Carter-Finley Stadium – North Carolina State Wolfpack
Photos by Will Halpern, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14
Carter-Finley Stadium 4600 Trinity Rd Raleigh, NC 27607
Year Opened: 1966
The Strength of The Wolf Is the Pack
North Carolina State University opened its doors for the first time in 1887 as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, or North Carolina A&M, eventually becoming North Carolina State University. The university today rests in North Carolina’s state capital and second-largest city, Raleigh, and is the largest university among the 16-school University of North Carolina school system. The school fielded a football team five years after the college’s founding, and the team played in various fields around campus for the first fifteen years of the program’s existence until in 1907 when the on-campus Riddick Stadium was built. That served as the team’s home until 1966, when the Wolfpack moved on campus to the present Carter-Finley Stadium.
After nearly three decades of the school being known as the Aggies, Techs, Red Terrors, and Farmers, a fan described some of the football players “as unruly as a pack of wolves.” The name stuck and NC State has been known as the Wolfpack ever since. The school’s tenure at Carter-Finley Stadium has been successful, as fans decked in red and white have filled the stands for more than half a century. Meanwhile, the stadium has grown from 41,000 to the 57,583 it currently boasts.
Carter-Finley is the second-largest football stadium in North Carolina, and the largest for college football, and is considered one of the toughest places to play in the ACC, as the Wolfpack have taken down many ranked opponents in the stadium over the years. NC State might be best known for their 1983 men’s basketball National Championship, but the Wolfpack football team has seen some success over the years, and have sent a host of players to the NFL, including Phillip Rivers, Mario Williams, Russell Wilson, and Bradley Chubb.
Food & Beverage 5
The concessions options at Carter-Finley Stadium have improved greatly this 2019 season. While in the past there were only a few concessions stands throughout the stadium, selling mainly the same items, this season the quality of food and beverage options has thoroughly improved, beginning with the addition of alcoholic beverages, a new trend among many college football stadiums around the country. Several beer options including Bud, Miller, and Coors Light are available for eight dollars per can, with craft going for an extra dollar.
The Fan Favorite concessions stands around the stadium offer Chick-fil-A and BBQ sandwiches from The Pit, a downtown Raleigh institution for delicious vinegar-based Eastern-style North Carolina BBQ. Either sandwich goes for six dollars, and bottled Coca-Cola products go for four dollars; peanuts, popcorn, and nachos go for four dollars each as well. Make sure to stop by the concessions stands before halftime, as both these popular sandwiches tend to sell out very quickly. Other concessions stands offer hot dogs, soft pretzels, and nearby Clayton’s Venero’s Pizzeria offers cheese and pepperoni slices for five dollars each.
What has changed at the stadium is the variety of food trucks throughout the concourse. One popular truck is Kono Pizza, where you can get all the great taste of a slice of cheese, pepperoni, or meat lovers folded in a cone – you can get any of the three options for six dollars. Or, Taco Grande offers a variety of tacos for four dollars each, and nachos, quesadillas, burritos, and bowls for ten dollars each with different fillings, including chicken, beef, pork and steak; vegetarian choices are also offered. Another option if you’re craving Mexican food is Las Gringas offering a taco plate, gringas (a type of soft taco), and Dynamite Shrimp.
Which Wich, a popular sandwich restaurant, also has a food truck offering various subs such as Philly cheesesteak, Ultimate BLT with avocado, or their signature Wicked Sandwich (five types of meat and three kinds of cheese); you can also build your own sandwich as well. Many sweet options are offered as well including mini doughnuts, fried Oreos, funnel cakes, Dippin’ Dots, and Howling Cow Ice Cream, an NC State specialty made on campus – it is a must-have when attending a Wolfpack football game.
Carter-Finley Stadium is a premier place to take in ACC college football. The stadium has some incredible sight lines with the stands being among the closest to the field in the conference. The stadium has two levels of seating on both the west and east sides of the stadium, with the seven-story press box towering over the stadium’s west side. The Murphy Center sits behind the south end zone along with two small video boards on each corner, with the main video board behind the north end zone, and there is also a great view of PNC Arena, home of the Carolina Hurricanes and NC State men’s basketball.
