Charlotte Racing Fans' Bucket List
Charlotte is the ultimate destination for NASCAR fans. Immerse yourself in a mix of racing-related shops, tracks and attractions.
by Charlie Leonard
The heart and soul of stock car racing resides right here in the greater Charlotte area. Even though NASCAR got its start on the beaches of Daytona, the biggest names, best teams and many of the original tracks are in and around the Queen City. Ready to drop the green flag on your next NASCAR adventure? Grab your crew, fire up your engines and check out this go-to guide for all things racing in the heart of NASCAR country.
A day at the track is a day well spent. Here are the best places to watch racing in the greater Charlotte area.
Originally promoted by the legendary Humpy Wheeler, former president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, Carolina Speedway, near the North Carolina-South Carolina border, has been a hotspot for racing since 1962. Just under half-a-mile long, this clay track attracts drivers and race fans from across the Carolinas. You’ll find weekly races here every Friday night from March until October.
With the nickname “The Beast of the Southeast,” Charlotte Motor Speedway is the pulse of racing action in Charlotte. The 1.5-mile oval track hosts two major races every season, the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Bank of America ROVAL 400 during the Cup playoffs. On non-race days, fans can take a guided tour of the facility that includes stops at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage, pit road and Victory Circle. The tour includes a ride along the 24-degree banked track via a Feel the Thrill Speedway Tour. Fans can also enroll in a racing schools’ driving experience class inspired by racing greats like Dale Jarrett and Richard Petty.
The Dirt Track is part three of the larger Charlotte Motor Speedway complex in Concord. It’s the home track for the World of Outlaws Sprint Car and Late Model Series, both are thrilling dirt racing series that routinely feature NASCAR drivers including Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson and many more. You’ll also find monster truck rallies and other exciting events here throughout the year.
Area: North Charlotte
If you love racing at the local level, check out East Lincoln Motor Speedway just north of Charlotte. Though this small dirt track in the woods of Stanley may seem unassuming, it’s hosted a steady stream of thrilling races since 1990, including local late model, pure stock and motorbike contests for kids and adults.
Part of Charlotte Motor Speedway, this state-of-the-art drag strip is one of the best in the world. Fans fill the stands of zMAX Dragway to watch NHRA Drag Racing and the Summer Drag and Brag street racing series. The quarter-mile track also hosts pro-stock motorcycle and car races.
The action doesn’t stop once the checkered flag drops. Discover racing history at these exciting destinations.
This self-guided tour of all things Dale Earnhardt Sr. takes you through the Intimidator’s childhood neighborhood, the streets he roamed and the bronze statue erected in his hometown of Kannapolis. Every visitor receives a collectible brochure and map containing information about the stops on The Dale Trail at the Cabarrus County Visitor Information Center.
If you love NASCAR and cars in general, check out the Memory Lane Museum in Mooresville. With over 100 cars to view from several eras, a history museum and even a section on toy cars, this is the place for you. Many of these cars have been featured in films, including “Days of Thunder,” “The Color Purple,” “Leatherheads” and “Talladega Nights.”
If you love the “pony car,” the Mustang Owner’s Museum has you covered. You’ll find classic Mustangs, including one from the 1964 World’s Fair, alongside modified Mustang Racing models and plenty of Mustang history. Pay a visit during race week at Charlotte Motor Speedway or drop by for Mustang owners’ events.
A tribute to the history of NASCAR, including the drivers, crew members and team owners who popularized the fast-paced sport, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is part museum and part interactive racing experience. One of the most popular exhibits is “Glory Road,” a banked ramp leading to the second floor that highlights racetracks around the U.S. and showcases historic race cars.
Appropriately located in “Race City, USA,” the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame is a must-see museum. You’ll find everything from exhibits and the current N.C. Hall of Famers to real-life stock cars that played a part in some of auto racing’s greatest moments.
Get behind the wheel yourself and put the pedal to the metal during a racing experience.
Neighborhood: University City
Founded by NASCAR’s first back-to-back champion, Buck Baker, this high-octane racing school has served everyone from local racing enthusiasts to NASCAR legends like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison. Overall, graduates from this racing school have led 10,000 laps and won a combined eight championships and 300 races. If you want to learn from the very best instructors, you can sign up for one of the exciting racing packages at Charlotte Motor Speedway and several other tracks in the greater Charlotte area.
The outdoor .7-mile, 11-turn GoPro Motorplex karting facility is where NASCAR drivers go to take it slow on their day off. The sprint karting track is based on the famous and historic Kartodromo Parma circuit in Italy, and the fleet of rental karts reach speeds up to 55 mph.
