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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Charlotte Motor Speedway opened in 1960, and currently has a grandstand capacity of 89,000, but can hold a lot more in the infield and other seating. The venue hosts numerous NASCAR events every year, most notably the Coca-Cola 600, the Bank of America 500, and the NASCAR All-Star Race, and has even been the site of several movies and TV shows. Charlotte Motor Speedway is often called the "Cradle of NASCAR," due to the fact that more than half of all NASCAR teams call Charlotte home, but also because the first ever NASCAR race took place in Charlotte in 1949.
The main track at Charlotte Motor Speedway is a mile-and-a-half long oval, which is used for most of the events here. However, there are also three smaller tracks contained inside the main oval, which are used for other events. In addition, the zMax Dragway and The Dirt Track at Charlotte are located just across the highway from the Speedway, so fans can attend numerous different types of auto racing events here.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Charlotte Motor Speedway offers a wide variety of food and beverage options to suit any taste. Besides the main concessions stands there are multiple food trucks, including some parked outside the track itself, in case you get hungry early, and prices are in line with those at other pro sports venues. There are also small tables and benches dotted around the concourse, if you want to eat there instead of in your seat. And like most NASCAR tracks, coolers are allowed, so you can bring in your own food and beverages, including alcohol, if you wish.
Food options at the Speedway include turkey legs, hot dogs, smoked sausage, corn dogs, chicken-on-a-stick, Papa John's pizza, Philly cheese steak, chicken tenders, and burgers (White Castle or generic options). Other items include fries, peanuts, onion chips, funnel cake, Bloomin' onions, cookies, pretzels, cotton candy, popcorn, and multiple types of ice cream, including gelato. These items range in price from $5 up to $12.
Drink options include Coke products, lemonade, bottled water, sweet tea, coffee, hot cocoa, and milkshakes, as well as frozen cocktails and beer. Alcohol starts at $7, while the regular beverages start at $3.
If you have never been to a NASCAR event before, Charlotte Motor Speedway will impress you. The atmosphere is a bit like a carnival, with lots of different activities going on before the main event, including concerts, fireworks, jet flyovers, and the like. There is also a mini-mall set up outside, where you can buy all manner of NASCAR gear to show your support for your favorite driver, or team. The merchandise is organized by driver, with giant head shots atop each section so you can easily find the one you are looking for. There are even discount sections for those on a tighter budget. See a video of some of the fireworks here:
The most impressive sight comes as you walk through the main gates to get to the track - as you enter, the entire mile-and-a-half long track is spread out before you, which is an amazing scene. The grandstand is stretched out along most of the outside of the track, so even the furthest seats are not that far from the action. However, the best seats are definitely those closest to the starting line, which is also where the stage is - from here you get the best view of the stage, pit row, and the cars lining up before the race. You also have a great view of the video board, which at one time was the biggest in the world.
There is not a lot of crowd noise during a race, mostly because the stands are so spread out, but also because with so many drivers, there aren't that many fans of any one driver in particular. Thus, you will never hear the euphoric roar of tens of thousands of fans screaming in unison, like you might at a big-time college football game. What you will hear, however, is extremely loud engine noise every 20 seconds as the cars zip by (20 seconds is about how long it takes for the cars to go all the way around the track, since they are traveling at speeds in excess of 180 mph). Hearing the roar of the engines is really exciting, and a lot of fun the first few times, but you may want to bring earplugs, because at the average race a drive by will happen literally hundreds of times.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is at the intersection of US 29 and Bruton Smith Blvd in Concord, North Carolina, about 10-15 miles from downtown Charlotte. There is not a lot in the immediate vicinity of the venue, massive 2,000-acre complex that it is, but there are plenty of things to do a couple miles out. For example, the Concord Mills shopping mall is about three miles away, just on the other side of I-85, and there are plenty of great restaurants in that area. Barbecue is of course a staple in North Carolina, and Sonny's Barbecue and Sticky Fingers Smokehouse are great options in that vein. If you are looking for something more traditional, Concord Mills also boasts chains like Olive Garden, Texas Roadhouse, Red Lobster, TGI Friday's, and Applebee's.