The seating is mainly bleachers, but many people take advantage of soft red tailgate chairs with backs to put over the bleachers to make sitting throughout a three and a half-hour game easier. The student sections are on both sidelines, making it an intimidating place for any visiting squad, and the Wolfpack have a cheerleading squad, as well as not one but two mascots, Mr. and Mrs. Wuff, who are actually married and have been for nearly four decades – the mascots were wed by Wake Forest University’s own Demon Deacon back in 1981 at halftime of a basketball game at Reynolds Coliseum.
NC State has a fantastic marching band, the Power Sound of the South, which keeps the fans on their feet. There is also audio of a howling wolf that goes off during the team’s introduction, and for big plays throughout the game. In addition, there is an energetic PA Announcer, who has lived up to the great Ed Funkhouser, who coined and popularized the “first down” chant that is used at many college football and NFL stadiums across the country.
This might be the biggest issue with Carter-Finley Stadium: its location – the stadium is about four miles west of NC State’s main campus, and there is not much in the immediate vicinity. PNC Arena and NC State’s indoor training complex share a parking lot with the stadium, and the North Carolina State Fairgrounds and the University’s vet school are just down the road but there is only one restaurant within walking distance of the stadium, Backyard Bistro. This restaurant, luckily, is a good place to eat, with appetizers including the tasty Pulled Pork or Redneck Tots, and the delicious Bistro Club or Backyard BBQ sandwiches. With that being said, there is often a lengthy wait for a table, as many fans have the same idea to take in a pre or post-game meal here, and while there is also a Bojangle’s coming to the area, the hope is that more development around the venue can turn events at Carter-Finley Stadium or PNC Arena into more of a destination.
There are many great places going back toward downtown Raleigh including nearby Snoopy’s, a little stand that sells juicy hot dogs their way (mustard, onions, and chili), chicken salad, and BBQ sandwiches, while Char-Grill is another stand selling burgers, fries, and shakes – Char-Grill and Snoopy’s have been Raleigh institutions since 1959 and 1978 respectively. Venture into downtown Raleigh and you’ll find even more great places to eat, including Chuck’s, which serves up delicious gourmet burgers, fries, and milkshakes, including a couple of the alcoholic variety, or Sitti which offers delicious Mediterranean cuisine.
Clouds Brewing offers American bar food with a German twist, including a Beer Wall where you can self-serve from among ten different brews. Alternatively, if you’re looking for authentic Eastern style vinegar-based BBQ, Coopers and The Pit are the places to go. Finally, Oak City Meatballs Shoppe is a unique establishment serving up various meatballs, including veggie, chicken, and spicy pork with different sauces and sides.
Raleigh is the state’s second-largest and capital city, and there are lots of things to do within the Oak City. Those who enjoy shopping should check out Crabtree Valley Mall or North Hills, both about ten minutes north of Carter-Finley Stadium, with more than four hundred stores between the two plus lots of places to eat, shop and explore. Those with children should stop by Marbles Kids Museum, which offers lots of exhibits to keep your young ones entertained, and if they get tired, check out a movie at the adjacent Imax Movie Theatre. Or, Pullen Park, next to NC State’s main campus, offers a full-service train ride, a recently renovated 120-year-old carousel, paddle boats, and playgrounds.
Those who enjoy art, science, or history should check out the North Carolina Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the North Carolina Museum of History – the art museum is located just five minutes from the Carter-Finley Stadium and features several art exhibitions and a fantastic permanent collection from various artists and sculptors across many artistic periods. The museum is set up alongside a beautiful outside sculpture garden, and the latter two museums are located next to each other downtown and are both free of charge. The science museum offers exhibits about astronomy and nature, and includes live animals, while the museum of history chronicles NC’s rich history from colonial times until today, and along with many rotating exhibits includes NC’s Sports Hall of Fame.
There are two hotels located within a mile of the Carter-Finley Stadium, Four Points Sheraton and Ramada by Wyndham; there are also many hotels closer to campus and downtown if you would prefer to be closer to all that Raleigh has to offer.
The Wolfpack football program has seen some highs and lows over the past two decades, but what has stayed steady is the fan support. NC State has ranked top three in attendance, averaging 98% over the past three seasons, including leading the conference in attendance last season. The stadium is not small either, at nearly 60,000 seats, and having to contend with two ACC schools within 30 miles, it makes the attendance numbers that much more impressive.
