Santa to light up speedway

Charlotte Motor Speedway will kick off the holiday season next week when it opens Carolina Christmas, a 2.5-mile drive-through Christmas-light park and village on the track and throughout the infield.

The event is being touted as the second-largest holiday light show in the United States, and area volunteers, students, churches and businesses are teaming up to be a part of the inaugural show.

Open nightly Nov. 22-Jan. 2, it will feature nearly 500 different LED (light emitting diode) displays, a walk-through Bethlehem-themed village, areas for children, food, carriage rides and photos with Santa. A portion of proceeds from hot chocolate sales will benefit Speedway Children's Charities.

The Bethlehem-themed village and live Nativity scene will feature volunteers from area churches dressed in character, as well as demonstrations on candle-making, blacksmithing and basket weaving. Brafford Greenhouses in Concord donated poinsettias and other greenery for the event, and other businesses, including Village Fudge of Concord, also will have displays.

"It'll make everybody excited about Christmas," said Mark Brafford, 43, vice president of Brafford Greenhouses in Concord. The speedway's new endeavor joins the free annual McAdenville Christmas lights display. For 54 years, the Gaston County town has transformed into Christmas Town USA each Dec. 1, attracting about 600,000 visitors annually through Dec. 26. A 2003 regional study estimated McAdenville's attraction had an $11.8 million economic impact.

Carolina Christmas is expected to have a $10.2 million economic impact on the region and create 80 seasonal jobs. The event also is intended to boost a traditionally slower time for the speedway.

Visitors will see nearly 500 different types of light displays, including Toyland, Candyland, Fairy Tale Lane, Victorian Village, 12 Days of Christmas and Patriotic Alley, a tribute to troops that will include a display of the Statue of Liberty. Also, 20,000 square feet of animated LED lighting will be synchronized to Christmas music along the speedway's front stretch. Visitors will tune their vehicle radio to a specified FM station to hear the music.

More than 1 million LED lights will use 12,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity during the 42-night schedule; the displays will use less energy than 10 North Carolina homes in a given month. The efficient lights use about 90 percent less energy than standard Christmas lights and produce a brighter light.

Clinton Mitchell teaches a cabinetry and furniture-making class at J.M. Robinson High School in Concord. He and fellow teachers Annie Boger, who teaches drama, and Daniel Peck, who teaches an electrical trade class, are in charge of about 30 students in grades nine-12 who volunteered to build a display for Santa's workshop and one for Santa's throne, where pictures will be taken.

"I think the majority of people will just be amazed with the amount of lights set up, the animation and other things happening," said Peck.