W hile Daytona Beach, Fla., remains the official headquarters of NASCAR, the Charlotte area has long been home to approximately 90 percent of the sport’s teams and a vast majority of its drivers and crew members.
Charlotte and the Carolinas have been connected to NASCAR since the stock car racing sanctioning body’s inception in 1948. Today, the city and region remain fully entwined with NASCAR, and motorsports in general.
The focal point of much of that interaction is the 130,000-plus seat Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, 13 miles from uptown Charlotte.
The speedway and its adjacent dirt track and dragstrip are home to Charlotte’s three NASCAR race weekends, but also so much more – from auto shows to Christmas light displays each year.
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No matter what time of year, CMS has numerous events for speed enthusiasts. Here are several worth checking out:
NASCAR race weekends: CMS hosts three races each year in NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series, including the Coca-Cola 600 each Memorial Day weekend and a 500-mile race each October. These races feature many of NASCAR’s biggest stars, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, among others.
Each May, the track also hosts the annual NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, which features drivers who won races the year before as well as past winners of the event. The track also hosts a pair of races from the Nationwide Series as well as a Truck series race each season.
Auto fairs: Twice a year, CMS hosts the Charlotte AutoFair, which features more than 9,000 vendor spaces filled with restoration parts and cars for sale. More than 50 other car clubs display their vehicles during AutoFair weekends. There are also collector car auctions, a massive manufacturer midway and a kids’ play zone.
Drag racing: Across U.S. 29 from the speedway is the zMax Dragway, which hosts two major NHRA drag racing events each year. In April, the NHRA’s top categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – break from conventional two-wide racing at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
In October, the dragway hosts the first race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship – a crucial stop in deciding series champions.
Dirt track racing: Adjacent to zMax Dragway is The Dirt Track at Charlotte, a 4/10-mile clay oval that hosts a variety of events throughout the year. The sprint cars from the World of Outlaws typically make a stop in May and return in November for the WoO World Finals.
The track also hosts a Monster truck bash and in recent years has hosted a Global RallyCross event, which features modified production cars that compete on a course set up on the track, featuring twists, turns and jumps.
Driving schools: Are you looking to get a taste of driving a race car yourself? CMS hosts several driving schools, including the Richard Petty Driving Experience, the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience, the Dale Jarrett Racing Adventure and the NASCAR Racing Experience. The schools offer varying opportunities to drive cars yourself; several also have ride-along programs, everything from three-lap rides around the 1.5-mile speedway to running a mini-race.
Summer Shootout: Approximately 150 Legend Car and Bandolero competitors travel from across the country to battle for CMS’ Summer Shootout Series championship. These races are run one night a week for eight weeks each summer on the quarter-mile infield oval at the speedway. (Several of NASCAR’s star drivers got their start racing Legend cars and Bandoleros.)
The annual Summer Shootout also includes exhibition races like the principal school bus race, mascot mania go-kart racing and a Global Rallycross show.
Speedway Christmas: One of the newest annual events added to the speedway’s calendar, this holiday treat offers a 3-mile drive-through holiday light park, with decorations covering much of the speedway grounds. Also on hand is a Christmas village, offering photos with Santa and marshmallow roasting pits.
The track also hosts 10 movie nights, with holiday classics such as “A Christmas Story,” “Polar Express” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” playing on the track’s giant HDTV.