mr. Miller said. "It's such a rush, I'll never be able to explain it. Just going around, it's as fun as it is scary. You're praying, like on a roller-coaster, that when you turn the wheel, you're going around the turn and you pray you keep going the way you want to go."
It's a lot more relaxing watching the racers under shade, behind protective fencing, he said. "It's pretty cool."
Another Grand Prix fan who secured her "best spot" Sunday was Tammy Kargbo, of Davenport, who attended with her five kids, her sister and her family. They watched from 2nd Avenue and 19th Street, across from the post office. She's come every year for more than 10 years.
"Every year, we get the same spot, because you can see three turns," Ms. Kargbo said. "We get here early." She's not a fan of any other motor sports, but loves the Grand Prix, and being just feet from the roaring karts whizzing past.
"It's the excitement of the race. The closer you are, the better it is," Ms. Kargbo said. "I do like to go on go-karts and race myself. The little kids love it. I don't like NASCAR, but I will watch this all day long. I like the little karts -- you can actually see the people, what they're doing. For the kids, it's just the thrill of them hitting the safety wall."
"I think it's cool," said Donna Oldfather, of New Windsor, attending for the first time, with a visiting niece and her father from Louisiana. "I'm waiting for the wrecks."
The weekend event included a Saturday "Race Against Hunger" charity food drive, a Camaro car show on 18th Street, plaza entertainment, and a Grand Prix Marketplace, including a Family Fun Zone. "What else can you do that's free, good family entertainment?" asked Frank Carlton, of Davenport.
Sunday's spectators also included a family from Colombia. In lawn chairs under a tree sat Hernan Acevedo, visiting his son, Ivan, and his wife, Alejandra. "It's nice," said Ivan Acevedo, who lives in Des Moines and is a racing fan.
The holiday weekend entertainment continues Monday morning with the annual Rock Island Labor Day parade, kicking off at 9:30 a.m. at 18th Avenue and 24th Street.
Today is Wednesday, April 16, the 106th day of 2014. There are 259 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Yesterday some bold thief stole a full bolt of calico from a box in front of Wadsworth's store, where it was on exhibition. 1889 -- 125 years ago: A team belonging to Peter Priese got away from its driver and made a mad run across the Rock Island Bridge. The driver was thrown from his seat but not hurt. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Carlton Taylor was appointed district deputy grand master for the 14th Masonic District of Illinois. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Moline's million dollar municipal airport was dedicated to air transportation and the national defense by Lt. Gov. John Stelle. 1964 -- 50 years ago: THE ARGUS will be election headquarters for Rock Island County tomorrow night, and the public is invited to watch the operation. The closing of the polls at 6 p.m. will mark the start of open house in the newsroom. Visitors will see staff members receiving, tabulating and posting returns. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Few bricks actually tumbled, but no one seemed to mind as about 1,000 people gathered to celebrate the formal start of demolition at the site of a downtown civic center.