Tuesday was Media Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. One week to go before the gala grand opening and 19 days before the induction of the very first class of honorees. The place is looking great. A few things still to be worked out, but it is a very cool place to visit. Casual fan or an old-school stock car racing nut, there is more than enough for everyone to see.
The experience begins with a 12-minute video that gives a foundation to the philosophy of the Hall of Fame. It is presented in what the Hall likes to call 4D, with four different video screens that some times work in harmony to display single images while other times showing individual pictures. The entire montage is enough to get the hair on the back of your neck standing up, your heart pounding as though the green flag is just about to drop at the beginning of a race.
As the video ends, the rear doors to the theater open and you spill out into the grand center of the building that houses the Glory Road. The foyer houses a couple of cars that represent exciting races that took place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, along with the first and last trophies presented in the Nationwide and Truck series and Jimmie Johnson’s four Sprint Cups.
As you proceed up Glory Road, there are cars from the earliest years of NASCAR to the current day, along with representative vehicles from the Trucks, Nationwide and Whelen Modified Tour. The road banks gradually from zero to 34 degrees, representing the varying degrees of banking on all of the tracks across the NASCAR landscape, both current and past. There are informational signs about the cars and the tracks. Some of the track signs even have samples of the track surface that you can touch and feel.
Once you get to the top of the ramp, you reach the Hall of Honor where the inductees’ displays are housed. At the back of the Hall of Honor is a skybox that affords visitors a panoramic view of the entire foyer. Beyond the Hall is the Food Lion Race Week, which offers race fans a chance to learn a multitude of things about making a racecar work. Suspension parts, engine inner workings, jacks, gas cans, air guns, everything that it takes to make a car compete on a race weekend. Fans can change a tire, jack a car, simulate filling a car with gas and theoretically configure a racecar. There is even a full-size hauler that patrons can walk through to see all of the compartments and items that a race team takes along on a race weekend. After touching and viewing all of the inner workings of the racecar, fans can climb into a full-size racecar and drive a simulator on whatever track is next up on the Cup schedule.
When the driving is done, fans can head up to the fourth floor and visit the Heritage Speedway and view small pieces of history that have been gathered from a multitude of sources. There are trophies, flags, programs, helmets, driving suits, and assorted memorabilia that span the full 65 years of NASCAR’s history. Along with all of the artifacts, there are three theaters that highlight the history of automobiles before NASCAR, those people who have passed on that made a significant contribution to NASCAR and the greatest finishes in the history of the sport.
The Hall is an amazing display of NASCAR from the earliest of days to the present, and everything in between. The interactive nature of the building runs from beginning to end. Fans are given a “hard card” at the beginning of the experience and utilize it throughout, be it to take quizzes about the history of the sport or to simulate pit stops. At the end of the visit, fans close out their card and take it home with them. They can then log on to a website that allows them to relive their experience as often as they’d like, over and over again.
The only thing that could possibly be better would be additional historical memorabilia. For those fans who are true junkies for things like race tickets, programs, flags and driver accouterments, there could be a greater amount of them. However, there are without a doubt plenty of rare items from the entire spectrum of stock car racing, and fans will most definitely be treated to things that they will never have seen before.
The Hall opens May 11th, with the induction ceremony for the inaugural class on May 23rd. The Hall encompasses 150,000 square feet, cost $195 million, and is expected to have an annual economic impact to Charlotte of $60 million. There are 40,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and artifacts on display for everyone who visits. If you’re going to be anywhere near Charlotte after May 11th, the NASCAR Hall of Fame should be high on your priority list of things to see and do.