The Great American Lobster Race returns to downtown Aiken on Friday.

Thousands are drawn to the Newberry Street Festival Center each year to watch more than 100 crustaceans scuttle their way to the Lobster Downs finish line, competing for a chance to return to the great blue ocean.

This will be the 29th running of the Great American Lobster Race of Aiken and average annual attendance is 12,000.

The event will be held from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Newberry Street Festival Center and includes not only the races, but live music, food, rides and games.

Live music stages will be located in and around The Alley; featured bands this year include Merging Traffic, Palmetto Groove, Anybody’s Guess and Midnight Crossing.

Organizers have said a few things will be a little different this year. The event team is focusing on making Newberry Street a family area. A disc jockey will offer some age-appropriate music for teenagers to enjoy. A stage for all community and kids’ performances will be set up at the end of Newberry Street at Richland Avenue, and the lobster races will be set up at the corner of Park Avenue and Newberry Street.

Races will start at 7:30 p.m.

The lobsters, which arrive in Aiken the day before, are kept in large tubs of water that are adjusted to the perfect temperature and salinity. The water is circulated from the tubs into Lobster Downs for the actual races.

The winner is released back into the ocean. The loser gets the “melted butter” award.

Conceived as a spoof of the Kentucky Derby and to pay a nod to the impact of the horse industry locally, the inaugural Lobster Race was held in Aiken in 1984.

This year, arm bands for rides will not be for sale but rather tickets.

Tickets at the gate are $10. Students with a school ID will be admitted for $5. Children 6 and younger will be admitted free.

The 2013 Lobster Race T-shirt is $20, and those wearing one will get in free. Those shirts can be bought at Atlantic Broadband, Hitchcock Healthcare, All-Star Rents, Lionel Smith Ltd. and Screenprint Factory.

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Haley Hughes is the news editor for the Aiken Standard. She joined the newspaper in 2007 and covered the Aiken County government until her promotion in 2013. Hughes, a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, hails from Knoxville, Tenn.