Throughout Saturday afternoon, as NASCAR fans awaited the upcoming All-Star Race, the outskirts of Charlotte Motor Speedway was the place to be.
Several thousand people roamed the area, bouncing between food trucks and entertainment displays scattered throughout the designated fan zone. But the largest congregation formed in front of a stage a little farther down, behind Turn 1.
It was there that country music artist Justin Moore entertained fans for about an hour and a half. And during his time on stage, the sense of community that NASCAR fans appear to share was evident.
With temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, cooler-carrying fans indulged in alcoholic beverages as Moore played songs such as “Lettin’ the Night Roll” and “How I Got to Be This Way.” The latter induced some head-banging from the fans who parked their trucks along a nearby fence for the show.
Moore kept the good times rolling with his hit “Small Town USA,” a song seemingly fit for the once empty plot of land that now flooded with people. Knowing his audience, Moore made a popular lyric change to the song, substituting Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s name for Hank Williams Jr.’s in the chorus.
However, no song energized fans as much as “Small Town Throwdown,” composed by Moore, Brantley Gilbert and Thomas Rhett.
“I can’t think of a better place to play this song,” said Moore. “There isn’t a better place for a small-town throwdown than at a NASCAR race.”
Fights away from the racetrack
Once Moore’s pre-race show ended, many of the concertgoers made their way back toward the fan zone, where they encircled a fighting ring for four bouts that were part of the Monster Energy Bellator MMA Fight Series.
The ring was positioned just below a hill. And as many people took a seat on it, the ring took on the feeling of a coliseum, with fans yelling from above as fights waged on.
The light heavyweight bout, which opened the competition, featured Allen Bose of Jacksonville and Chris Crawford of Durham. Bose won the three-round contest by unanimous decision, improving to 6-0 in his career.
To get an idea of how hot it was, Crawford sprinted toward a chair after exiting the ring and had someone pour water on his bare feet to cool them down.
Not just race cars
Adjacent to the ring was a staging area that fans crowded around earlier in the day for motorcycle stunts. Several people pulled out their phones to take photos and record videos as riders performed wheelies and backflips off large ramps.
Adding to the excitement was the steel cage, through which two riders at a time looped around. At one point, two riders were joined in the steel cage by two women, who stood in the middle as the riders drove around them.
Also featured were TORC Series off-road trucks that performed burnouts.
A couple of steps from the motorcycle staging area was the NASCAR Trackside Live stage, which featured live music and driver appearances during a show that was broadcast on NASCAR.com.
Among the drivers who frequented the stage were Matt DiBenedetto and Joey Logano, the defending All-Star Race winner.
In many ways, the production had the feel of ESPN’s College GameDay. And although there weren’t any signs or posters like those that are shown on GameDay, one fan used his camera time to show off his tattoos, which featured one of each racetrack he’s visited.
Something for the kids
For families in attendance, there was the “Cars 3” display, which drew the longest lines of any of the attractions..
Full-size versions of the “Cars 3” characters, including the movie series’ star Lightning McQueen, highlighted the display. Fans were also given a chance to watch an exclusive trailer of the movie, scheduled to be released in June.
The excitement surrounding the display led several fans to start lining up hours before the speedway opened.
Pat James: @patjames24