From motorsports to mining to museums galore, the area around and including Charlotte and Concord, North Carolina “” which will host FMCA’s 76th International Convention in August “” has an exciting array of things to see and do.
By Kimberly Button
North Carolina’s largest city, Charlotte, definitely has two personalities. The northern part of the metro area, specifically the community called Concord, is home to the famed Lowe’s Motor Speedway. There motorsports fans will find racing shops, team headquarters, and opportunities to experience the thrill of driving a real race car. But in the southern regions and the downtown area of Charlotte, visitors will find cultural activities and family destinations such as museums, a theme park, a gold mine, and much more. FMCA members racing toward Lowe’s Motor Speedway, which will host the association’s 76th International Convention, will soon discover why a trip to North Carolina’s most-visited city is guaranteed to produce thrills, whether they’re of a high-speed or more leisurely paced variety.
Lowe’s Motor Speedway: The Concord Track
Most FMCA members’ first taste of the city likely will be Lowe’s Motor Speedway, home to the association’s “Fast Track To Fun” convention and one of the biggest names in town.
Lowe’s Motor Speedway is one of the premier racing facilities in the United States and annually hosts three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events, plus two NASCAR Busch Series races, along with other motorsports races and various car shows.
The 1.5-mile-long track was built in 1959 by O. Bruton Smith and his business partner Curtis Turner; Turner was one of the first NASCAR drivers when the circuit was established in 1949. The first race was run at the new speedway in 1960. After a period of financial setbacks with the facility, including declaring bankruptcy after only three races, Smith and current president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler started to turn the track into a premier racing destination in the early 1980s with the addition of more modern facilities and more seating. They even added luxury suites and condominiums high above the first turn on the racetrack.
In 1992 Lowe’s Motor Speedway became the first modern superspeedway to host night auto racing with the addition of a revolutionary lighting system that uses mirrors to simulate daylight without the glare.
Over the years Lowe’s Motor Speedway has added several tracks on its vast array of land, including the clay oval Dirt Track, located across the highway from the speedway. But none is more famous than the 1.5-mile oval that hosts the biggest events. In fact, on Coca-Cola 600 race day, Lowe’s Motor Speedway becomes the fourth largest North Carolina “city” in population behind the major metropolitan areas of Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro. That’s because approximately 180,000 people flock to the event. The grandstand has a capacity of 167,000.
To get a hands-on feel for the fast-paced world of car racing, you might want to check out the driving schools located on the grounds of the speedway; these include the Richard Petty Driving Experience, the Dale Jarrett Racing Adventure, the Buck Baker Driving School, and the Jeff Gordon Racing School. The driving schools have varying operating hours and days, as well as different pricing packages, ranging from riding shotgun for three laps to getting behind the wheel and actually speeding around the track on your own.
Though you might be tempted to spend all of your time at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, be sure to venture out to the surrounding areas for even more motorsports action. The area is home to dozens of race shops, where visitors can watch cars being fine-tuned and explore exhibits full of memorabilia from racing teams. Just one mile from the speedway is the Hendrick Motorsports facility, which houses a museum full of race cars as well as two individual race shops for the company’s well-known drivers, including Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Several viewing areas enable visitors to watch Hendrick Motorsports cars being worked on. The facilities are open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and admission is free.
For more ways to get in on the action, be sure to schedule a visit to the NASCAR SpeedPark, located at Concord Mills, an enormous outlet shopping center just down the street. Six different tracks are available, set up to accommodate folks of varying ages. The whole family can enjoy bumper boats, miniature golf, and laser tag. NASCAR SpeedPark is open seven days a week, with varying operating hours throughout the year.
Speaking of the mall, Concord Mills has plenty to make shoppers happy, with more than 200 manufacturer and retail outlets, specialty stores, and off-price stores located in the complex.
To relive the early years of motorsports action, head to the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame in nearby Mooresville, where more than 35 race cars await inspection, along with cases full of memorabilia portraying all types of auto racing. Visitors can learn about some of NASCAR’s greatest moments in the museum’s mini movie theater and enjoy an art gallery featuring work from motorsports’ top artists.
Also right in the area is the Rocky River Golf Club. This new course is open to the public and offers 18 holes of play, four sets of tees, and large contoured greens. Two other golf courses are located in the area as well.
Charlotte: Fun On Another Track
After you’ve seen and experienced your fill of auto racing paraphernalia, many other types of thrilling attractions await exploration in Charlotte.
The town has a long history. It was settled in 1755 by Thomas Polk, the uncle of President James K. Polk. He built a home at the crossroads of an Indian trading path and the Great Wagon Road, the latter a pathway that brought settlers from points farther north. The village was incorporated in 1768. The city and county were named for the German-born wife of British King George III “” Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz “” hence its first nickname as the “Queen City.” In spite of this, by 1775 most townspeople had refused allegiance to the British and proclaimed their independence. Along came the town’s second nickname: “Hornet’s Nest,” for the freedom fighters proved to be difficult for the British soldiers to control.
Today little remains of the most historic buildings of Charlotte; the largest number of them are beautiful Queen Anne styles from the Victorian era, and are located in the Uptown Fourth Ward neighborhood. Guided sight-seeing and walking tours of this area are available.
While you’re in the Uptown business area, you can’t miss the Bank of America Stadium, where the NFL’s Carolina Panthers play football. The team has been in existence since 1995 and has been in three NFC championship games, not to mention Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004.
The North Carolina-South Carolina border lies only a few miles south of Charlotte via Interstate 77. Paramount’s Carowinds theme park straddles that border and stakes its claim as the biggest family fun park in the area. It combines an array of Carolina traditions, spine-tingling roller coasters, and Nickelodeon-themed fun for the kids, as well as a water park that is sure to help everyone beat the summer heat.
