GARDINER — Months of planning and coordination for the 2018 Great Race’s planned stop in Gardiner last week have paid an unexpected dividend: The city was the favorite stop among eight along the race route from Buffalo, New York, to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

At the race’s conclusion Sunday in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Gardiner was named Best Overnight City in the event’s specialty awards, which are announced in addition to the race winners in each of the five categories.

“People just stood up and cheered,” race participant Peter Prescott said Thursday.

Gardiner is known for annual events like the Greater Gardiner River Festival in June, Swine and Stein in October, and the weekly outdoor concerts at Waterfront Park during summer months.

But this one-time event, known more formally as the Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty, drew thousands of visitors. Local officials are still measuring the impact.

Prescott, whose Maine Boyz team has taken part in the race since 2014 with Prescott’s 1948 green Ford sedan, had lobbied the Great Race organization to route the annual rally-style race through Maine since his first race, which started in Ogunquit and immediately left Maine en route to Florida.

Gardiner was one of eight end-of-day stops in the 10-day race. After stopping in Gardiner on June 26, the drivers and teams stayed overnight in Augusta before heading toward the Maine coast the following day.

Prescott said the planning group, which included the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce and Gardiner Main Street, had expected 2,000 to 3,000 spectators, but that 6,000 to 7,000 were on hand. Onlookers came to watch the cars arrive and many stayed for the scheduled evening events, which included entertainment and fireworks in addition to the lobster bake put on for the 125 teams and crews.

The race, which follows a different route every year, typically draws thousands to the communities where the racers stop each evening. As part of the race, drivers and teams are required to stay with their cars so people can see them up close and talk to the teams.

Water Street was closed in the afternoon to accommodate the cars, and was lined with visitors before the first vehicle arrived.

Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett said he spoke with the Water Street business owners, who reported good results for the day.

“I think it was well worth it,” he said.

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

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