Sunday, July 12, 2009

NASCAR Day Trip to North Carolina

My parents and I took a day trip to North Carolina on Saturday to see the area where NASCAR drivers call home. I have always wanted to go up there to tour the speedway and see all of the race shops. We started in Charlotte and made a circuit to all of the racing towns including Concord, Kannapolis, Mooresville, Cornelius, and Huntersville.

After arriving at around 9:30 a.m., we drove straight to Lowe's Motor Speedway and took the 10:30 a.m. track tour (it only costs $5 a person!).

Our tour guide was very informative the whole time. She made us realize just how expensive the track condominiums are and told us that it costs only $125 an hour to light up the track (quite a contrast from the price of the condos). There was actually some action at the track including Dodge test sessions in normal vehicles.

In the pictures above, notice all of the different colors painted on the seats. Those are used for commercials being filmed when the track is empty and to make it look like a sellout when a light crowd is on hand. Another sign of the tough economic times in NASCAR...

Toward the end of the tour, all of us tourists got to hang out in victory lane. They still hadn't taken down the Coca-Cola 600 banner from when David Reutimann got the rain-shortened victory.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was getting to ride around the 24 degree banking for two fast laps. Our guide, a woman between 60 and 70 years old, drove around it at 80 mph in a van!

After the awesome tour, we drove right down the road to Hendrick Motorsports. Since it was down a little country road that no one would have ever guessed, it was good thing that they had signs directing us tourists to it. On a Saturday, only the museum and gift shop were open, so we weren't able to go into the actual race shops. I wanted in them so badly that I tried to open the doors even though they were locked; my dad was afraid I might set off an alarm!

Inside the museum, I got to squeeze my way into a model race car seat and realized how uncomfortable it must feel to be in that thing for four or more hours. I can see why NASCAR drivers have to be so small. I could barely fit in it, and most people consider me quite skinny. Being over six feet tall didn't help the matter though... lol.

Also in the nice museum were cars from some of Jeff Gordon's most memorable Daytona 500 wins and his 1994 Brickyard 400 one.

After seeing HMS, we drove up the highway to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s hometown of Kannapolis. Along the way, we stopped at Stewart-Haas Racing. It was also closed, but from the outdoor windows I could see some guys working on the cars inside.

In the center of Kannapolis are several grand buildings that are part of the North Carolina Research Campus. The brand new campus is quite a contrast to the simplicity of the rest of the city. For lunch, we ate at a place called Village Grill that is supposed to have the best barbecue around; I must say that it was quite good.

Afterward, we drove up to Mooresville and happened to pass by the headquarters of the former Dale Earnhardt, Inc. before it merged with Ganassi.

The Hershey Mosaic was a special memorial in honor of his legacy and had 1,400 fans' pictures all over it.

Our final stop for the day was at Raceworld USA in Cornelius, the home of Michael Waltrip Racing. It happened to be the only shop having tours on a Saturday. People on the internet said that this shop tour put more emphasis on the fans than any other one did, and I must agree. It was a pretty good value for only costing $10 a person. We got to watch a HD video, learn all about the race cars and different set-ups, see the car assembly floor by walking on catwalks, and even walk out back and tour the fabrication shop. On display in the fab shop was the car that Michael McDowell totaled last year in the Texas spring qualifying run. I bet we all remember that...

Seeing all of the work that was put into these race cars made me realize how there is much more to NASCAR than just the race that we fans watch on t.v. every week. It is the result of many hard hours of labor, approximately 30 hours per car before leaving the shop. NASCAR is a team sport; the driver just happens to get most of the glory...

I would like to make a shout-out to our tour guide Jane who gave us a nice private walk-through around the outdoor areas of the complex. She has a degree in sociology but also has a wealth of knowledge about the technical side of NASCAR.

Afterward, we tried to zip by Joe Gibbs Racing but were unable to because of limited time. I had a great day and even got home to see most of the race from Chicago.

The Speeding Bullets are soon to come...


Anonymous said...

First of all, you flew? It seems like Charlotte is just up the road from Commerce, when we used to jump in the wrecker with our Dad and take off to Charlotte to pick up a car! Unlike jumping in the car hauler and taking off to Lakeland, Florida! LOL

Glad you were able to make the trip. My brother-in-law has a hard time going back to the Dale Sr. complex, not because of his love for Dale, Sr., but because he says he won't be putting any more money into Theresa's pockets! LOL

jon_464 said...

Gonger, good post. Very informative about how Lowe's Motor Speedway works. From my understanding, they open the track to vehicles once a week. I suppose when it's time, they'll haul that display from the speedway to Michael Waltrip Racing in honor of Reutimann's first win.

Gene Haddock said...

Sounds like a great time. Very cool of your parents to take you up there.

A good time to go up there is the Friday after Thanksgiving. Most of the teams have their souvenir rigs at LMS. They have good deals as they're trying to get rid of that year's inventory. Golf shirts for $5-$10, etc.

RA6AN said...

VERY cool, Gonger! I can picture Gramma driving the van around the track at 80 mph!

Maybe if/when we get our traveling bloggers together out there, we'll have you be our guide.

storkjrc said...

sounds like you had a great time. Now if I can only convince the wife that Charlotte would be a great place for a vacation, I would be set too.

Anonymous said...

.....and that's unbelievable how they painted those seats that way!lol

klvalus said...

Awesome blog Gonger and love all your pictures!

I have been dying to get to NC and visit all the race shops too. Sounds like you had several great tours.

gonger93 said...

Beverly- I wouldn't want to support Theresa either because she has been just taking that organization in the wrong direction.

Jon- Thanks. They'll probably wait and hall the display off a week before the fall race.

Gene- Thanks for the info. I'm usually out of town on that day though.

gonger93 said...

RA6AN- I would love to be your guide but know a friend who would make a better guide than me because he actually lives up there.

Stork- That'll be a hard task... lol. My mom was only excited about the trip because she had never been to that area.

Kristen- Thanks. You could probably get a special access pass at the Penske shop. I was going to stop there but just couldn't find it. All of these shops are hidden down little side roads.