There is plenty to do in the area if you are looking to stay the weekend, including a couple of NASCAR-themed attractions such as the NASCAR Racing Experience and the NASCAR Hall of Fame (downtown Charlotte). The Hall of Fame is an interactive museum with exhibits, challenges, and games appropriate for all ages, including a driving simulator and the Pit Crew Challenge, where visitors can try their hand at real pit crew tasks like changing a tire. The Racing Experience allows you to drive (or ride along in) a real race car on the Speedway, but is not open during event weekends, so may be something you want to come back for.
The fans at Charlotte Motor Speedway are very involved, and are very passionate about their chosen sport. A lot of them wear team gear, or sport caps to show support for their favorite driver. There is a stand inside the venue which does a brisk business renting out headsets and scanners, so fans can listen to live broadcasts from inside the cars during the race; you will see many fans wearing these headsets, or following the action on their Smartphones.
Fans often travel great distances to attend NASCAR events, which makes sense as there are only one or two races every year at each track, so there may not be an event in a fan's local area on a given weekend. It is interesting to see that the fan base covers all ages, from kids to seniors. The only mild disappointment is that the venue is nowhere near full on race days, which may help explain why capacity at the Speedway has actually decreased slightly over time.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is easy enough to get to, given its close proximity to I-85, and the long distance from downtown Charlotte helps cut down on the traffic. There are plenty of parking lots all around the track, so you can get really close for about $20. Be mindful of where your seats are, however - the track is a full mile-and-a-half around, so if you park on the wrong side you could be facing a very long walk to your seats. On the plus side there are entry gates all around the track. See a view of the outside of the Speedway here:
Once you get inside, the concourse is very easy to move around. The walkway is very wide, and there are bathrooms and concessions stands throughout. There are even giant signs along the top, which mark their locations. One interesting feature is that there are helpful stations that offer phone charging, but at a cost of $5 per hour. There are also elevators and ramps if you need them.
The cost to attend an event at Charlotte Motor Speedway is comparable to other pro sporting events. Tickets for major events, such as the Sprint Cup series, start at around $60 for adults and $10 for children 13 and under, while events like the Truck series start much lower (around $22 for adults and free for children). Prices vary widely depending on which section you sit in, but since the race may not sell out you can always try to buy the cheaper seats and move over. You might also try buying tickets on the secondary market, which should cost a little less than from the venue directly. Note that there are alcohol-free as well as non-smoking sections, so look for those notations when purchasing if this is important to you.
Parking and concessions are reasonable, but you are welcome to bring your own food and beverages if you want to save a little money.
The extracurriculars, such as the fireworks and concerts, are a plus.
The view of the track itself is also very impressive - if you have never been to a NASCAR event, you may well be surprised, and awed, by the size of this venue (much bigger than any other type of stadium you may have visited in the past).
The large video board and lighted pole showing the position of each car make it easy to follow the action.
The local food trucks at the track help give the venue a regional flair.
Especially if you have never been to a NASCAR event, visiting Charlotte Motor Speedway is a must. This venue is one of the marquee tracks in all of NASCAR, and has a lot of great amenities which make for a fantastic experience.
Member Review by brian on Oct 17, 2012
When mentioning NASCAR to race fans, certain tracks immediately roll off the tongue: Richmond, Talladega, Daytona, Charlotte. The first official NASCAR stock race took place in Charlotte in 1949 at the old Charlotte Speedway, and the circuit has maintained a home in North Carolina's “Queen City” ever since.
The current Charlotte Motor Speedway opened in 1960, featuring the first World 600 (now Coca-Cola 600) race. The race is an annual Memorial Day weekend tradition, and it is one of three events run at the speedway, with the annual All-Star Race and Bank of America 500 also run in the spring and fall, respectively. The NASCAR Nationwide Series holds two races a year at CMS, and the truck series also conducts an annual race on the track.
Charlotte was also the first speedway at which night racing was hosted. A lighting system was installed at the track in 1992, and it was the largest speedway with lights for six years until Daytona installed lights in 1998. Charlotte Motor Speedway has also been the home to several films and TV shows, most notably "Days of Thunder" and "Talladega Nights."
Charlotte Motor Speedway is known as one of the “signature” tracks on the NASCAR circuit, and it has certainly earned that title through its history, fan-friendly nature and contributions to the sport.
8021 Concord Mills Blvd
Concord, NC 28027
400 E Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28202
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