Rising country music star Hunter Hayes sat in the passenger seat of a stock car as it hurtled around Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday afternoon, reaching speeds of 170 mph.
This fall, he’ll be back at the Charlotte track to hop into the driver’s seat, so to speak: The 23-year-old singer-songwriter – who opened for Lady Antebellum Friday night at PNC Music Pavilion – will headline a 60-minute concert for fans before the Bank of America 500 race here on Oct. 10.
Hayes’s show in Charlotte will be part of a 21-city tour in light of the success of the five-time Grammy nominee’s hot digital-only single, “21.”
“It’s kind of a big checklist thing for me,” he said while sipping a cup of coffee behind the Winner’s Circle on the speedway’s infield Friday. “I love cars, I love motorsports in general – all of it together with music, it sounds like a recipe for an awesome night.”
A self-professed “gearhead” who cites his favorite TV show as Britain’s “Top Gear,” Hayes was invited to make a pit stop at the Speedway to promote the announcement of the October concert; and the track’s communications team figured, Hey, while he’s here, let’s take the guy for a little ride.
So, after recording promotional spots for the track and for a couple of local country-radio stations, he threw on a fire suit and a helmet; climbed through the passenger-side window of the red-white-and-mostly-blue No. 47 car; and strapped in for several fast laps courtesy of the Rusty Wallace Driving Experience.
It was the singer’s first time inside a stock car.
And his Bank of America 500 show – which will include a full 60-minute set – will mark his first time performing at a racetrack.
Hayes did open for Blake Shelton during a concert held as part of festivities for the final Chase race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November 2011, but the show was on Miami Beach, not at the track.
In recent years, Bank of America 500 pre-race concert headliners have included The Band Perry, Goo Goo Dolls and Big & Rich.
When his ride-along was over on Friday, after the No. 47 car came to a complete stop in the pit, Hayes climbed out of the window, pumped both fists in the air and yelled, “That did not suck!”
“That was incredible,” Hayes said, after the helmet came off and he’d had a chance to guzzle a bottle of water. “I’ve been in some fast vehicles before, I’ve experienced some crazy stuff... but never anything like that. And I had a massive respect for the drivers to begin with, but I have a whole new level of appreciation for so many things at this point after that experience. It was absolutely mind-blowing.”
Then, just before climbing into an SUV that would whisk him off to get ready to open for Lady Antebellum at PNC Music Pavilion a few miles away, he added: “I’m definitely awake now. I’m ready to play a show. If we could do that every night, pre-show – if that was our pre-show warmup – I’d be cool with that.”
Bank of America 500
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race – set for Oct. 10 – is the only Saturday night race in the championship Chase.
Ticket information: 800-455-3267; www.charlottemotorspeedway.com. Fans can upgrade their race tickets to include a pit pass and stagefront access to Hunter Hayes’s pre-race concert: $100 additional for adults, $50 additional for ages 14-18, free for 13 and younger.