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Monday, Mar 03 2014 02:26 PM

A rush of people and money descend on Bakersfield this weekend

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Hans Huber had no problem with horsepower as he lifts the front wheels on his Volkswagen Karmann Ghia on his run in the 2013 March Meet hot rod class.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Tim Boychuk from Scottsdale, Ariz. burns out in a cloud of tire smoke and exhaust during funny car eliminations at the 2013 Bakersfield March Meet.

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    David Lyman

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

With two major events in town this weekend, local hotels are expected to be sold out and businesses are prepping for a rush of people estimated to bring nearly $5 million to Bakersfield.

The annual March Meet, held Thursday through Sunday, and the CIF State Wrestling Championship, held Friday and Saturday, will bring a combined 23,000 visitors to the city, said David Lyman, manager at the Bakersfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Related Info

BIG WEEKEND EVENTS

March Meet

Location: Auto Club Famoso Raceway: 33559 Famoso Road, McFarland

Thursday: Events from 9 a.m. to 4:30 a.m.

Friday: Events from 8:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Saturday: Events from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday: Events from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tickets available at: famosoraceway.com/march-meet.htm.

CIF State Wrestling Championship

Location: 1001 Truxtun Ave., Bakersfield

Friday: 9 a.m.

Saturday: 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Tickets available at: http://www.rabobankarena.com

March Meet, a drag racing competition at Auto Club Famoso Raceway, draws thousands of spectators from across California, other states and foreign countries. An estimated 10,000 people came last year, Lyman said, when calendar vagaries put it and the wrestling tournament on back-to-back weekends.

The wrestling championship at Rabobank Arena, Theater and Convention Center brings high school athletes, coaches and their supporters from across California to compete. Last year it brought an estimated 13,000 people to Bakersfield.

With the spike in visitors, local restaurants and hotels are preparing to play host.

"We are expecting a sold-out weekend," Lyman said, adding that attendees of the Bakersfield Tennis Open tournament at the Bakersfield Racquet Club were also gobbling up some the city's 5,400 hotel rooms. "This will be one of the biggest weekends" of the year.

The Courtyard Marriott booked all 146 rooms for the weekend nine months in advance, hotel general manager Jenny Gatlin said.

"The impact to the entire city is good," Gatlin said. "It's a great way to get people to Bakersfield and for them to know what we have to offer."

The Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites has had all 120 rooms booked since December, general manager Neysa Bryson said.

"Every year we are always sold out during March Meet," Bryson said. "We are continually receiving reservation (requests) but I know within our area every hotel on Rosedale Highway is sold out. It's good for our hotel and for Bakersfield."

The demand for restaurants remains steady during the busy weekend as well.

Bryanna Morris, manager at Hooters, said the wrestling tournament often brings large parties into the restaurant. The business keeps the championship weekend on its calendar every year and brings on four extra employees to help with the rush.

"It always helps our sales, so we make more money and the girls make more money," Morris said.

Kevin Lawless, owner of Bakersfield's Hungry Hunter Steakhouse said his business is fortunate because it is located near Bakersfield hotels. The restaurant anticipates making about 1 1/2 times more profit than normal.

"It helps the city tremendously because it brings people into town that are spending money here and are patronizing our businesses," Lawless said.

He anticipates bringing on five to six extra employees to keep up with the rush of visitors.

"The nice thing is (visitors) actually get to see Bakersfield," Lawless said. "The view from the freeway just isn't that great. The view inside (of the city) is great. It surprised me when I came."

Lyman said when he looks at the success of Bakersfield's economy he tries to think long term. While this weekend may bring extra cash, it more importantly allows people to see the city.

"If they have a positive experience they're more likely the next time they come through to stay the night and that makes more money," Lyman said. "Nevertheless, this helps build toward the long-term goal of making more money."

He said there are other times during the year that are similarly crowded, such as the California Hot Rod Reunion in October and July gatherings of Jehovah's Witnesses that bring 11,000 people to Rabobank Arena over successive weekends.

"We are not just a one-shot wonder," Lyman said.

Cathy Butler, president of the 400-member Downtown Bakersfield Business Association, said locals are working together to help businesses prepare for this weekend.

Last year, not all businesses knew of the events and wished they had brought on more staff, Butler said. This year the association posted the events on its website.

"We try to outreach more to businesses and let them know when big groups are coming to town," Butler said. "We've been working a lot in the downtown area and it leaves a great impression on those visiting our community."

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