So it was that Tony Stewart explained the intricacies of suspension setup to me, along with tire selection, engine management and race strategy at various stops during my visit. In fact, along with the comprehensive historical section, the NASCAR Hall of Fame goes quite heavily into the behind-the-scenes dimension of motor racing, focusing on technology and engineering more than you might expect for a facility of this type.
Re-creations of race shops, both current and historic, are typically rendered precisely and in full scale, giving visitors a genuine sense of these environments and how they operate (and operated). Additionally, knowledgeable docents are present to answer questions and demonstrate how things work. These people have a racing and/or technical background, are keen to talk and further add a unique level of authenticity to the visitor experience.
NASCAR Hall of Fame. Click image to enlarge
I particularly enjoyed the Race Simulator, an installation featuring real NASCAR vehicles that you get into, settle behind the wheel, and drive in competition with other visitors. The simulator uses software and technology that apparently creates an accurate approximation of driving a NASCAR vehicle in a race, although you do get personalized in-car feedback on your driving technique via simulator attendants. Mind you, I did crash my car too frequently, and if this really is the way these vehicles feel on a track, I’d better develop a lighter touch. As a race driver in the simulator, you also get to pick a nickname, but be aware that it’s flashed on a giant results screen for all to see. In my case, I think people expected a different-looking Horny Toad to emerge from the car…
But being a Hall of Fame, there are, of course, inductees. They are reserved for the top floor and currently number less than a dozen due to the newness of the facility. This doesn’t detract, in my opinion, and may even enhance this Hall of Fame for some. Other halls of fame, like the Rock and Roll in Cleveland and the Country Music in Nashville, have so many inductees that the entire facility is generally comprised of small showcases each containing a guitar, a pair of well-worn shoes, a stage outfit, a hat… you get the idea. Those halls celebrate the inductees arguably to the exclusion of the social and commercial context in which they performed. In contrast, because the NASCAR Hall of Fame is still very young, it’s packed tons of interesting contextual material onto its floors, including many vehicles, big advertising signage and even a Daytona 500 media observation booth in the form of a giant orange. Over the coming years there’ll be many more inductees, with the top floor having plenty of space to accommodate them. In the meantime, there’s a whole museum of NASCAR history to explore in addition to sections that focus on key individuals. For me, it’s a good mix.
As observed above, there’s lots of engineering, technology, equipment, machinery and cars in this Hall of Fame, and as you might expect, many opportunities for in-depth appreciation and understanding of NASCAR’s history and evolution. But if you have young children with you, it may not be so engaging for them. No cars for kids to clamber in, no helmets to try on, no fun games to play. For children, it’s more didactic than entertaining, I’d suggest, more adult.
However, my take-away was that l learned a lot about NASCAR. I may even watch a race now!
What? NASCAR Hall of Fame
Where? Charlotte, North Carolina
Admission: Adult $19.95; Children $12.95
Hours: Daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.