Speedway Tours Offer Year-Round Thrills
In May and October, the area around Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord becomes a town within itself, as thousands of fans from across the country and around the world flock to hotels and campgrounds for a chance to witness top-notch NASCAR racing at its best.
But what many people may not know is that the speedway is open year-round, for races and other events on the complex’s dragway, dirt track, and even in its garages. And on nearly every day of its operation, speedway employees offer visitors guided tours of the venue, including a lap around the track in a tour van. It’s called the Feel The Thrill Tour, and it leaves several times a day from the lobby in front of the gift shop. For five dollars, you’ll get a history lesson about the legendary 50-year-old speedway, including a close-up look at many parts of the two thousand-acre facility.
The tour begins with a ride around the outside of the main track and enough information about the speedway for an entire round of Jeopardy! It was built in 1959-60 by Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner for $1.9 million, now has a seating capacity of 140,000, has been a film location for movies such as Days of Thunder, Stroker Ace, and Talladega Nights, and was the first NASCAR track to install lights for nighttime racing.
But it’s the inside of the complex that gives you a feel for everything that goes into staging a stock car race. As the tour van pulls up alongside the track hospital, the 50 race car garages, and the storage facility built just to hold tires (a typical race uses 2,500 of them), and your tour guide points out the spots where the media, spotters and serious fans gather (there’s a five-year waiting period for viewing & camping spots in the infield), you begin to comprehend the work and coordination required to stage one of the major races.
Then, your tour guide gives you experiences that few race fans get: a ride through pit row, where crews perform tire changes and gasoline fill ups in a matter of seconds; a spin around the track and its 24-degree bank; and a stop in victory circle, where your guide will snap your picture in a spot that every budding NASCAR driver hopes to stand in someday.
The tour includes some of the speedway’s lesser-known facilities as well, such as the Dirt Track and the 1/5 mile track where locals race everything from school buses to riding mowers. Selected tours also get to experience the new zMax Dragway, where the National Hot Rod Association holds several races each year.
The new Over the Wall Tour includes the entire Feel the Thrill Tour experience listed above plus the opportunity to walk on the track surface, stroll down pit road, witness amazing views from atop the Ford Grandstand, visit one of the speedway’s 113 suites and see the luxurious Speedway Club. The Over the Wall experience also includes a tour of the Infield Care Center, Performance Racing Network’s studios, Time Warner Media Center and Victory Circle. The two hours Over the Wall Tour is limited to fans 10 years of age or older.
There are, of course, other ways for die-hard race fans to get a serious speedway experience: NASCAR driving schools allow visitors to ride along or drive a real race car around the track, and motorists can take their personal vehicles for a spin around the speedway by buying souvenirs or donating to Speedway Children’s Charities on the day after Thanksgiving. But for a quick, inexpensive look behind the scenes at one of racing’s most legendary tracks, the Feel The Thrill Tour is the ticket to ride.
Feel The Thrill Tours are available on non-event days, Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and Sunday 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Over the Wall Tours are available on non-event days, Monday through Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
If you'd like to see the zMAX Dragway as well, join the 11:30 a.m. or 3:30 p.m. tour, Monday through Saturday.
added: October 9, 2009
updated: October 8, 2010