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.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is so much variety in food at CMS that it is hard to describe it all in one piece. The track became known for a new item put in place in 2011: the "funnel bacakonator". This concoction is a funnel cake topped with chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, and bacon. The idea of this snack may be enough to send you into shock just hearing about it, but it is certainly a unique item. A lot of the other traditional favorites are available here, including Papa John's Pizza, local favorite Bojangles chicken, hot dogs, nachos, and hamburgers. The track estimates that, on a typical race weekend, they sell over 34,000 slices of pizza, 9,500 gallons of soda and water, 13,500 feet of hot dogs, and 309,000 pounds of ice.
There are a number of "non-traditional" items available at the track, should you not want a funnel cake topped with bacon, chocolate, and fruit. A NASCAR race is very much like attending a carnival, and there are many carnival-like options. Deep-fried cupcakes ($5) seemed to be popular, as the "cupcakes" are actually more like cake balls, with three to a serving. Lighter options are also available, with veggie burgers, fruit, and salads among those choices. Chicken salad in a waffle cone, interestingly, is another option for those who want to avoid the usual "heavy" race favorites.
The selection is varied enough that you could go to all three Sprint Cup races, both Nationwide Series races, and the truck race in a year and still not try everything. There are also tailgates all over the grounds, should you wish to try something before you enter.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is an environment unlike any other. NASCAR is, in general, a tremendously fan-friendly organization, and this is definitely on display at a Charlotte race. Fans with pit passes are seen milling around the garage and pit areas before the race, posing for pictures, and standing just feet from the haulers and pit areas of their favorite drivers. This makes for an experience those who attend many other sporting events will not get to have.
The Bank of America 500 is one of the races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and this obviously adds a sense of urgency to the race. This is combined with a nice personal touch, however, as the drivers are often introduced to the fans by their friends and family. The seats opposite the pits get a great look at these introductions, and they get the added benefit of the sun setting on their side of the track first. This might make things a little cool, so bringing a jacket might be a good idea if your seats are on the same side of the track as pit road.
It is obviously a challenge to see all sides of the track, considering the size of the track itself. There are boards displaying the top ten drivers that are visible from all seats, and there is also a large video board that lets you keep up with what is taking place. This will be discussed a bit later in this review. The seats are also relatively comfortable and wide (22" seat width in the grandstand), so if you do need to move around to see what is going on, this is not a problem.
The race is obviously the main draw of the weekend, but this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Fans arrive days before the race begins, camping out on the speedway grounds. This creates a small "community" of fans all gathered together. There is also a large walkable area of vendors just across U.S. Route 29 from the track that looks to have every item imaginable. If your plans only involve the Sprint Cup race, it is strongly recommended that you arrive early, not only to avoid traffic, but also to stop by a tailgate or two and walk through the vendor village.
The track is (mostly) at the intersection of US 29 and Bruton Smith Boulevard, a couple of miles off North Carolina Interstate 85. There is not a lot of choice at the track itself except, well, the track. The track complex is 2,000 acres and dominates the landscape in its area. If you want to have options, a trip to Concord Mills Mall may be in the offering. The mall is just under four miles away on Bruton Smith Boulevard, and the 200-plus stores at the mall include shopping and dining options for nearly every taste.
Razzoo's Cajun Cafe, Sticky Fingers, Denny's, and On the Border are on the mall's perimeter, with Macado's, Applebee's, and several others also in the vicinity. Other dining choices are just off the mall property, including Foster's Grille, Five Guys, Quaker Steak and Lube, Carrabba's, Texas Roadhouse, Texas Land and Cattle, Cracker Barrel, and Sonny's Bar-B-Q among the numerous selections around the interstate ramps.
The track itself is in Concord, North Carolina, about 10-15 miles north of center-city Charlotte. Should you wish to get a bite away from the track, it may be beneficial to drive into Concord, travel north to Kannapolis, or head south into uptown Charlotte.
There is no question that NASCAR fans are loyal and dedicated. They have earned this distinction through the years with their support of the sport. Just about every fan at Charlotte sports some kind of gear of their favorite driver, with fans of individual drivers every bit as invested as they would be in any team playing a team sport. There is certainly no danger of NASCAR's popularity waning anytime soon, either, as there are thousands of kids at every race. The generational nature of NASCAR fandom is on clear display at every race.
Fans travel for miles and miles to NASCAR races. I saw license plates from at least seven states in the parking area before I stopped counting. There are also condominiums at the track, allowing fans to live at the track year-round or rent out their property during race weekends. There were a number of visible empty seats during the race I attended, though, which is unfortunate. Every sports fan should attend at least one NASCAR race, as it is an amazing spectacle.
