Crawling crustaceans, food, and fellowship drew a crowd of thousands to downtown Aiken on Friday as the 2013 Great American Lobster Race roared back into town.


The top attractions of the evening were the 14 heats of races held on the main stage on Newberry Street where lobsters inched toward the finish line for a shot at glory.


Crowds gathered close to the stage, many wearing foam lobster claws and festive T-shirts, to watch each race where five competitors sponsored by local businesses and individuals marched to victory.


Max Blanco, one of the lobster trainers for Heat 2, said he actually discovered a secret to having a winning crustacean.


“You've got to threaten them with butter,” he said with a chuckle. “You also have to talk a good game.”


While race fans rooted for their lobsters, hundreds of families enjoyed carnival rides as well swings, slides and bouncing on inflatables.


Kevin Simmons, an Aiken resident for the past five years, attended his first lobster race Friday with his family.


“I hope everybody has a good time and goes home safe,” Simmons said as he and his wife roamed all the festivities with their two daughters.


Margaret Stephens, a lobster race veteran, said she likes to soak in the event every year.


“I love the excitement, colorful people, live bands, and of course, the action of lobsters crawling across that cute little stage.”


Jay and Sherrie Watts, also of Aiken, took in the sights and sounds with their granddaughter Alexandria.


“The best part is the food,” they said with a smile, noting the funnel cakes in particular.


Friday's race were the 29th running of the event, which sees more than 100 Maine lobsters racing down the watery track each year.


Proceeds from the races will be donated to Hitchcock Healthcare, Tri-Development Center of Aiken County and The Aiken County Special Olympics.