Story by Leah Hughes
Inside the Bank of America Stadium ticket office on Mint Street, a poster hangs for each year since 1996—when the Carolina Panthers played their first season at then- Ericsson Stadium. A faded wall picture shows the stadium in its infancy. The Panthers, members of the NFL’s NFC South division, will play eight regular-season home games this year.
Picture it: On a warm July day, a crowd gathers inside Bank of America Stadium to hear its story, narrated by tour guide Pat Claiborne. Guests have traveled from Wisconsin, Ohio, Louisiana, California and the like. Claiborne’s mission is to convert them all to Carolina fans during today’s less-than-two-hour tour. She takes them down to the field, where natural turf spreads across sandy soil. Here, she tosses out a wild fact: To garner North Carolina and South Carolina support, team owner Jerry Richardson requested a load of dirt from each county in both states to fill the field. Along the tour, guests pose for selfies in the visitors’ locker room and fantasize about owning one of the 153 newly renovated suites, which boast vast buffets, comfy chairs and large glass windows. Inside the South Club Lounge, Claiborne points to a collection of jerseys hanging on the wall. They aren’t Panthers blue; instead, they spell out the competition. The display, Visitors’ Row, includes a jersey for each team that the Panthers will host at home this season. Downstairs, inside the tunnel that leads to locker rooms, training rooms and interview rooms, it is quiet, save an occasional golf cart speeding by. Before long, it will be filled with players, cheerleaders and coaches ready to take the field and make some noise at Bank of America Stadium.
Bank of America Stadium
Public tours are offered each Wednesday at 10 a.m., and Friday at 10:30 a.m. and noon, with some exceptions. Reservations aren’t required, but plan to arrive 15 to 30 minutes before the tour starts. Admission is for free children age 5 and younger, $3 for children 5 to15, $5 for adults under 55 and $4 for adults 55 and older.
Racing with the Legends
When you walk up to Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, you can’t help but think of the icons—Earnhardt, Petty, Allison—who have zoomed around this mile-and-a-half track since it held its first race, the World 600, on June 19, 1960.
Today, the track is home to one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, two NASCAR XFINITY Series races, two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Races and the Sprint All-Star race. It also plays host to car shows and special events. Next door to the speedway, The Dirt Track and zMAX Dragway also hold races throughout the year. Among the lesser-known speedway legends is one who is not a driver: Arlene Stone. Stone has worked at the speedway for more than 40 years and once, even to her surprise, got out of jury duty by explaining that then-track owner Bruton
Smith needed all hands on deck to prepare for race day. She leads visitors on tours of the speedway, narrating as she drives a 15-passenger van full of race enthusiasts. Victory Lane is one of her first stops. She snaps a photo of the group and explains that when a driver wins, he or she must take a picture with a cap from each sponsor. Inside the media center, the next stop, old photos tell the history of the track.
There are lots of firsts: the first winner, the first scoreboard, the first night under the lights. Stone corrals everyone back into the van and reminds them to buckle their seat belts. She heads onto the track and maneuvers the turns, where passengers feel all 24 degrees of banking. Over at the dragway, she takes off from the starting line, no parachute necessary. At both the dragway and the speedway, visitors peek into suites with bird’s-eye views of the start/finish lines. They try on headsets and sit behind the microphone inside the Performance Racing Network studios. Someone suggests to Stone that she should write a book. She just might, she says, but it’s unlikely that anyone would believe all she’s seen.
Charlotte Motor Speedway
The speedway offers the Feel the Thrill Speedway Tour and the Over the Wall Tour. The Over the Wall Tour includes additional features such as visits to the suites and Performance Racing Network studios. Feel the Thrill is open Monday through Saturday by the hour, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Admission is $12 for adults under age 55 and $10 for children 13 and younger, adults 55 and older, military personnel, and EMS/fire/police personnel. Over the Wall is open Monday through Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Admission is $20 for adults under age 55 and $18 for children 9 and younger, adults 55 and older, military personnel, and EMS/fire/police personnel.
When the Hornets returned to Charlotte this past year, fans of the NBA team weren’t the only ones who were excited. The Time Warner Cable Arena staff met the change with a mixture of excitement and anticipation; they didn’t know what to expect. Marlene Hendricks, vice president of guest services and event staffing, describes an electrifying opening night.
The Hornets overcame a 24-point deficit to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks, set a record for the biggest comeback in franchise history and proved to the sold-out crowd that Buzz City is back in business. “One of the great things I love about Charlotte is how engaged our fans are,” Hendricks says.
To get a closer look at the place the Hornets call home, fans can sign up for arena tours on “dark days,” when the venue is not hosting events. Fans see the expected spots—the court, the locker rooms, the suites—but they also learn interesting tidbits that pay tribute to Charlotte and the Carolinas. For example: the mosaic tile mural titled “History of Basketball” represents the number of years that professional basketball has taken stage in Charlotte and the surrounding region; the giant scoreboard includes a backlit cityscape of the Queen City skyline; and the Craft Beer Garden represents numerous local breweries. These details might be missed on game day, amid all the clapping and cheering, but on a quiet day inside this Uptown landmark, it’s easy to see how much the team appreciates its home court.
Time Warner Cable Arena
Public tours are offered free of charge. Dates and times vary based on the availability of the building. Hugo the mascot can make an appearance for an additional fee. To schedule a tour, call 704.688.8128.
Arena celebrates its 10th anniversary this October. The home of the Charlotte Hornets, Time Warner Cable Arena is located in the heart of Uptown Charlotte and is the premier destination for sports and entertainment in the Carolinas, hosting nearly 200 events per year. Since opening on Oct. 21, 2005, with a sold-out performance by the Rolling Stones, the venue has played host to the biggest names in entertainment, including Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Beyoncé, U2, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Prince, Billy Joel, Elton John, Widespread Panic and Coldplay.
Over the years, Time Warner Cable Arena has also hosted multiple visits from family shows, like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Disney on Ice, Monster Jam and the Harlem Globetrotters. College basketball is a staple at the venue, with the CIAA, Southern Conference, ACC and NCAA all bringing their tournaments to the building, along with a bevy of regular season games. Time Warner Cable Arena was proud to be the site of the
Democratic National Convention in September 2012.
In the coming years, Time Warner Cable Arena will continue to serve as the site of some of the best basketball action available. In March 2018, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will return to Time Warner Cable Arena for the fourth time. In March 2019, the arena will once again host the ACC men’s basketball tournament.