Since fans travel more to races than just about any sporting event, it is important to know how to best reach Charlotte Motor Speedway. Charlotte International Airport is about 20 miles south of the track along I-85. There is public transit available, but it involves a confusing array of bus transfers and delays. It is, therefore, recommended to drive or take a cab.
There are a number of parking options on the premises, with some lots also just off the premises. The free lots are clearly marked, with other paid lots marked at $20. The best recommendation is to follow the parking map on the track's site and find the best parking option for your needs. The walk from your car to your seat may be a long one, if for no other reason than the massive nature of the track grounds. Be sure to wear some comfortable shoes to ease the pain of the walk a bit.
Traffic is a big concern at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is to be expected at a facility that seats up to 140,000 race fans. The track also provides a map detailing inbound and outbound traffic flow on their site, and the local news outlets provide traffic updates on a frequent basis. Try to avoid I-85 and Bruton Smith Boulevard when coming to the race, if possible, and keep your radio on 103.7 FM or another local outlet to get traffic information. US 29 and North Carolina Highway 49 are great alternate routes to avoid the interstate congestion.
As one might expect, there are a number of lodging options within a reasonable drive of the track. There are quite a few hotels near the interstate and Concord Mills Mall, including Comfort Suites, Sleep Inn & Suites, Hampton Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Express, Wingate, and Hilton Garden Inn. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte is just south of the track, with numerous options available there, as well. If the options near the track are full, it may be a good idea to try Charlotte proper, Huntersville, Mooresville, or Kannapolis.
Finally, there is plenty of room to move around inside the facility, and the bathrooms are plentiful. The facilities at Charlotte Motor Speedway are in great shape, causing you very little inconvenience as you traverse around the course.
It is often said that NASCAR races can be a bit on the expensive side, but if you plan your trip well, you can get by without wrecking your wallet into the wall in turn 4. It is possible to get into the track to see a race for as little as $49, mostly in the GN Tower and Toyota 4th Turn. The seats obviously increase in price depending on location, but fans in each pricing bracket are taken into consideration. Concessions are about what one would expect, and there are areas where free parking is available. There is obviously a lot more to factor in if you travel to a race, but local race fans should be able to enjoy a fairly-priced night.
It should also be noted that there are no-alcohol and no-smoking sections, which are particularly great if you are attending the race with children. These sections contain a number of affordable seats, so it will not be too much of a fiscal hardship to avoid smoking or alcohol, if this is a concern for you.
I mentioned earlier that NASCAR races are very much like carnivals, and many of the attractions at a race deserve a note as extras. The fan-friendly nature of not just this track, but of NASCAR gets first mention, though. Many fans buy pit passes and partake in all of the pre-race and post-race festivities. Charlotte also tends to encourage fan involvement, which is nice.
Country stars Big & Rich played a pre-race show on the day I attended, and CMS is notorious for putting on shows with big-name acts for each race. The gates open very early, and this is a good way to get fans fired up while they walk around or find their seat. Daredevil Nik Wallenda also completed a 750-foot tightrope walk at 100 feet above the track. This is something you certainly cannot say you get to see on a regular basis.
If concessions are a concern for you, Charlotte Motor Speedway allows coolers on the premises. The cooler can be no larger than 14" x 14" x 14", but you may bring in a soft or hard-sided cooler. Alcohol is also allowed in your cooler, but it must be in cans. This may save you some money, as well.
The track features the world's largest high-definition video board, measuring 200 feet wide by 80 feet tall. The board is between turns 2 and 3, and allows fans to keep up with the action as it traverses away from their seats. The board also served as the home for a wedding proposal on the day I attended, as an employee of Joe Gibbs racing received a very creative proposal on the board, then found her boyfriend on one knee in front of her as the video completed. Thankfully, she said yes.
The final extra has nothing to do with an actual race, but more to do with how they help celebrate a holiday. The speedway offers Carolina Christmas, which allows visitors to drive around the track while looking at light shows, Nativity scenes, petting zoos and more. The price for this is a reasonable $20 per car, and it is a nice respite from the normal holiday light tours.
The race I attended was notable, in that it was the first time an Earnhardt had not raced since 1979. Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the race due to effects from a concussion the prior week. When considering the tradition of the Earnhardt name in NASCAR, as well as their home being just ten miles north of the track in Kannapolis, this deserves mention.
My trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway was my first visit to a NASCAR event, and it certainly lives up to its billing. It was mentioned numerous times on the night I attended that Charlotte is NASCAR's "homecoming" race, and they do a great job of putting on a show for their "home" fans. If you have never been to an event before, or even if you have been to dozens of them, a trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway needs to be on your itinerary.
There are no crowd reviews yet. Be the first and help us build with your expertise!
There are no local food and drink entries. Help us build with your expertise!
There are no local entertainment entries. Help us build with your expertise!
There are no local lodging entries. Help us build with your expertise!