Entertainment

Charlotte’s annual raison d’etre is back at the speedway

Fans are shown on the world's largest HDTV at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s 80 feet by 20 feet. “It’s taller and wider than the White House,” said Scott Cooper, Speedway director of communications.
Fans are shown on the world's largest HDTV at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s 80 feet by 20 feet. “It’s taller and wider than the White House,” said Scott Cooper, Speedway director of communications. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte has a bit of an identity crisis. It seemed for a time like banking may be our calling card. Not so much. Our real reason for being – the thing we’re known for – is racin’.

And the Coca-Cola 600 is like our annual coming-out party. Our Grand Ole Opry. Our Kentucky Derby.

Racin’ (dropping the “g” is actually the preferred spelling) is also part of our economy.

We’re in the midst of the biggest back-to-back weekends in motorsports, bookended by last weekend’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the 56th running of the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday. Combined, the races will generate an estimated economic impact of $230 million for the Charlotte region and support an estimated 4,200 jobs.

Even if you aren’t part of the hoopla, thank a NASCAR fan for being the motor oil that makes our economic engine hum.

Jam. ZZ Top has been around since the 1970s, and they’ve never tamed their signature beards. The lengthy whiskers may have been a gimmick, but the group is the real deal. The bluesy rock band that gave the world “Cheap Sunglasses” and “Legs” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Performing before thousands of rowdy fans is nothing new to them; they performed as part of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXI in 1997. Catch them – beards and all – at 3:55 p.m. Sunday.

The entire pre-race show is a good time. And a time to pay tribute. The Charlotte Fire Department Pipe Band will again perform “Amazing Grace,” which has become a beloved tradition.

Watch TV. Charlotte Motor Speedway can lay claim to a TV that’s 16,000 square feet. It’s 80 by 20 feet. Still can’t get a handle on how big that is? “It’s taller and wider than the White House,” said Scott Cooper, Speedway director of communications. It’s the second largest TV monitor in the world. (The largest is in – where else? – Texas.) Cooper said the TV allows everyone – no matter where they’re seated – a piece of the action.

Be a VIP. Cooper’s best tip is to purchase a pit pass along with your tickets. On race day – Sunday, May 24 – a pit pass gets you access to the infield where you can be part of Q&A sessions with Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and more during the Speedway’s pit party. And partying goes with the race like beer goes with burgers.

Salute the troops. The Speedway expects to welcome 6,000 active duty servicemen and women, veterans and their families this weekend. And paying tribute is always on the agenda. This year, Taya Kyle, widow of Navy Seal Chris Kyle (on whose life “American Sniper” was based) will receive the Stonewall Jackson Award. Since 1992, the Speedway has presented the award to someone who’s demonstrated his or her patriotism through support of the military or personal sacrifice.

Gen. Mark Milley, commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces Command, will deliver a State of Freedom address.

“As a group, NASCAR fans are a patriotic bunch,” Cooper said. “Our fans are always excited to show their appreciation to the military.”

Food. The wildest concessions include candied bacon lollipops, something called the “crank shaft burrito” and the “Speedway picnic burger.”

The lollipops combine bacon’s saltiness with sweet brown sugar and maple syrup. Sriracha chili sauce and black pepper add a kick. Each savory skewered treat runs $5.

The $25 crank shaft Burrito weighs in at 6.5 pounds and is designed to feed a family of four. It’s constructed of four 12-inch tortillas stuffed with baked beans, coleslaw and 3 full pounds of pulled pork tossed with barbecue sauce.

The picnic burger is also made to share. It’s eight burgers, eight hot dogs, pulled pork, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and eight slices of American cheese loaded onto a 14-inch sesame seed bun. The burger will set you back $35.

More than a NASCAR race

Coca-Cola 600 weekend packages start at $99. If you order tickets by phone, you can pick them up at Will Call – which, during race weekend, is at any ticket booth.

DETAILS: 800-455-3267; www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

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