Why I Love NASCAR: Charlotte

Chief 187 and Racer 187 with the infamous #3 car at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Sometimes in life you are just lucky. Last month I was just that, lucky. My family and I planned a vacation to the NASCAR hub and Queen City, Charlotte, North Carolina. We tacked it on to a trip to Charleston, South Carolina where my in-laws live, and arrived in the city on our last leg before we headed for home. We had several destinations in mind and made nearly all of them. If you are a NASCAR fan and have yet to explore this wondrous city, make your plans now. Charlotte is the place to be!

Our first stop was the Joe Gibbs Racing shop. Spectacular and immaculate on the outside and pristine and awe-inspiring inside, this first taste of NASCAR put us in the right frame of mind. A collection of trophies, championship rings (both NASCAR and Coach Gibbs’ football ones), and memorabilia outfit the windowed showcases. A humongous window-paneled observation glass allowed a view of the impressive garage area. Numerous cars sporting the numbers 11, 18, and 20 were present in various paint schemes. The garage, so clean you could have literally eaten off the floor, had men scurrying around performing several different tasks, but not so busy that they couldn’t look up to wave and smile at my children. We felt welcomed, blown away by the ‘winningness’ of the Gibbs stable, and wowed by the myriad trophies of different sizes, shapes, and forms including several versions of the Martinsville Grandfather clocks. After touring the team gift shop we did a last look around when we saw Coach Gibbs himself just end a run around his property. Fit, sweaty, and handsome, we decided to just let him be and continue on his cool down. But just being near the man who created such an impressive group of teams was joy enough.

Next we made our way to the Rowdy studios where we were invited to take part in the “outtro” of the Rowdy Racing News podcast. It was a Thursday and our segment was to run on Friday. Our whole family was able to take part in the program, which we were very grateful. Rowdy was my entry back into NASCAR after Dale Earnhardt’s death. In 2007 I began listening regularly (my husband had been listening for years before) and began my career as an avid NASCAR blogger. When the headquarters moved to Charlotte recently we vowed to make a pilgrimage to visit our friends. It was a wonderful reunion!

The second day we were in Charlotte we met a dear friend and her son at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. With low expectations for how long my children, ages 8, 4, and 18 months, would last in the environment, my husband and I resigned ourselves that the day may end there by lunchtime. We arrived at opening, 10:00am, and started our tour. The children were all given a scavenger hunt to embark which delighted them to no end. While touring the exhibits they were answering questions about NASCAR history, learning names, and exploring the displays. This gave the adults time to read signs, watch video clips, and take in the enormity of what was available. When the children successfully completed their scavenger hunt sheets, they returned them and were awarded with K’nex building blocks sets of current NASCAR pit crew teams. The children received a Dale Earnhardt Jr. set, a Tony Stewart set, and a Kyle Busch set for little sister. They were all amazed! Next, the children were encouraged to create their own designs with a table full of K’nex building blocks complete with tires so they spent several minutes creating masterpieces. Finally we urged them to move on and discover more of the offerings.

The hands-on aspect of the NASCAR Hall of Fame is second to none. The interactivity is what the museum is all about and excels in delivering. From tire changing, refueling, and jack handling to calling a race for either television or the radio, and from qualifying to experiencing a fast-paced, lifelike simulated race, there is never a dull moment for young or old, NASCAR fan or lover of Americana. From trivia to engineering exercises, the challenges were everywhere. Old school fans will love the place for the attention to history and the roots of NASCAR, honoring the pioneers and promoters of old. Young fans will appreciate the observance of the most up-to-date information about their favorite current drivers and what the sport has to offer now. The inaugural induction Class of 2010 has its own room that has one walking three hundred and sixty degrees, looking at prized possessions of the drivers and characters who owned them. A narrator gives a brief overview of each man, and the stirring music and stark video images transfix you. Tears flow unabashedly, laughs erupt, and solemness follows. There is a reverence that even the youngest child was able to feel. By lunchtime the children were ready for refueling and my husband and I were certainly not finished exploring. Thankfully the children were eager to return as well so our fears were put to rest that we’d have to leave unfinished.
Chief 187 with Barry from the NASCAR Hall of Fame

