Tar Heel Travels
Lowe's Motor Speedway
Now, you too can experience
the thrill of turning left at 150 mpg
By Bill F. Hensley
such thing as a quiet day at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the massive “Mecca
of Motorsports” that is located on a 1,200-acre tract on the outskirts of
Concord. For several weeks each year, the track hosts major NASCAR Winston Cup
races that attract crowds larger than those at the Super Bowl, the Final Four,
the Kentucky Derby and other notable sporting events.
As a matter of fact, speedway president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler will quickly
tell you that race weeks in Charlotte are some of the biggest in the nation. On
race day for the Coca-Cola 600 each Memorial Day weekend, LMS becomes the
fourth-largest metropolitan area in the Carolinas in terms of population with an
estimated 200,000 people on the property.
“When we have a big event, fans come from every state in the union,” Wheeler
says, “and several foreign countries. Our permanent seating capacity is
167,000 (trailing only the speedways at Indianapolis and Daytona among U.S.
sports venues), and we can put another 25,000 or so in the infield. Hosting that
many people in one place has its logistical challenges, but the biggest
challenge is making sure those people are entertained while they are here.”
In addition to the three annual Winston Cup races there are numerous events,
including three multi-million dollar car shows, a 10-week Legends Series, plus a
variety of racing events at The Dirt Track, a state-of-the-art four-tenths of a
mile oval located just across Highway 29.
There are also a variety of daily activities such as driving schools and race
car and tire test sessions. “Though a lot of people think we are only open
during race weeks, there’s never a dull moment out here,” Wheeler says.
“There is a lot to see and do.” The facility is rented more than 300 days a
year for driving schools, commercial production shoots or corporate hospitality
functions. Scenes from several movies have been filmed at the track, such as
Elvis Pressley’s “Speedway” and “Days of Thunder,” starring Tom
Daily tours became available years ago because racing fans wanted to go behind
the scenes and learn what the speedway is all about. For $5, the
“Feel-the-Thrill” tour is a 45-minute trek into areas typically off-limits
on race days, including a picture-taking stop in Victory Circle and a tour-van
spin around the 1.5-mile quad-oval and its 24-degree banked turns. For the
dedicated racing devotee who demands a hands-on experience, there are
opportunities to drive around the track at speeds of around 150 miles per hour
or be chauffeured by a capable instructor.
“It is amazing how many people want to drive a race car or ride in one at high
speeds,” offers Scott Cooper of the speedway’s public relations staff.
“But I have done it myself, and I must admit the thrill is awesome. It’s
better than any roller coaster you have ridden.”
The Richard Petty Driving Experience and FasTrack driving schools conduct
ride-a-longs that can be tailor-made to suit a buyer’s desires. The simplest,
for example, includes a three-lap spin for $99 and ranges upward to eight, 18 or
28 laps — with instruction — at prices topping out at nearly a grand.
The speedway was built in 1959 by current chairman Bruton Smith, who was a local
car dealer and racing promoter, and the late Curtis Turner, one of stock car
racing’s earliest heroes. The first race — the World 600 — was held a year
later, but by 1961 the facility was in serious financial trouble and fell into
Chapter 11, becoming the first company in North Carolina to file bankruptcy for
the purposes of reorganization
Smith pursued other interests when the track failed, but he harbored a serious
desire to reacquire his tarnished dream. He began buying the speedway’s stock
and by 1975 had become the majority stockholder. That year Smith hired Wheeler,
a brash, young race promoter. Under their leadership, the speedway has continued
to prosper and major expansions have been steady. Forty luxury condominiums were
built overlooking the first turn in 1984; a seven-story, 135,000-square-foot
office tower was added in 1988 that included a fine dining facility known as
“The Speedway Club”; and a revolutionary lighting process was installed in
1992 that brought night racing to the sport for the first time.
Today, the track is surrounded by an industrial park and numerous race-related
businesses and restaurants that benefit from the close proximity, plus Concord
Mills, one of the state’s largest shopping centers with more than 200 stores.
For more information, call the speedway at 704-455-3200 or visit www.lowesmotorspeedway.com.
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