Charlotte and the Carolinas have been linked to NASCAR since the stock car racing sanctioning body’s inception in 1948.
Today, the city and region remain fully entwined with NASCAR – its past, present and future.
Here are 10 interesting facts about the Charlotte area’s connection to NASCAR:
1. The very first race in the “Strictly Stock Series,” the precursor to what is today the Sprint Cup Series, was held at the old Charlotte Speedway, a 3/4-mile dirt oval, in 1949. The track was built just off Little Rock Road south of the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. Races were held there through 1956. Its first event in 1949 was a 150-mile race. Other events were 100, 113 or 150 miles long. A historical marker is now located near the area.
2. In a strange twist, fans never got to see the winner of the first NASCAR race in Charlotte celebrate in Victory Lane. Glenn Dunnaway won the event in 1949. However, his car failed post-race inspection and he was disqualified – one of the few times NASCAR has ever taken away a victory. Jim Roper was declared the winner and took the $2,000 first prize.
3. Hundreds of thousands of race fans come to current Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord for the track’s three major NASCAR events each year – the Sprint All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 on successive weekends each May, and October’s 500-mile race. The track also offers tours, and adventurous fans can climb into the driver’s seat for the Richard Petty Driving Experience.
4. Charlotte is the home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The hall, in uptown Charlotte, consists of more than 40,000 square feet of exhibits including Glory Road, which features 18 cars and highlights 46 past and current tracks, and the Hall of Honor, a 360-degree wall where honorees are enshrined and other interactive exhibits. Induction ceremonies are held each January.
5. While Daytona Beach, Fla., remains the official headquarters of NASCAR, the Charlotte area has long been the home to approximately 90 percent of the sport’s teams and a vast majority of its drivers and crew members. Virtually all the sport’s major teams – Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing – are based in Mecklenburg or neighboring Cabarrus and Iredell counties.
6. Much of NASCAR’s official business is conducted in the Charlotte area as well. In January 2003, NASCAR opened its 61,000-square foot research and development center on 16 acres in Concord. The $10 million facility is devoted to safety initiatives, enhancing competition and containing costs for its teams.
7. The Carolinas currently are home to three tracks that host competition in one of NASCAR’s three national series – Cup, Nationwide and Trucks. CMS hosts all three series each year and Darlington (S.C.) hosts Cup and Nationwide races each year. Rockingham Speedway, about 90 miles southeast of Charlotte, used to host Cup and Nationwide races but has only held a single Truck series race each of the past two years.
8. In addition to the Hall of Fame, Charlotte is also home to the NASCAR Plaza, a 20-story office building that opened in May 2009. The 390,000-square-foot structure serves as the home of Hall of Fame-related offices, NASCAR Digital Media, and NASCAR’s licensing division.
9. The Charlotte area has been home to most than just NASCAR racing. If you cherish automobiles, racing or history, the Memory Lane Museum in nearby Mooresville gives an excellent overview. You can view the history of the automobile from the buggy through the present day, and you can view the history of stock car racing from the early moonshine era to the advent of superspeedways.
10. Carowinds – an amusement park just south of Charlotte on the North Carolina/South Carolina border – is home to the first roller coaster named after a NASCAR driver. The Intimidator is named for the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, who long held that nickname; the ride is one of the tallest, fastest and longest roller coasters in the Southeast with a 232-foot lift hill, a top speed of 80 miles per hour and a track length of 5,316 feet.
Jim covers NASCAR for the Observer.
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