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Tar Heel Travels

Lowe's Motor Speedway

Now, you too can experience 
the thrill of turning left at 150 mpg

By Bill F. Hensley

There’s no 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 Cruise.

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

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