The theme park’s Carolina Boardwalk features cuisine and entertainment native to the Carolinas, such as daily “shag dancing” parties. Paramount’s movie empire is showcased throughout many of Carowinds’ attractions and shows. The park’s newest addition, Borg, is the world’s first coaster with a Star Trek theme and will have you flying face-down through the air like a superhero. If that’s too speedy, you can try an antique carousel, a wooden roller coaster, stage shows with country music and movie special effects, and much more.
Another fun place awaiting the kid in you “” or your own children or grandchildren “” is Discovery Place. One of the most popular attractions in Charlotte, its hundreds of interactive exhibits explain the world of science. Whether you enjoy a taste of liquid-nitrogen ice cream, touch a sea urchin underwater, or watch a game of rat basketball, Discovery Place is for you. An IMAX Dome Theatre continues the wonders of science with intriguing films throughout the year. Discovery Place is open seven days a week, and combination admission tickets that include the museum and movie are available.
You can enjoy learning on another level at the Levine Museum of the New South, just around the corner from Discovery Place. This often-overlooked museum focuses on the history of the South since the Civil War. The museum’s permanent exhibit, “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers,” allows visitors to wander through a cotton factory and immerse their hands in barrels of cotton, journey into an old-fashioned department store and try on clothes, or enter a church and sit down on the historic wooden pews while listening to gospel music. The Levine Museum of the New South is open daily.
Another noteworthy museum and showplace is the Afro-American Cultural Center. There you’ll find an art gallery with a permanent collection as well as changing exhibits, plus a variety of performances of musical programs. While you’re learning about the area, try the Charlotte Museum of History as well.
If you, like millions of other Americans, believe that the United States’ gold rush started in 1849 in California, then head on over to the Reed Gold Mine to get the real story. A little-known fact is that North Carolina was the site of the first authenticated discovery of gold back in 1799. A 12-year-old boy named Conrad Reed found an odd 17-pound rock, which his family used as a doorstop for three years. Thinking that the stone might be valuable, Conrad’s father took it to a jeweler who paid him $3.50 for the unusual rock “” an amount 100 times less than its estimated value at that time. When the locals found out about the gold, a rush began in 1825 and continued until the 1849 find in California.
The Reed Gold Mine visitors center features exhibits and a film about the state’s gold mining history “” and current industry “” as well as tours of the underground tunnels and processing areas. Visitors can even try their own luck and pan for gold at this national historic landmark. The facility is open Tuesday through Saturday, and admission is free. (A $2 fee is charged for gold panning.)
Some of the gold that was found at Reed’s Gold Mine in the early years ended up at the first branch of the U.S. Mint, which was established in Charlotte in 1837. The mint permanently closed in 1913, and the historic building became North Carolina’s first art museum in 1936. The Mint Museum of Art houses a highly regarded collection that includes American, Asian, African, European, and pre-Columbian art, as well as a collection of gold coins that were minted in Charlotte.
The Mint Museum of Art’s younger sister, the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, opened in 1999. It showcases contemporary studio crafts with a collection of ceramics, fiber, glass, metal, jewelry, and wood. Both Mint museums are open Tuesday through Sunday, and one ticket covers admission to both.
Between the Concord “track” and the Charlotte “track,” you’re sure to find yourself zooming “” and lingering “” at places that you and the other folk in your motorhome find interesting. Start your engine and head to Charlotte/Concord. And don’t forget to buckle up!
Cabarrus County Convention & Visitors Bureau
3003 Dale Earnhardt Blvd.
Kannapolis, NC 28083
Charlotte Convention & Visitors Bureau
500 S. College Street #300
Charlotte, NC 28202
North Carolina Division of Tourism
301 N. Wilmington St.
Raleigh, NC 27601
The following may not be a complete list, so please check your favorite campground directory or the Business Directory, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com.
Cane Creek Park
5213 Harkey Road
Waxhaw, NC 28173
Charlotte/Fort Mill KOA
940 Gold Hill Road
Fort Mill, SC 29708
Cross Country Campground
1851 State Route 150 E.
Denver, NC 28037
Fleetwood RV Camping Resort
6600 Speedway Blvd.
Concord, NC 28026
McDowell Nature Preserve and Campground
15222 York Road (Hwy. 49 South)
Charlotte, NC 28278
Paramount’s Camp Wilderness Resort
14523 Carowinds Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28273
Two Famous Charlotte Residents
The Rev. Billy Graham, renowned Christian evangelist, was born in Charlotte in 1918 and resides there. Graham last year attended the dedication of a $27 million facility in Charlotte that now houses The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s international headquarters. The building is not open to the public. However, construction of the 40,000-square-foot Billy Graham Library is planned and scheduled to open in 2007 or 2008. The library will include a museum, a bookstore, a restaurant, and a theater showing footage from Graham’s crusades. It will be free and open to the public.
Jeff Gordon, four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion, and his Hendrick Motorsports team, are both based in Charlotte. Gordon, 34 years old, has numerous records to his credit, including being the first stock car driver to capture four victories at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he is only the fourth driver in the history of the track to win there four times. His first NASCAR win came in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 1994.
Need Some Sauce With That?
The number-one and number-two farm commodities (in terms of sales) in North Carolina go great with barbecue sauce. Hog sales totaled $1.4 billion in 2002; broilers (chickens), $1.3 billion. To accompany the meat, North Carolina is famous for a vinegary, mustard-based barbecue sauce that you may want to try when you visit. Or, stick with a tomato-based variety. It’s still argued which one is better.