We are in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, home to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, because my husband is an absolute car nut.
However, Paul’s a Formula One follower from Wales. He’s passionate and articulate enough about racing that the nephews had taken to calling him #NascarDad but I knew he needed an education in the American NASCAR culture. I had been planning on giving him some kind of racing related birthday present, so I looked into NASCAR driving experiences. The NASCAR experiences are held on off-weekends of the racing circuit, at various courses around the country, throughout the year.
Blissful Day 1: Trial Laps for the NASCAR Experience
After our quick and easy flight from NYC to Charlotte, we checked into the great family resort, Great Wolf Lodge, one of many local places. After a delicious lunch at the Lodge Wood-fired Grill, we went to check out some of the many racing related sites. The Hendrick Motorsports facility sadly was closed for their staff holiday party, but it looked like a place that should definitely be on the itinerary.
Next up was the Stewart Haas Racing, a 140,000 square foot facility with beautiful NASCAR cars on display, a great gift shop with gifts for the whole family, from model cars to baby onesies. The factory floor had a huge wall of glass, permitting us to watch the guys hand milling the car parts.
We checked out the state of the art racing communications at Racing Electronics and then, next door, found the gorgeous Streetside Classic Cars shop. If you want to see some classic American sports cars and trucks, this is the place to go.
In the evening we took in the spectacular Speedway Christmas. There’s a 3.5 mile course around the Speedway, with fantastic light displays all around made from 3 million lights, and synchronized lights to music (tuned to a local radio station). A Christmas village, petting zoo and more…a great family evening.
The day ended with some famously delicious North Carolina barbeque at Jim n Nicks barbeque. Aced the playoffs! Tomorrow: NASCAR experience!!
My Day Racing the Track
I dreamt there was a big, noisy machine, and someone was in there, yelling, a lot.
But wait, I was awake, and that machine was a racing car, and the person in it was me, and I was doing all the yelling. Because I was strapped into a NASCAR reeking of petrol and exhaust fumes and I was doing 155 mph!
All my dreams had come true! Well, most of them. “Keep it at 5000 rpm,” said the calm voice in my ear, as I hurtled towards the next turn. The banking loomed above me and I clutched the wheel and steered the bellowing machine around the curve. Flat out! I couldn’t believe it.
“Good job, Paul” said my spotter, safe in his tower back there. “Now keep up the speed and line up for Turn 3.” More! Yes! Yahoo!
Eight minutes seemed like an age, as I hurtled around and around the oval, relaxing bit by bit as the terror gave way to elation. Going faster and faster.
That’s when the yelling and screaming started. I was so charged up from the moment my eyes opened that the day was something of a blur. All I can say is that the NASCAR Racing Experience is worth every … single … dollar, for the person driving and for all the family members. It is a totally fun experience.
My Day Watching Him Racing
A super fantastic day. Paul and I arrived in the pit area of Charlotte Speedway, in itself an exciting place to start, for his NASCAR Experience. After checking in, which meant Paul received his own racing suit and various badges, we went to have the one-hour driver class.
Paul had assumed that the cars would be modified NASCAR vehicles, with automatic transmission, but to his delight, the Experience drivers got into real NASCARs: manual transmission, entry through the window. But there was a chip limiting the speed of Experience Drivers to around 160mph or below. The instructor emphasized that the drivers had to keep their foot down, speed was important, do NOT slow down. I knew I would NEVER sign up to be a driver!
We had also signed Paul up for a “ride along,” where you are a passenger in a car driven by a professional NASCAR driver. I had purchased that one because I knew those drivers could go faster than the self-drive.
It was time for his drive. Paul said the last time he was this excited was when he proposed to me! He even told that to the CNN reporter, who was there covering the event. He squeezed in feet-first through the window of the car as there are no doors on NASCARs. His helmet had communication with his own crew chief, he was buckled in, and then off he went.
I could tell he was going superfast. His package was the Qualifier, which entitled him to an eight-minute ride, meaning 6 timed laps around the track as fast as he could go. The expression of pure glee on his face when he emerged was wonderful. He loved every minute of it. The whole atmosphere was great, full of car enthusiasts and NASCAR professionals. The roar of the cars, the pounding loud hard rock music…
Paul said he could have driven for another half hour.
My Ride Along Experience
I, on the other hand, am not a speed lover. Paul had done his drive along and loved it so much he insisted that I purchase one, too.
I crawled into my car, they buckled me in, and off we went. NASCAR tracks are steeply banked, so when the driver accelerated into the first banked turn, I could feel the g-forces pushing me down, my stomach was churning and my lips were clenched. It was so FAST!!!!
I’m afraid I signaled to him to slow down a bit which he did. At one point he came up on another car and passed them on the banked turn, I was beside myself. As much as I enjoyed it I have to confess I was happy when it was over. I finally really understood both the skill and excitement of driving these screaming machines, which will enhance my understanding and enjoyment while watching car racing with Paul, who is a fan.
Decelerating from the NASCAR High
Keeping with the car theme of the day, ater lunch we went to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a great place to go with the family. There are movies and driving simulators, engines to look at and watch in action, crew pit practice, and lots of great vintage NASCAR vehicles and history.
We ended our day by going to the lovely Kannapolis Christmas Parade of Lights. Kannapolis is the birthplace of Dale Earnhardt, one of the most beloved and famous NASCAR drivers. It was a freezing cold clear night, thousands of people lined the streets, bundled up in blankets. There were floats from dentists and firemen and churches and dance schools… it seemed the entire community was represented. It was friendly and heartwarming (but freezing!).
What a fantastic day in Cabarrus County!!
Arranging Your Own NASCAR Experience
I made all the racing plans after a very helpful and informative discussion with a member of the NASCAR sales staff. It turned out to be perfect: a ride-along (going around the track three times with a NASCAR driver), and a qualifier: permitting him to drive the car himself for an eight-minute timed racing session on the track.
You don’t have to be a boomer to have this thrill. For a family, children who are a minimum of 5’ tall and weigh 100 lbs. can do the drive-along. Children who have a valid driver’s license (not a learner’s permit) can do the qualifier.
With this fan version of NASCAR, there’s a variety of driving experiences, some offering more laps around the track or pit stops, or you can customize the experience to fit your wishes (and wallet).
That’s how we ended up in Charlotte, because they claim to be “where racing lives” which could just as well be my Paul’s motto.
Buckle up and let us know if you’re going to go for it!
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.