January 25, 2013
Article and photos by Paul Williams
NASCAR Hall of Fame
Charlotte, North Carolina – Driving to or from Florida anytime soon? Hey, the question’s not so far-fetched, especially if you live in eastern Canada. Many so-called “snowbirds” make their annual migration south each winter, returning in the spring. They surely know the Interstate options by heart — I-75, I-77, I-81, I-95 — depending on their point of origin. Others just want to head for the beach in a mad dash to escape the winter doldrums.
While travellers may be keen to get to the warm weather, there are many interesting stops on the way to break up the monotony of a long, four-lane highway drive. If you’re a car enthusiast, for instance, Charlotte, North Carolina is the site of the recently minted NASCAR Hall of Fame, and it’s quite a place.
NASCAR Hall of Fame. Click image to enlarge
But full disclosure: I don’t follow NASCAR and, come to think of it, have never even watched a race. The series has just never held any allure for me. That being said, I’m game for something new, and this hall indeed qualifies.
Charlotte, it turns out, won a competition in 2007 to build the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and it opened a scant three years later, in 2010. It’s now owned by the city and operated by its Regional Visitors Authority. The 150,000 square-foot Hall of Fame is housed in a downtown building notable for its striking exterior “speed ribbon,” a 600-metre (1,800-foot) lighted architectural garnish designed to symbolize the speed and spectacle of motorsports, NASCAR style. The Hall of Fame’s interior is dramatic and engaging, featuring exhibition design by the award-winning Ralph Appelbaum Associates.
Even if you’re not a NASCAR fan, entering the Hall of Fame and walking along “Glory Road” is a memorable experience. It’s a banked ramp, angled at between zero and 33 degrees, that corkscrews up and into the exhibit floors. On Glory Road, 18 pristine cars are displayed against a backdrop of 40 current and historic racetrack images. “Number 43,” Richard Petty’s celebrated Plymouth Belvedere, is one of the cars. It was driven by Mr. Petty to more wins than any other car in NASCAR history (36, including a record 10 straight races in 1967).
There are two opportunities for visitors to actually stand on the track component of Glory Road at points banked at 14 and 33 degrees (the latter giving you a dramatic sense of Talledega Speedway’s driving surface). Otherwise, you walk at a gentle incline past each of the vehicles, most of which are close enough to get a good look inside.
NASCAR, the North American Stock Car Association of Racing, if you didn’t know, emerged from popular races in the 1940s held at Daytona Beach in Florida (NASCAR’s headquarters are still at Daytona). At a now legendary 1948 meeting in the beach’s Streamline Hotel, race driver and NASCAR founder Bill France, along with a large group of drivers, codified and established a set of rules and practices that formed the basis of this racing series into the future. Mr. France’s grandson, Brian, is the current CEO of NASCAR, which remains a private, family-owned enterprise.
NASCAR’s history is well-represented at the Hall of Fame, with over 1,000 artifacts, numerous vintage race cars, and exhibits featuring influential and popular drivers, engine builders, technologies and race shops represented in the Heritage Speedway section of the facility. Visitors are given a “hard card” that can be personalized and used at most of the exhibits to access detailed information and “hands-on” experiences via celebrity guides. Basically, you program the card at entry and select a NASCAR driver as your avatar throughout the visit.