SARASOTA -- Some may have come for the free hotdogs.
Others were there for the classic Mustang show or maybe to see the plush movie theater at newly renovated Sarasota Ford.
But everyone came to see Nik Wallenda walk a tightrope Saturday more than 100 feet above over the automobile dealership at U.S. 41 and U.S. 301.
More than 2,000 people ate hotdogs, checked out the Mustangs, enjoyed the circus acts from Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus Academy, and toured the showroom of Matt Buchanan's Ford dealership.
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"I came here looking for a car and found out Nik was gong to walk," said Hazel Johnson, of Sarasota, as she waited for Wallenda to walk more than 100 yards from the back end of the car lot to almost U.S. 41,
"It's such a thrill that someone who traveled everywhere around the world is from right here, our hometown," Johnson said.
After the walk, Wallenda said it was a thrill to be performing in Sarasota.
Asked about the attraction of his dangerous act,
he said, "because they love me here."
"But I'm certain there's always going to some from other places who come to see if I'm going to fail," Wallenda said. "It's why many go to auto races, because they want to see a crash."
The 35-year-old seventh generation circus performer pleased the crowd with his performance and even walked back across the tightrope to where he started after a cutting a ribbon stretched across the wire for the grand opening ceremony.
Chris Crawfill and Nikole Carlisle, both of the Whitfield Estates neighborhood, said it was exciting that Wallenda performed without a safety net, and that they had the opportunity to help during the performance.
A member of the crew asked them to hold a guide rope that steadies tightrope as Wallenda walked across.
There were about two dozen ropes tied to the tightrope, about every 20 feet, which were held around the waist of volunteers.
"The rope slackens as Nik walks over," said Crawfill, "and you have to lean back farther."
"After he walked past your rope," Carlisle said, "it slackens up again."
"It was really exciting," they both agreed.
Although not as high, but looking just as dangerous, members of Circus Sarasota performed on silk ropes and hanging hoops while the crowd waited for Wallenda to perform.
And performing among the crowd were students from the Sailor Circus Academy, riding unicycles, juggling Indian clubs, doing balancing acts, and walking on giant balls.
One of the Sailor Circus performers, Emma Clarke. 9, said she joined the 60-year-old organization because "you get to dress up in a costume and do acrobats."
For Patrick Brown, 13, joining Sailor Circus was a chance to improve his juggling skills.
"I knew how to juggle," Patrick said, "and I wanted to learn how to toss Indian clubs."
All of the students will have a chance to show off their training during a series of shows from Dec. 27 through Dec. 30.
"We're called 'The Greatest Little Show on Earth'," said Michelle Brault, development and fundraising manager of The Circus Arts Conservatory, the non-profit umbrella group that includes Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus Academy.
Brault said Circus Sarasota will be moving its tent to Benderson Park for its new season in February, and Wallenda will perform.
Two graduates of the Sailor Circus who are now professional performers with Circus Sarasota gave a preview of their act to warm up the crowd for Wallenda.
Ian Laidlaw and Anthony Congdon studied at the Sailor Circus for six years and now have a strength and hand-balancing act called Duo Romanenc.
"We joined the circus because of the friendly atmosphere," said Laidlaw.
"And you're meeting new and different people," said Congdon.
The crowd marvelled at the strength the two young men demonstrated as Laidlaw balanced hand-to-hand above Congdon's head.