THE FAST TRACK TO CHARLOTTE

Written by Dana Boone

From Jimmie Johnson’s favorite park, to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s go-to sushi spot, this roundup will help you take a closer look at the Charlotte area during the 2018 AFCA convention.

No trip to racing country is complete without a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but after stopping in to say hello, run a few laps in the racing simulators and see what’s new, these are the next stops to add to your list.

FOR THE MOTORSPORTS MAVEN

Swing By The Shop 

Most of your favorite teams in NASCAR’s most elite series allow fans to tour their shops or at the very least host a museum and gift shop. Watch as team members work on finishing touches for the cars, catch a pit crew practice and learn the history of these organizations. Popular stops include Hendrick Motorsports, JR Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and more.

PRO TIP: Pit crews practice early in the morning to beat the heat. Start your tour at the pit pad and work your way up to the shop for your best chance at watching these athletes nail a 12-second stop.

Get Insider Access 

Get the full shop experience without the stress of navigating unfamiliar territory on a Racing Insiders Tour. Ride along I-85 in a private motor coach for behind-the-scenes access at Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. Enjoy the same VIP treatment along I-77 with stops at Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.

PRO TIP: The Racing Insiders Tour is $90 for adults and $80 for children, but as a NASCAR Hall of Fame member, you pay only $70.

Get Behind The Wheel 

It’s not uncommon to find NASCAR’s rising stars turning laps around GoPro Motorplex or at the Pit Indoor Kart Racing in Mooresville. Unlike race day at Charlotte Motor Speedway, here you’re able to get on the track and try your hand at racing.

PRO TIP: Even when Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. aren’t whipping around the go-kart course, their scores remain. Test your best lap against the record holders.

Go Trackside 

If you can’t get enough track time in the go-carts, try the Feel the Thrill Tour at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Offered daily, tour participants take a comfortable van ride to experience the 24-degree banking of the 1.5-mile oval, explore the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garages where you may find a few loose lugnuts lying around and stand in the footsteps of Charlotte winners such as Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty in Victory Circle.

PRO TIP: Upgrade to the 2-hour Over the Wall Tour that includes everything on the Feel the Thrill Tour plus additional behind-the-scenes access to The Speedway Club, the PRN studios, the Media Center and more.

Explore More History 

Beyond the NASCAR Hall of Fame, explore these area museums for more high-octane history. In Mooresville, Memory Lane Museum features more than 150 exhibits about the history of racing and the automobile while the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame features nearly 50 race cars on display. And don’t miss the Curb Museum for Music and Motorsports in Kannapolis, the hometown of legend Dale Earnhardt.

PRO TIP: For NASCAR fans who are also music lovers, make a reservation for a private tour at the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, located in the same building as the Curb Museum for Music and Motorsports.

 

MORE THAN A PIT STOP

Never Stop Learning 

In addition to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Uptown Charlotte is home to a diverse museum scene. History buffs will enjoy the Levine Museum of the New South, kids will go wild for Discovery Place – a favorite of Aric Almirola’s family – and art lovers can browse works ranging from paintings to installations made from ceramics, glass, fiber metal and wood at the Mint Museum Uptown.

PRO TIP: Keep it budget-friendly by taking advantage of discount days at museums. You can visit Levine Museum of the New South for free every Sunday.

Get Outside 

Located about 20 minutes from Center City, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is a favorite of fitness junkie Jimmie Johnson thanks to their extensive mountain bike trails. Other activities include rafting, stand-up paddling boarding, zip lining and ropes courses. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet is also a frequent visitor to Freedom Park, Charlotte’s 98-acre park in Myers Park just outside of Uptown. Other green spaces around the city include Romare Bearden Park, Frazier Park and Little Sugar Creek Greenway.

PRO TIP: Get the AllSport Pass at the U.S. National Whitewater Center for full access to all land and water activities for $54.

Take Home A Piece Of Charlotte 

Save room in your bags for souvenirs beyond the race shops. Hunt for a deal at Concord Mills and the new Charlotte Premium Outlets, or take a page from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski’s book and check out the shopping at SouthPark Mall.

PRO TIP: While at Concord Mills, stop by SEA LIFE Aquarium Charlotte-Concord, Dave & Busters or The SpeedPark at Concord Mills to mix in some action while you shop.

TAKE TIME TO REFUEL

Eat Near The NASCAR Hall of Fame 

Buffalo Wild Wings is right next door, making it an easy stop during a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Just across the street, you’ll find a stunning rooftop view of the city and upscale dining at Fahrenheit. Head a few blocks up toward the heart of Uptown for soul food at Mert’s Heart and Soul, or lunch and a coffee break at the family-friendly 7th Street Public Market.

PRO TIP: Eat at the Pit Stop Café inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame and try the famous barbecue sandwich.

Feast Near Charlotte Motor Speedway 

After a tour of the speedway or a morning at Concord Mills, head to Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q to dine at one of the local race teams’ favorite lunch spots. Just down Concord Mills Boulevard, Carolina Ale House has a selection of more than 100 brews for the craft beer lover in your group.

PRO TIP: When at Jim ‘N Nicks, order some cheese biscuits to-go. You crave them even after the meal is over.

Dine Where The Drivers Dine 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hits Pisces Sushi Bar when he’s craving something different. For the steak lovers, Bubba Wallace is a fan of the rodízio-style fare at Chima Brazilian Steakhouse.

PRO TIP: Another driver favorite is Red Rocks Café in Birkdale Village in Huntersville. Almost every menu item is named after a driver or someone in the NASCAR industry who has eaten there.

Fill Up At Places Seen On TV 

Mattie’s Diner, the beloved silver and red diner at NC Music Factory, dates back to 1948, the same year NASCAR held its first race. Open 24/7, head to Mattie’s to enjoy a burger, fries and milkshake in the same booth that NASCAR Race Hub has filmed with drivers like Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers and more. And don’t miss Pinky’s Westside Grill that was recently featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Clint Bowyer starring in the episode.

PRO TIP: Request the sleeper burger from Mattie’s “secret” menu. The special 8-ounce burger is topped with tater tots, mac ‘n’ cheese, jalapeños, American cheese, bacon and homemade Cheerwine barbecue sauce.