Area: North Charlotte
The one-third-mile indoor road course at Victory Lane Indoor Karting is reported to be one of the fastest in the Carolinas and in the nation. Sodi Honda competition racing karts challenge any driver with top speeds of 45 mph at just two inches off the ground.
Tour where the pros work on their cars, then head to the gift shop for a souvenir to commemorate your visit. You might even catch a driver passing through the building.
Want to visit multiple teams on the same day? Check out the packages offered by Garage Pass Shop Tours. These guides have NASCAR career backgrounds, so you’ll gain a better understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes. You’ll also get a discount at many of the gift shops and museums you visit.
Joe Gibbs Racing offers a great viewing area and gift shop for all your fan needs. Attend the annual JGR Fan Fest to meet your favorite drivers and get autographs.
JR Motorsports is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 66,000-square-foot race shop, located in Mooresville. Here you’ll find the JR Nation retail store that sells JR Motorsports branded items, the Dale Jr. Fan Experience and a life-size wax figure of the team owner sculpted by Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Before you visit, book a free shop tour here for the full experience.
When it comes to winning races, Kyle Busch has it covered, whether it’s behind the wheel of a truck or the bright yellow M&Ms car in the NASCAR Cup Series. This 77,000-square-foot facility features Kyle’s Cup championship and Truck Series trophies, along with winning cars, several fire suits and an on-site retail store with official KBM merchandise.
Owner Roger Penske has influenced NASCAR, IndyCar and every circuit in between, earning Team Penske the esteemed moniker of “the New York Yankees of motorsports.” Just like the Yankees, Team Penske spares no expense, so it’s no surprise that the Mooresville team headquarters is state of the art. Tour the 432-foot fan walk above the garage floor and browse several thousand feet of graphics explaining the team’s impressive history, many different trophies and a large gift shop to commemorate your visit.
Most famously known as the home of seven-time champion, Dale Earnhardt, and his famous No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolets, Richard Childress Racing has all sorts of history that race fans will love. During your tour of the Richard Childress Racing Museum, see those iconic Chevrolets firsthand, including the one from Earnhardt’s legendary win at the 1998 Daytona 500, and learn more about how these cars were built. You’ll also get to see Austin Dillion’s Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 winning cars, while learning more about the transformation of the team as a whole, and even the Childress family’s dedication to wildlife conservation. At the end, check out the gift shop filled with official Dale Earnhardt and RCR merchandise. For the full Childress experience, head to Childress Vineyards, one of the must-try vineyards near Charlotte, for a glass of wine.
Another successful name in racing is Roush, with 400 wins and 31 championships spread across NASCAR’s top three divisions and drag racing. Founded by Jack Roush, with additional ownership stakes including NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski and the Fenway Sports Group, RFK Racing is the modern-day iteration of a legendary race team. Be on the lookout for the annual fan appreciation day, a must-visit event for fans of Keselowski, Chris Buescher or any of the RFK drivers. You can also tour the shop and the on-site museum that proudly displays these racer’s achievements.
Co-owned by three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony “Smoke” Stewart and Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation, Stewart-Haas Racing is a force to be reckoned with on the NASCAR circuit. It’s also home to their sister team, Haas F1 Team, the only Formula 1 team in the United States, which made an appearance in Netflix’s popular docuseries, “Formula 1: Drive to Survive.” While you can’t tour the F1 side just yet, the NASCAR side provides an extensive look into the careers of Stewart, Kevin Harvick and other accomplished drivers. You can also get a look at Haas’ CNC machine room and explore the gift shop full of official merchandise.
Founded in 2020 by Justin Marks, who also founded the GoPro Motorplex, and Grammy award-winning artist Pitbull, Trackhouse Racing is an up-and-coming team in NASCAR thanks to the success of drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suárez. A visit to the Concord headquarters gives you a fantastic look at the shop floor, a collection of cars and several trophies.
Eat & Drink
A delicious meal with a refreshing drink is a team that everyone can get behind. If you love great food as much as you love racing, make a pit stop at one of these local restaurants.
Neighborhood: South End
Seven-time NASCAR Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson is one of the co-owners of this taco and tequila spot. SouthBound's vibe is relaxed and the menu is simple, featuring authentic, made-from-scratch Mexican street food with a Southern California twist. If you're feeling adventurous, pick up the phone hidden behind the red curtain, in the back of SouthBound, to gain access to BackStage Lounge.
