Exploring NASCAR Country in North Carolina
In our house, Sundays were for racing, not football
Growing up, my world revolved around cars. For the longest time, I believed this need for speed was the influence of my dad. In our house, Sundays were for racing, not football, and we were always tinkering on a project car in the garage. Now that I have a son of my own, I’m not so sure the love of cars in little boys is learned, but rather inherent.
I traded my own souped up Mustang for an SUV and lawnmower years ago. Yet, nary is a day when my son isn’t zooming cars across our living floor with a smile on his face and Lighting McQueen on his T-shirt. His passion for race cars has re-fired my own spark plugs. There thankfully are plenty of options right here in NASCAR country to get him up-close and personal with racing without the big league ticket price.
Start your tour of Hendrick Motorsports 110-acre, 12 building complex in the two-team shop buildings that are open to the public. The lobby of the 9-24 Building – where shop engineers begin building cars that will eventually race for the checkered flag – is filled with display cars from all three of NASCAR’s series. Kids can mechanics working on cars through the floor-to-wall window. The cars are finished in the 48-88 Building, where the 48 car, 88 car and race trophies are on display. There’s also a video display with a live overhead shot of the garage.
Wrap up your Hendrick Motorsports experience in the museum and store. Check out race and championship winning cars like Jimmie Johnson’s 2016 Cup Series championship car, cars from the movie “Days of Thunder,” a collection of every Hendrick diecast car made, and notable helmets like Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s custom skull helmets.
The museum and team store is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The team shop is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission is free. 4400 Papa Joe Hendrick Blvd., Charlotte.
The racing awe starts the moment you enter the hall of fame with Glory Road. The spiraling ramp is lined with 18 cars depicting iconic moments in NASCAR’s history. As you climb, notice how the display banking increases to demonstrate the steepness of actual turns. Challenge your family to see who can keep their footing the longest on Talladega’s 33-degree embankment.
The Race Week exhibit is a family favorite because it lets fans get behind the scenes of NASCAR’s inner workings. Team up and race the clock for a practice pit stop or pair against each other to see who can change a tire the fastest. Call a race as a TV announcer. Flag a race as an official. Tour a hauler or try your hand behind the wheel in a racing simulator. There’s also a kids section complete with a pint-sized pit simulator so nobody feels left out.
Open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission is $12-$25; and free for ages 2 and under. 400 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Charlotte.
Carolina Speedway in Gastonia hosts weekly dirt races, drawing upwards of 70 cars across eight divisions. The races are broken into digestible qualifying, heat, and main event races (meaning you can leave whenever attentions spans wane and you won’t miss anything). My son didn’t stop laughing or smiling at his first race, pointing at the cars as they slid through the mud-filled turns and jumping up and down in excitement.
As this is an evening event, there is plenty kid-friendly food from the concession stand like corn dogs, chili cheese fries, and boiled peanuts. The mid-race Kids Break with the track mascot Mud Wagon the Dragon provides plenty of candy to stay awake and energized.
Races are held Friday nights the second weekend of March through mid-October. The gates open at 5 p.m. and racing starts at 8 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults and free for ages 11 and younger. 6355 Union Road, Gastonia.
Bryan M. Richards is a beer, food, and travel writer who has happily added family travel writing to his credentials. His work has appeared in Men’s Journal, AAA’s Go, and just about anything with the word Charlotte in it. He’s using his son as an excuse to buy a mid-life crisis car.