If there is a little NASCAR fan in your house, you owe it to them to take a ride down I-85 toward Charlotte.
North Carolina is the racing capital of the U.S., and the Charlotte area is the sport’s Mecca. Many of the top NASCAR teams have their headquarters within a half-hour drive of the city. However, if the NASCAR fan in your house is the kind that sleeps on Jeff Gordon sheets and has a Jeff Gordon phone in the playroom, then you might take a day trip down I-85 to exit 49 in Concord. If you’re a relatively new fan to the sport like me (my wife and son, Ian, 7, showed me the light), it’s a great trip to give you the need for speed.
Your first stop has got to be at the NASCAR SpeedPark, an amusement park for the diminutive race fan that’s a part of the massive Concord Mills shopping center. The tickets are reasonably priced, and there is enough to do that your family could make an entire day of it.
As you might imagine, the NASCAR SpeedPark is all about racin’. The park has five tracks for drivers of all ages, and of course, the cars are all painted to resemble NASCAR stock cars. My family took a spin in The Family 500, a 1,200-feet track that features single and double-seater cars. So, I raced my wife and son who were in another car. If it rains, you can always go inside and try out “The Champion,” a two-story indoor track that’s in a figure-eight shape.
Our son took several spins in a smaller ride called “The Qualifier,” but despite its size, he seemed convinced he was driving in the Daytona 500. He led most of the way and gave no ground to any other “drivers” who tried to pass him.
Inside, you’ll find video and other arcade games and an extensive gift shop. The SpeedPark interior is decorated with tons of NASCAR memorabilia, photos and authentic gear. There are several race-themed video games, and a more realistic NASCAR simulator. If you have a child that’s not into racing, there is a rock climbing wall, an indoor playground and a 1,500 square feet Lazer Tag arena.
Being a purist, Ian was far more interested in seeing one of Tony Stewart’s old racing fire suits than any non-NASCAR-related game or ride.
The SpeedPark also features driver appearances throughout the year when their schedules permit. We went down during the NASCAR off-season in January. While we were there, we even spotted Jeff Burton, one of the top drivers in the Sprint Cup series, enjoying the arcade with his son. Ian had the guts to go over and say hello, and Burton won himself a new fan that day.
Once you’ve had a few laps around the tracks at SpeedPark, you can drive about a mile down the street to see the real thing. Lowe’s Motor Speedway is the location of two of NASCAR’s biggest races. The track is open even in the off-season and offers 30-minute “Feel the Thrill” tours of the infield, garage areas, pit road. For only $5 per person, you get all that plus a lap around the track. You’ll be taking the lap in a van with about eight other people and be hitting maximum speeds of 60 mph, but the van does stop at the top of one of the 24-degree banked turns. Our tour guide was very well-informed and filled us in on the history of the track while she drove.
The tour ends where every races does — in Victory Lane. The van driver gives you plenty of time to get out and take pictures. After the van ride, my son and I were also mesmerized by some cars that were going just a bit faster. Lowe’s is home to the Richard Petty Driving Experience, the Jeff Gordon Racing School and several other driving schools that allow adults to take laps around the track in a real stock car. Ian and I had a great view of the entire track from atop Victory Lane and couldn’t stop watching the race cars as they zipped around the track. Don’t worry, though, the race cars do not share the track with the tour vans. Once the vans are on the track, the race cars stay in the pits.
For Ian it was his first chance to be the center of attention in a NASCAR winner’s circle, at least until he gets his driver’s license.
IF YOU GO
8461-G1 Concord Mills Blvd.
Concord, NC 28027
The SpeedPark is open year-round, but the hours vary. Check their Web site for up-to-date information.
11 Tickets, $20
5 Tickets, $10
All-Day Wristband, $30
Annual Pass, $120
Lowe’s Motor Speedway
5555 Concord Pkwy South
Concord, NC 28027
(Tours are available on non-events days)
Monday-Saturday: 9:30, 10:30 and 11:30 a.m.; 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.
Sunday: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
$5 for 30-minute “Feel the Thrill” tours of the infield, garage areas, pit road and a lap around the track.
Michael Huie, a freelance writer, lives in Winston-Salem and is the father of one.