Pinky’s is well known for delicious burgers, hot waffle fries and the classic VW bug on the roof of the original Westside location. But did you know the restaurant got its start catering at Charlotte Motor Speedway? Pinky’s NASCAR affiliation doesn’t end there. In 2015, NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer joined Guy Fieri at Pinky’s during the special “Racing Through Charlotte” episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” If you want to eat like Guy and Clint, start off with corn dog shrimp, then get the Triple G burger and a craft cocktail to wash it down.
Nothing says North Carolina like stock car racing and some great barbecue. Combine these two things and you get Lancaster’s BBQ. The original Mooresville location, fittingly, a former gas station, is a NASCAR lover’s paradise with over 10,000 square feet of racing memorabilia spread across three stories. Order the chopped pork dinner and take in the scenery at one of Mooresville’s most unique restaurants.
Neighborhood: Wesley Heights
Another restaurant from Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” visit in 2015 is Pit Road Bar & Grill. Located inside Victory Lane Indoor Karting, this is the perfect post-race celebratory meal after you’ve dominated your competition on the track. Pit Road has everything from burgers and barbecue sandwiches to donut holes for dessert. Wash it all down with one of 20 local craft beers on tap.
The best view of the race is from the Speedway Club restaurant on the sixth floor of Smith Tower at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The restaurant overlooks the 1.5-mile superspeedway and is open year-round for lunch and dinner. The menu features locally sourced ingredients to prepare steak, seafood and more, as well as a kid’s menu.
Neighborhood: South End
When summer rolls around, it’s time to gather your friends and family, head outside and have fun while the weather’s nice – ideally at the track. That summer state of mind is exactly what former-NASCAR CEO Brian France had in mind with Summerbird, a chicken concept in the heart of South End. Alongside the restaurant’s take on fried and grilled chicken sandwiches, expect a selection of chicken tenders, salads and fresh sides, such as street corn, butternut squash and kale side salad, that’ll bring you back to your favorite backyard cookouts.
Charlotte has plenty of great sports gear and antique shops within a short drive of each other. But if you’re looking for apparel and memorabilia with a NASCAR twist, these two stores are a must visit.
Whether you’re visiting the NASCAR Hall of Fame or are just in the area, don’t forget to stop by the Gear Shop. There is just under 6,000 square feet of officially licensed gear inside, meaning you’ll have plenty to choose from especially if you just found your new favorite driver after a tour of the museum. Find shirts, hats, prints, bobbleheads, diecast cars and so much more at this unique Uptown attraction.
The Racing Warehouse is one of the best NASCAR memorabilia stores you’ll find. With an extensive collection of authentic sheet metal, racing suits, helmets, vintage apparel, diecast cars and even autographed NASCAR Championship champagne bottles from Victory Lane, even the most passionate collectors will find something they’ve never seen before. Come on the right day and you may meet a sponsored driver, spotter or another member of the NASCAR family.
Worth the Drive
Want world-class racing that’s a quick trip away? These iconic North Carolina tracks and destinations have plenty of great racing and attractions you can’t miss.
Bowman Gray Stadium is a NASCAR-sanctioned, quarter-mile flat-oval track that shares its infield with the Winston-Salem State University football team. It’s also one of the most important tracks in NASCAR history.
First opened in 1949 by Bill France Sr. and Alvin Hawkins, this was NASCAR’s first-ever weekly track. Richard Petty won his 100th race here, Richard Childress got his start here and legendary NASCAR families, like the Allisons, Earnhardts, Pettys and Myerses, have all been a part of Bowman Gray’s weekly racing tradition.
Today, Bowman Gray is the longest-running weekly track in NASCAR. Come watch the original modified series or catch a race from the sportsman, street stock or stadium stock series.
Once a crown jewel of the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR officially returned to North Wilkesboro Speedway in 2022 following a massive repaving and renovation project led by XR Events’ Racetrack Revival. The sold-out kick-off race, which included Dale Earnhardt Jr. and many other rising drivers, started a brand-new era for the track.
To celebrate NASCAR’s 75th season, Dale Earnhardt Jr., alongside North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, announced that the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race will be held at the track in May.
The Petty Museum preserves the heritage of Petty Engineering and Petty Enterprises, a family business with a formative influence on American motorsports and automotive design, construction and safety. Located in Randleman, learn more about Richard Petty, aka “The King,” and see his very first racing shop along with his current shop, Petty’s Garage.
Article originally written by Charlie Leonard. Updates by Arielle Patterson in May 2023.