NASCAR Weekend in Charlotte, Concord & Lexington

NASCAR Weekend in Charlotte, Concord & Lexington

The Coca-Cola 600 is a Memorial Day tradition at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord

If you are a diehard NASCAR racing fan, then a trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway to watch the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend is on your bucket list. North Carolina is the home of NASCAR and many of the teams that compete in its races, so if you extend your trip a few days, you’ll be able to cross off a few more experiences on your list. Touring team shops, watching drivers compete in another type of car, diving into the sport’s past and celebrating it with other fans is all there for the taking if you make Charlotte your base camp.

4-Day Itinerary

Day 1: Explore the sport’s history and experience it firsthand at the NASCAR Hall of Fame then celebrate with other race fans at Coca-Cola Speed Street.

Day 2: Watch NASCAR teams prepare their cars for the Coca-Cola 600 at their shops and then attend a sprint-car race in Concord.

Day 3: Recharge your batteries with a trip to Winston-Salem for a hot dog and history at Pulliams then taste wines at Childress Vineyards in Lexington.

Day 4: Watch the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Day 1: Hall of Fame & Speed Street

Start your trip in Uptown Charlotte at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s where the sport’s biggest names are enshrined in the Hall of Honor. There is a lot to see, so take your time, at least an entire morning or afternoon.

Begin your visit at Glory Road, an exhibit that uses racing machines – past and present – to trace the evolution of the Sprint Cup car. The pitch of the exhibit changes through its length, each degree of banking marked and matched to that of an actual track. If there is a NASCAR affiliated track near your hometown, you should find something from it in the Heritage Speedway exhibit. It’s where you can trace NASCAR’s more than 60 years of history through trophies, uniforms, car parts and even pieces of pavement cut from different tracks. But looking is one thing, and trying is another. You’ll find interactive exhibits in the Race Week portion of the Hall. You can walk through a hauler, try and lift an 80-pound plus refueling can and feel the dead weight of a steel racing wheel and wide racing tire. Fight the snap of an impact wrench at another exhibit as you spin off actual lug nuts. You can put it all together in a simulated pit stop, pumping the jack handle, changing tires and adding fuel to a race car all under the pressure of the stopwatch.

When you’re done at the Hall of Fame, stay in Uptown for Coca-Cola Speed Street. The festival ties food, fun and music together with a racing theme. Musical acts in 2014 include tribute bands, classic rockers .38 Special and country act Thompson Square. It goes all week – as do extended hours at the Hall – so you can stop back for more.

Day 2: Race Shops & Sprint-Car Racing

The majority of NASCAR teams are based around Charlotte, and all are happy to have you visit them. Most offer viewing areas where you can watch mechanics prepare the cars for the Coca-Cola 600 and other upcoming races. Start your day in Mooresville, where you’ll find Penske Racing. Climb the stairs and enjoy the view of the shop floor from the second-floor balcony. Souvenirs are available here but not access to the team’s IndyCar shops.

After returning to Concord, visit Hendrick Motorsports, which is behind Charlotte Motor Speedway. Park your car at the team’s museum, where televisions play videos of Hendrick drivers sharing stories from their careers. Two displays give good explanations of how a race car and its engine work. Race cars on exhibit will take you from the team’s one-car beginnings to its current four-car dynasty. When you’re done, take a short walk up the hill to the shops and peer through huge windows at cars being prepared for Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and 2013 Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson.

Since you’re in Concord, head over to The Dirt Track at Charlotte to watch the World of Outlaws sprint cars. As their name applies, these cars run short races where the only strategy is to pass cars and lead laps. The series races from coast to coast and into Canada, about 80 events each year. But these teams love coming to North Carolina, where they can show off for NASCAR team owners and corporate sponsors. The race, which is run during the evening, has become an annual part of Coca-Cola 600 week. NASCAR drivers Tony Stewart and Kahne both cut their teeth in these 850-horsepower winged racecars and now own multiple teams in this series. They always show up to watch and often get behind the wheel.

Day 3: Hot Dogs & Wine

After two days experiencing race-week excitement firsthand, drop your trip into low gear and spend the day outside of the Charlotte region. After a 90-minute drive, you can be in Winston-Salem for lunch, a perfect time to stop at Pulliams hot dogs and barbecue. It doesn’t look like much – a small green-and-white striped building in a gravel parking lot – but inside is a heaping helping of racing history and the best hot dogs in the South, according to editors at celebrity chef Rachel Ray’s magazine. The regulars like them “all the way” – mustard, onions, slaw and chili. Former NASCAR CEO Bill France Jr. loved them so much that he would divert his corporate plane to Winston-Salem so he could pick up a few on the way to a race. You can eat your hot dogs at the stainless steel counter inside – they don’t have tables – while you look at the photos and souvenirs from racing past or enjoy them outside. Either place, make sure you try one of the old-fashioned sodas and grab some extra napkins.

On your way back to Concord and Charlotte, take U.S. 52 south from Winston-Salem to Lexington. That’s where you’ll find Childress Vineyards. Owned by former NASCAR driver and current team owner Richard Childress, you can sample Chardonnays and Merlots in the tasting room and purchase your favorites to take home. If you have time, stay for dinner at The Bistro.

Day 4: Coca-Cola 600

Sunday is race day at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule and a Memorial Day tradition. Traffic on race morning can be bad, so plan on getting to the track early, unless you are like team owners Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi, who will fly in for the green flag after watching their IndyCars compete in the Indianapolis 500 earlier in the day. The most traffic is usually on Bruton Smith Boulevard and both ways on Interstate 85 from its exit, so try using N.C. 29 or 49 to get to the track. One option that eliminates the traffic altogether is staying in an RV at the track campground.

Getting to the track early will give you some time to pick up souvenirs from your favorite driver’s merchandise trailer and soak in the atmosphere. Charlotte Motor Speedway is known for its pre-race activities, including flyovers and mock military invasions. You won’t miss any action, no matter where your seats are. The track is home to the world’s largest high-definition television, which measures 80 feet tall and 200 feet wide. Keep an eye on the standings as the race moves from its daytime start to nighttime finish. Often the cars that are slower during the day will jump to the front during the evening as temperatures cool and traction increases and adjustments to the car’s suspension take hold.

Enjoy all the area has to offer by mixing and matching activities and events to your particular interest. Be sure to check days and hours of operation for each venue.

Pete Anderson is a Gastonia-based writer who says lakes, race tracks and barbecue joints are his favorite places to enjoy North Carolina.

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