Now that the drama of the end of the Bank of America 500 and the post-race action have died down, Concord, North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway is all quiet again. It won’t be till the All-Star race in 2015 till NASCAR’s back in town. For me, Charlotte Motor Speedway has always been a special place, even when the Sprint Cup circus is nowhere near the mile and half facility — for a whole slew of reasons.
1. Ride Along and Driving Experience
My first experience with Charlotte’s speedway was race related, but not an actual race. Last year, for our wedding anniversary, my wife got me a Rusty Wallace Driving Experience package. We spent a whole weekend in Charlotte, doing NASCAR-related stuff (shop tours, Hall of Fame, etc.), but it was bookended with a ride-along on Friday evening, and a driving experience Saturday night. Talk about bucket-list, adrenaline pumping events. I highly recommend both to any race fan, or adrenaline junkie.
In terms of NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway — what a freaking awesome way to be introduced to the facility. On track, all the senses were fully engaged — the roaring of the engine and on the driving experience, the spotter in your ear. There was the smell of the race fuel and rubber. The sight of the track and the outside wall was a thrill. Then there’s the G-forces, pushing you down as you go through the four left turns of the track.
In the few short laps I was on the track, I also got to know each turn and its unique look and feel well. I can only imagine how the Cup guys know each turn with thousands of laps on the Charlotte mile and a half every year.
But the ride-along and driving experiences were both more than just the on-track bit. There’s the fact that you had a driver’s meeting in the media center — the very same place seen on TV for press conferences and the actual NASCAR driver meetings. They were sitting in the same seats we were.
There’s also the fact that we were parked in the infield — fitting the pieces into how everything was connected. We watched from the pit wall as the experience cars were prepped and the cars came and went throughout the late afternoon.
All-in-all, it was an awesome way to get introduced to the Concord, NC track.
2. NC Half Marathon Then last March, I came back to the track a pair of times once again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for a race, but instead, my second half marathon. I had ran my first in Raleigh back in November, but the NC Half Marathon was a better fit — its 13.1 course running all over the Charlotte Motor Speedway property. The day before the race, I was again back in the CMS infield — this time to pick up my race packet. The Cup garages had been transfomed into a trade-show like environment — vendors selling running-related gear and services. After picking up the packet, it was off to dinner and a good night’s rest for the next morning’s main event.
Bright and early, the whole family was back at the speedway infield. The course for the half marathon (13.1 miles) was perfect for a race fan. The runners started at the track’s start/finish line, did a lap around the speedway, then went down and weaved through the infield, before taking the tunnel, running around the outside of the speedway, then over past the dirt track, up and down the Z-Max dragway.
We then eventually back around the outside of the speedway, descending down the tunnel and back into the speedway. The final mile and half was on the track, finishing on pit road. That description makes it sound quick and easy. It was neither, but as a huge race fan, the course and its scenery were inspiring. Sprinkled throughout the property were various NASCAR Racing Experience vehicles (and even an opened-wheeled variant in the infield as well).
As awesome and memorable as driving around the speedway was in August of 2013, the much slower pace of running the property gave me a more detailed look of the speedway and every part of its property. The half marathon and my personal best running 13.1 miles was satisfying itself. But getting to do it at Charlotte Motor Speedway was awesome.
Sadly, as it is now, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to repeat in 2015. The web site is down, and neither the NC Half Marathon account, nor Charlotte Motor Speedway’s twitter account will confirm for sure whether the half will return to Concord for a third year. While I’ve got my fingers crossed, the NC Half web site makes me think it’s a no go.
3. Michael Waltrip Racing Fantern for the 2014 Coca Cola 600
As if the first two Charlotte Motor Speedway weren’t awesome and memorable enough for a race fan, my most recent is the best, and most likely, an experience of a lifetime.
I won MWR’s Fantern contest, meaning I got a VIP experience on race day of the Coca Cola 600. I got a coveted hot pass — a ticket giving me access all day to the infield, pits and garage.
I got to wander up and down pit road as teams setup their pit boxes, observing and snapping pictures. Then, I got to go over to the garage where teams were doing final car setups. I got to get just feet from the cars and teams. It was unbelievable access.
From there, I met up with MWR staff, getting a tour of the 55 hauler, got to eat with the MWR crew and then got to go to the driver’s lot and meet up briefly with Brian Vickers, just briefly chatting with him. How cool is that?
After that, I checked out pre-race inspections, and took pics of the cars lined up for the several “stations” of inspection.
But all of that was just the beginning. Before the race, I was on pit road and got to see up close and personal the drivers arriving in the back of the their trucks from driver introductions.
Then, during the pre-race festivities, I got to hang out with my favorite driver’s pit crew (the No. 15 5-Hour Energy crew), lining up with them during the national anthem and getting to put my hand into their pre-race pep-talk from MWR co-owner, Rob Kaufman. They were all great and very accommodating — really making me feel welcome and a part of the team.
Then, when it was time to fire the engines, and clear pit road, I got to start watching the race from the 5-Hour Energy pit box, sitting behind Bowyer’s new bride and next to Jeff Burton. I chatted with Mrs. Bowyer briefly and she was sweet as can be. Burton was nice enough to give me an autograph as well.
Eventually, guests of 5-Hour Energy meant I had to descend from the box, but it was all good. I got to watch from the pit, just behind the wall, getting an awesome view of pit stops and the coming of going of pit crew and just how much went on during the race.
I also spent some time, as night fell, watching from Vickers’ pit box some of the race further down pit road, eventually seeing Jimmie Johnson win the long race.
I then got to see the cars loaded up and some post-race interviews, including Vickers’.
So as you can tell, Charlotte Motor Speedway is quite special to me. I feel like I know the property inside and out and have gotten to experience things at the speedway that most don’t get to. The combination of the ride-along/driving experience, half marathon and MWR fantern experience have made a place I already really liked super-special.
While more races are for sure in my future, nothing’s going to top the trio I’ve already experienced. I feel very grateful and thankful for all these experiences, and wouldn’t change any of them in the world.