Pine Belt gears up for Mardi Gras

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Tomorrow is not just any Tuesday – it is Fat Tuesday. That makes today Lundi Gras – more or less the run-up to the main event of Mardi Gras. Whether the holiday in your home means a king cake or a drag race, it is almost here.

At Hub City Dragway, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday brings the biggest racing event of the year.

"It's just like Mardi Gras every place else," said dragway owner Ralph Abraham. "Except our parade's on the race track."

The dragway in Hattiesburg will run races all day tomorrow on its straight-away strip of tarred asphalt, and Abraham said staff anticipate between seven to 10 thousand people will show up for the annual event.

"You can bring your mom's Impala here and run it up and down the race track," said Abraham. "It's a popular race because guys can get together, they can pool their money, make their own team, they can build a car." Unlike the professional drag racing circuit, most drivers are not sponsored and they are not professionals.

The event originated in New Orleans, but when tourists would crowd the city for Mardi Gras drag racers would be chased off by police, so they came up to the Pine Belt and asked to bring the race here.  

"They came to us and said 'Hey will you open the track on fat tuesday, we kind of thought they were crazy but we tried it," and now it's nationwide, Abraham said.

Drivers and revelers come from Canada, Detroit, Chicago and New Jersey

This time of year people all over the nation come south to have a Big Easy Mardi Gras, and with that celebration happening not too far Pine Belt residents are uniquely poised to wake up on Fat Tuesday - no planning involved - and take a day trip.

"My husband and I, if we want to go we just get up in the morning and drive down, do what we want to do and then come back that evening," said Pro Travel agent and owner Lyn McCrory. For that reason, it is not a busy time for local travel agents. Most who travel down will stay with friends or family, or are savvy enough to book far in advance or take a day trip instead.

But if you are not heading south, and you take a look at the dearth of king cakes left on the shelves, it is clear that plenty of folks are ringing it in at home with one of the famed pastries.

Corner market started out with 430 and Monday morning there were only two left.

At Jody's Bakery in Hattiesburg during Mardi Gras season bakers will get to work at 4 a.m. to start baking the coveted treats.