Speedway to unveil larger lights display

Randall Barger looked around the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway last week and said, "This is the best job you can have."

Barger, after all, loves Christmas lights. "Always have," he said.

He's the project manager for the speedway's Carolina Christmas, which launches its second annual drive-through Christmas lights display on Nov. 23. Barger works for Miller Davis Inc., a Salisbury marketing firm that works with the speedway on the display.

The event, which runs nightly through Dec. 31, will have 3 million LED lights, nearly triple last year's count.

The route will almost double in length to nearly 5 miles.

More displays are on tap, including a Vietnam Veterans Memorial that depicts an 18-foot tall U.S. soldier praying to a 20-foot tall cross. The memorial will become part of the Patriotic Alley light display.

Also new are the 30 animated light displays in the shape of cars that will fill the front stretch grandstands. Carolina Christmas will have 600 light displays in all, making it one of the largest such displays in the country, speedway officials said.

A new Emporium in the Nationwide garage will include 30 vendors selling everything from candles to paintings to jewelry.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, visitors can expect even more family entertainment at the Christmas Village in the speedway infield, said Mike Miller of 3Dudes Productions, another partner in Carolina Christmas.

Back this year are the petting zoo, the live Nativity, the Festival of Trees, photos with Santa and areas with food and music.

An estimated 200,000 spectators visited Carolina Christmas last year, said Adrian Parker, a speedway spokesman.

The speedway followed through on various recommendation made by visitors last year, some immediately, Parker said.

The speedway, for instance, opened the 24-degree banking part of the track several days into the event, which it hadn't originally planned to do, he said. That made fans of the sport happy and inspired return visits during Carolina Christmas, he said.

The speedway has also doubled the length of the drive-the-track experience at the request of fans, said Marcus Smith, speedway president and general manager. This year, fans can drive three-fourths of the track, Barger said. Speed limits will be posted, he added.

"Last year, a NASCAR driver had to be told to slow down (during Carolina Christmas)," Parker said, declining to name the driver.

Carolina Christmas also has what speedway officials call a new, more convenient entrance this year at zMAX Dragway. A 30-foot-tall Old Man Winter will greet drivers at the entrance. Drivers will then pass by The Dirt Track at Charlotte and into the speedway.

From Interstate 85 Exit 49, motorists will also drive down a new Boulevard of Lights. The Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau and 12 area hotels will decorate Bruton Smith Boulevard and Concord Mills Boulevard with nearly three miles of twinkling lights and more than 140 light pole Christmas decorations.