There is a vast tailgating scene in the parking lot around Carter-Finley Stadium and all down Trinity Avenue, leading up to the stadium as well, where students and fans play music and corn hole hours before pregame. The energy continues when the Wolfpack run out of the tunnel, amid fireworks and the sound of the howling wolf. The fight song is often sung by generations of Wolfpack young and old, who emphasize the words “Go State” and always yell “go to hell Carolina” at the hated rival UNC Tar Heels, even when that is not their opponent on the field. At the game I attended most recently, the Tar Heels were the opponent and even in pouring rain, both the fans in the red and white and those in the light blue, were all at full throttle with plenty of mostly civil jabs at each other.
Getting to Carter-Finley Stadium can prove to be rather challenging, as both intense traffic and parking can prove to be an issue. While the Carter-Finley Stadium itself is located a reasonable distance from NC State’s main campus and downtown Raleigh, traffic can be very difficult, especially on Blue Ridge and Trinity Roads near the stadium, so give yourself plenty of time to arrive early.
Like most college football stadiums, parking around the stadium itself requires a permit, but most lots within a half-mile of the stadium will cost you twenty dollars unless you park on the Hillsborough Street Lot, which will set you back ten dollars. Handicap parking is available in the Westchase Lot for twenty dollars, but there is a shuttle to and from the stadium.
Speaking of shuttles, the Red Terror has complimentary bus service between various points throughout NC State’s campus, beginning two hours before kickoff, and retraces its route until 90 minutes postgame. The shuttle is a good option if you are not able to find any parking in and around NC State, which can be difficult. Other buses, including the Number 6 Wolf line, Go Triangle 100, and GoRaleigh 4, stop near Carter-Finley Stadium, but game day can affect these schedules, so go online and make sure they are running as scheduled.
Lines can be a little congested to enter the stadium, but they aren’t too problematic as there are a fair amount of gates, and the concourse is very spacious, especially behind the South end zone where you are able to see the game action as you walk around the concourse. Accessible seating is located above the main seating areas throughout the stadium’s lower level, and restrooms are clean and well kept.
Return on Investment 4
The game day experience at Carter-Finley Stadium is second to none. Ticket prices start at 30 to 40 dollars for non-conference games and about 70 dollars and up for conference opponents including the rival Tar Heels. However, a patient search of the secondary market might allow you to save some money on tickets. Add in the cost of parking at twenty bucks and concessions about ten dollars for a sandwich and a drink, and prices do get a bit steep to catch the Wolfpack in action.
Still, the energy, electricity, and passion of the NC State faithful make a game an experience not to miss, and with non-conference games often as close to electric as the ACC games, I’d recommend saving some money and going early in the season, to get the same game day experience for a fraction of the cost. If you’re determined to see ACC head-to-head action, then it might be best to gauge the secondary market to see if the prices drop. If not, it is still more than worth the extra expense of seeing all that Carter-Finley Stadium has to offer.
One point goes to the great tailgaters that line the parking lots at Carter-Finley Stadium and up and down Trinity Road. A second point goes to the giant wolf statues inside and outside Carter-Finley Stadium. Another point for the fans singing the unofficial school song “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show, a campus tradition. A fourth point to the video tribute to Wolfpackers in the NFL, where some of the many Wolfpackers to turn pro are shown on the video board to raucous applause, and finally a point for complimentary game day programs that are offered at the stadium.
For the average fan, when ACC football comes to mind thoughts of Clemson, Florida State, or Virginia Tech might arise, but while NC State may not have the win total these schools boast, they do have a passionate fan base and a top-notch facility. The intimate sight lines, local cuisine, and raucous cheers and chants from NC State students and fans alike are some of what you will experience when attending a Wolfpack football game at Carter-Finley Stadium. NC State faces incredibly tough competition in one of the toughest divisions in the country, but game in and game out, win or lose, it’s the roar of the fans, the howling of the wolf, and the music from the Power Sound of the South, that make attending a game at Carter-Finley Stadium a memorable experience, and a very tough environment for the Wolfpack’s competition.