No city in America is richer in the cultural past, present and future of NASCAR than Charlotte, the undisputed destination king of the sport. And when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series comes to town with the Coca-Cola 600 (May) and the Bank of America 500 (October), the city kicks into full throttle with special events and action-packed experiences.
Prepping for the Track
Comfort is Key A NASCAR race is an all-day event, so you’ll need to be prepared. A day at the Charlotte Motor Speedway comes with a lot of walking and climbing and the potential for changes of weather. If you have seats in the grandstand, dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes. Also, bring sunscreen, binoculars and a seat cushion.
Arrive Early Besides getting a chance to mingle with other race enthusiasts; you can enjoy the many pre-race activities. You will also need the time to settle in before the gentlemen start their engines.
Spring for a Pre-Race Pit Pass NASCAR is the only professional sport that lets the fans get up close and personal with the stars. The Pit Pass gives you a crew member’s view of Pit Road. You can check out the pit boxes and many of the race cars and stars, as well as get a front-row view of the pre-race festivities. This year, experience the Pit Party featuring headliners The Band Perry in addition to Jimmy Wayne and Parmalee. The three-hour extravaganza will include pit crew demonstrations, games and photo opportunities in Victory Lane on Pit Road (packages start at $50).
Pack a Cooler One of the best things about Charlotte Motor Speedway is that you can pack a picnic for the long race day. In the grandstands, coolers are permitted that are less than 14 inches in any direction. Just leave the glass at home. Umbrellas, strollers and stadium chairs also aren’t permitted.
Earplugs are Essential The sound of 43 revved-up NASCAR Sprint Cup stock cars can wake the dead . . . and damage your hearing. Ear plugs will make the hours-long experience much more enjoyable.
Get a Scanner It’s easy to miss things when NASCAR superstars are eating up the asphalt at nearly 200 mph. Buy or rent a Racing Electronics Scanner to know what’s happening at all times. By tuning it to specific frequencies, you can listen to the driver-team communications. Get even more insider action with a FanVision rental, which gives you access to eight in-car cameras, replays, real-time statistics and more.
NASCAR Hall of Fame This is the starting point for any racing fan. The interactive museum pays tribute to the history and heritage of the sport and its icons while educating and entertaining. If you are not already a fan, you will be when you leave.
GoPro Motorplex The outdoor .7-mile karting facility is where NASCAR drivers go to take it slow on their day off. But the thrill is plenty big. You can raise a little sand in more ways than one.
Drive The Dale Trail This self-guided tour of all-things Dale takes you through the Intimidator’s childhood neighborhood, the streets he roamed and the bronze statue erected in his honor in his hometown of Kannapolis.
Racing Insiders Tour This exclusive tour is the best way to learn about the evolution of NASCAR from its beginnings to present day. This day-long motorcoach all-access, in-depth tour hits every nook and cranny of Charlotte’s racing community. It starts at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and continues to a variety of race shops and other motorsports attractions in the area, where you get a behind-the-scenes look at what makes a NASCAR race happen. Whether you choose the I-77 or I-85 itinerary, you won’t be disappointed.
Charlotte Motor Speedway Days before the main event, there is ample reason to visit the superspeedway. Don’t miss one of the world’s largest HDTV screens. Take a ride along the 24-degree banked track via a Feel the Thrill Speedway Tour or enroll in one of the driving experience classes offered in schools by racing greats like Dale Jarrett or Richard Petty (check track schedules for official times and details).
Where to Eat
The Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway The best view of the race is from the Club restaurant on the sixth floor of Smith tower. It overlooks the 1.5-mile superspeedway and is open year round for lunch and dinner. The menu features locally sourced dishes ranging from upscale to down home. There’s even a kid’s menu.
Whisky River The Dale Earnhardt Jr. concept that’s housed in Center City’s EpiCentre has set up shop at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It brings with it the restaurant’s most well-known signatures including the daredevil mechanical bull, a DJ spinning classic rock ‘n’ roll and a special race menu with “start your engine” appetizers, “speedway” wraps, burgers and BBQ.
Take Out for Tailgating Stop by a nearby restaurant and stock up on essentials like fried chicken and barbecue for a tailgate at the campgrounds or the infield before the race. Charlotte-based Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits is a must for your setup. Grab a 20 piece jumbo tailgate family meal and some fixins’ like Bo-tato rounds, cole slaw and picnic grits for a southern-fried experience. Or participate in the great barbecue debate and savor some smoked meat from R&R Bar-B-Que, a local railroad-themed restaurant serving up Eastern NC vinegar-based pork barbecue.
When the Gentlemen (and Ladies) Start Their Engines
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race: Two 50-lap segments will set the stage for a final, frantic 13-lap fight to the finish with $1 million on the line. The action-packed NASCAR Spring All-Star Race weekend weekend also includes the NC Education Lottery 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and the Sprint Showdown.
600 Festival:Circle K and Kangaroo Speed Street transforms the streets of Uptown Charlotte into one of the largest events in the Southeast. With live musical entertainment, appearances by top NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers and celebrities, dynamic exhibits for all ages and an assembly of NASCAR show cars and simulators, Circle K and Kangaroo Speed Street is an event not to be missed.
Little 600: The annual event hosted at GoPro Motorplex is a fan-favorite, featuring free admission and the chance to watch NASCAR drivers battle bumper-to-bumper in go-karts.
Coca-Cola 600: See an amazing pre-race show honoring our Memorial Day military heroes with a special musical guest each year. Afterwards, enjoy the running of the legendary Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s most challenging test of man and machine.
Drive for the Cure 300: presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina:The contenders for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship will fight to the finish with Sprint Cup series regulars in a Friday-night-free-for-all at NASCAR’s home track. Drive for the Cure 300 tickets also include two afternoon NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions when your favorite driver is dialing in for Saturday’s race week finale.
Bojangles’ Pole Night: The stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series compete for the top starting spot for the Bank of America 500. The event also features the Better Half Dash, as the ladies of NASCAR duel in a 25-lap charity race while their husbands and boyfriends coach/spot from the sidelines.
Bank of America 500: Sparks will fly as the intensity heats up in the only Saturday night race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. It’s a 500-mile battle that could make or break Championship dreams.
This article ran in the October 2014 issue of Charlotte Happenings.