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Concord lost lunch money, but dragway was worth it

Lowe's Motor Speedway reminds me of China.

To get the Olympics, China misled officials about human rights, civil rights and the right to protest. Yet as dishonest as China was, the games have been superb.

To get zMAX Dragway @ Concord, LMS threatened to leave town, steamrolled nearby residents concerned about noise and forced Concord and Cabarrus County officials to hand over their lunch money.

Yet as dishonest as LMS was – they were never going to leave – the dragway is superb.

“The truly finest facility I have ever seen,” says Tom Compton, the president of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).

After he finishes speaking at Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, whose musical offerings include “409” by the Beach Boys and Sammy Hagar's “I Can't Drive 55,” I ask Compton what impresses him.

“Just look at it,” he says.

LMS converted 125 acres into a stadium that accommodates 30,000 fans. It is the only dragway in the U.S. with a four-lane concrete dragstrip.

A 34,000 square-foot tower offers 16 luxury suites and a stunning view of the starting line. It's not a speedway suburb.

It's a city unto itself.

Six months ago it was a field. On Saturday it will host an open house and in three weeks the NHRA Nationals. Some of us need more than six months to build a deck.

“Think what we could do for the uptown ballpark,” says Marcus Smith, the new track president.

Every day an average of 300 employees worked on the dragway.

So what happens if one of them walks up to speedway owner Bruton Smith and says, “I can't finish when I said I would. We'll be a little late.”

Bruton, how would you react?

Bruton says nothing. He simply stares at me behind ornate gold-plated sunglasses that I suspect can be purchased only in Hollywood, Las Vegas or France.

Suddenly the sky begins to roil, storm clouds roll in and the temperature drops 10 degrees.

“What!” Smith says.

“I give him a what!”

Then he smiles, and there's nothing but sunshine.

Reporters are offered a ride in the back of a two-passenger dragster. I strap into a black one with front tires as skinny as a forearm and rear tires as thick as offensive linemen. Exhaust pipes reach into the air.

I'm nervous. The Roller Coaster at Camp Snoopy undid me. But I relax when the driver says his name is Bubba Turner. If you need a bartender, a cleanup hitter or a dragster driver, you want a Bubba.

Helmet on, legs down and arms in, I flash the thumbs-up signal to a guy at the starting line.

Whoa.

Now I know how Concord officials felt. The pressure is unbelievable. I think my stomach is broken.

And then we're finished.

How fast did we go?

“About 100 mph,” Bubba says.

That's all?

“In three seconds,” he adds.

Only the construction moved faster.

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