Race fans and car nuts know all about Cabarrus County, a corner of North Carolina that’s home to the Charlotte Motor Speedway and its famous auto events. The Speedway hosts NASCAR races this year in May and October, and occasional car shows and special events at the ZMax Dragway and the Dirt Track, from April to September. If you’re into spectator sports, check their calendar ahead, buy tickets, and book your hotel for what will be a sellout weekend. Then pay attention to our 9 other reasons to linger in Cabarrus County.
1. Wild Drivers Love Cabarrus County
Some racing fans want adventure all for themselves, which is what NASCAR driving experiences are for. The official NASCAR experiences are held on off-weekends of the racing circuit, around the country, throughout the year. Visitors with a driver’s license can book either a ride-along (going around the track three times with a NASCAR driver; kids can sit in on this one), or a qualifier experience; the latter allows you to drive the car yourself for an 8-minute timed racing session on the track. Additionally, you can customize the experience to fit your wishes (and wallet) and bucket list entry.
2. Get the Car Fix You Dream Of
If this is what you came to Cabarrus County for, don’t miss the chance to drop into these other NASCAR classics: Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. We loved our visit to Stewart-Haas Racing, where you might catch pit crew practice and if not, still have a great gift shop to roam. Diehard fans should drive (not race) the Dale Trail, a 20-stop self-guided tour featuring places of interest to racing legend Dale Earnhardt Sr.; you can brush up on history at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
3. Wild Cats Love Cabarrus County
A 30-minute drive from Concord (we stayed at the super family-friendly Great Wolf Lodge and there are lots of choices) gets you to a couple of lovely wildlife refuges. Tiger World is an endangered wildlife preserve in Rockwell, NC, a non-profit dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and preservation of exotic animals. They take care of over 100 animals, most of them big cats. And I mean big, like the 9-foot long Siberian tiger. It turns out that a lot of people buy exotic animals as pets. They’re so cute when they’re young, but when they start growing up, and get large and rambunctious; the owners decide they’re too much trouble, which is where Tiger World steps in.
We saw tigers, lions, leopards, panthers, a bear … and a few gorgeous tiger cubs. There are also various monkeys, a big baboon who thinks he’s a human, gibbons, peacocks strutting shaking their tail feathers and even some kangaroos bouncing round chasing the emus. And if there are young cubs, you can book a tiger cub encounter for an extra fee, but they don’t do many, so call and book ahead if you want to try to play with a tiger cub (we didn’t, and they were booked up…).
4. A Vacation for the Birds
The Carolina Raptor center was another great visit, located on the historic Latta Plantation, in Huntersville, NC. The center has a trail that meanders through beautiful woods, full of cages with fierce and lovely raptors, including owls, eagles and vultures. The center rehabilitates birds and, when possible, releases them back into the wild. Over 1,000 birds a year come through the center’s hospital, with more than 70% of the birds recovering and being set free again. They also offer closer encounters, where the trainers bring birds out for inspection and demonstrations. Although the Latta Plantation was closed when we were at the Raptor Center, it is a living history farm and museum which brings 19th century plantation life alive through reenactments and tours.
5. Shop on a Big Scale in Cabarrus County
We made our way back to Concord Mills, the largest mall in the Carolinas. This place is so big they have a little train running round to take you to the hundreds of stores and dining opportunities. There is also a 24-screen AMC movie theater, some of them IMAX-equipped.
6. Fun for Kids Aquarium
We especially wanted to check out the Sea Life Aquarium, at Concord Mills mall, which was indeed beautifully organized. Many of the exhibits are placed nice and low, making for a magical experience for young kids as they get up really close to the curved glass and peer in at the fish. There is even a tunnel right through a giant tank, giving the sharks a chance to look at you.
7. Never Too Much Racing
Also on site at the mall is… yes, another racing-related activity: the Speedpark, with go-Kart racing for young and old, and which adds an ice-rink during the winter.
8. Bar B Q and Endless Treats
There is of course much delicious barbeque to be had everywhere, which we enjoyed entirely too much. But there are also many Asian restaurants, and judging from the foodie blogs we found, a flourishing foodie scene. This is one place where food is such a good value, that you really can’t go wrong.
9. Christmas Loves Cabarrus County
If you are completely racing focused, you might want to schedule your visit in the spring or summer, when the rubber hits the road at every venue. However, we loved the Christmas events they put on. Winter hotel rates are much lower, the weather is usually not bad, and family members who are doing the NASCAR experience can schedule one more easily in the off season.
So if you’re there in December, don’t miss the Speedway Christmas light spectacular. It is open nightly 6pm -10pm, and we advise getting there early to avoid a long wait. It’s a 3.5-mile drive along course, with the colorful light sculptures around the Speedway and in tunnels under the bleachers. Families will like the fun Christmas market and a petting zoo that’s open for the holidays.
We also loved the warm and friendly Kannapolis Christmas Parade of Lights, a real community event. Kannapolis is known as the birthplace of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. Bring warm clothes; it was really chilly after nightfall.
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