The people who staff the NASCAR Hall of Fame are helpful, sincere, knowledgeable, hospitable, and so very kind. One man in particular took a warm interest in my family, especially wanting to make sure my children were happy and well-taken care. His name is Barry and he, like the many others we encountered that day, made us feel like guests. We felt we were not in a stuffy museum, but in a living, breathing area that encouraged questions, interactions, and emotions. My children never uttered the words “I’m bored” nor did they ask to leave, ever. Our tour was far beyond what I could have imagined when I decided I wanted to come to Charlotte to see the NASCAR Hall of Fame last year while watching the televised induction ceremony from the building. It far surpassed my wildest dreams and passed the kid entertainment test with flying colors while living up to the high standards of my husband and me as long-standing NASCAR fans. I couldn’t recommend the place with any more enthusiasm! It is the number one must see for any NASCAR fan period. Make your reservations to Charlotte now and buy your tickets to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s that great!

In addition to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte offered a gorgeous skyline, a wonderful hotel walking-distance to the museum, and the nicest people the South has ever offered! The South, known for hospitality, friendliness, and a slower, relaxed pace, delivered all of those things to us to the nth degree. Our hotel front desk agent was particularly helpful and wonderful. Her name is Bernadeth. What looked like trouble with our tall conversion van not fitting in the hotel lot and the recommended lot of close proximity automated machine not working, Bernadeth easily offered us a relaxed temporary fix to our problems, encouraged us to take the children to the hotel pool for some recreation, and insisted we go to dinner without worrying about the situation. Upon returning from dinner she was there to fix my next problem; I needed a quiet place to do my live radio show that night. We’d rented only the one room and my show runs from 9-11pm on Thursday nights, when my children are sleeping, so she graciously offered me a private hotel boardroom.  A long, handsome wooden table and ten tall black leather chairs surrounding the table was where she assigned me. I was alone, in a quiet, comfortable space, and able to do the show in the most relaxed way! Thank you to Bernadeth who made my stay the most enjoyable. Later the next day we spoke at length and are now Facebook friends!

Before we headed out of Charlotte on Saturday we made a stop at the legendary and amazing Charlotte Motor Speedway! My husband and I promised ourselves we’d return to attend a race at this famed track. Majestic, historic, gorgeous, and electrifying, Charlotte Motor Speedway draws you in to its magic. There we bumped in to a group of men who seemed just as excited to be there as we were. All to quickly my family was back in the van to our last destination before we headed home.

McLean Firefighters and NASCAR fans
We made our last stop Hendrick Motorsports. As it was Saturday the shops were closed, but the gift shop was open and we were delighted to find the place filled with numerous racecars. From Jimmie Johnson to Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Mark Martin, and Geoff Bodine to Terry Labonte, and even Tim Richmond all had space in the place. Ricky Hendrick’s truck was there as was Cole Trickle’s Days of Thunder Mello Yellow car. Trophies were shown, cars spotlighted, and drivers’ firesuits displayed making for a fascinating mini museum to gawk at and explore. While there we bumped into the same group of men. Seizing the opportunity to get a story, I introduced myself and they recognized my name as it was plastered all over the van! I asked where they were from and why they were in Charlotte and they surprised me by saying they had picked up a fire truck in Atlanta, Georgia and were driving straight through to McLean, New York, their hometown, after stopping in Charlotte on their way to the Richmond race that night where they held tickets at Row 2 Turn 2. They were great gentlemen, huge NASCAR fans, and fine Americans. I learned that they enjoyed the race immensely, left Richmond around 11:30pm, drove straight through to McLean. Immediately upon arrival there was a structure fire that desperately needed their attention so all of the firefighters set to work and fought it until 4pm. The men were all exhausted. These great American NASCAR fans are Dell Carr, Fire Chief Mike Totman, Kenny Carr, Calvin Carr, and Doug Seymour.

Being in Charlotte, meeting incredible people from all over the country, seeing and loving the NASCAR Hall of Fame with my entire family, going to several different shops, and simply immersing myself in NASCAR culture are yet many of the myriad reasons of why I love NASCAR!

Photos: Courtesy of Chief 187
Why I Love NASCAR: Charlotte Why I Love NASCAR: Charlotte Reviewed by Chief 187 on Monday, May 09, 2011 Rating: 5

No comments