Buckle up for fun at great car museums and race shops near the site of FMCA’s summer convention in North Carolina.
By Lazelle Jones
America’s love for the automobile has no bounds. For more than a century it has been a national passion. For almost as long, people have been trying to make their cars go as fast as possible. Nowhere is this more evident than in North Carolina, and more specifically in and around Concord, home of Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
August 14 through 17, 2006, the speedway will be the temporary home of thousands of FMCA members as they gather for the “Fast Track To Fun” convention. Convention-goers who are interested in auto racing will be in for many treats should they choose to explore racing-related sites in the area.
Concord is a perfect base camp which to conduct such excursions into the world of auto racing. Begin by whetting your appetite for cars at a fine museum in Concord, and then set your sights on Mooresville. Located 40 minutes northwest of the speedway (go north on Interstate 77), Mooresville is where the majority of NASCAR Nextel Cup, Busch, and Craftsman Truck series race shops are found.
Backing Up Classics Auto Museum, Concord
For a couple of important reasons, this is a museum that you shouldn’t miss. First, the excellent collections of classic and antique 1950s and “muscle cars” that have been assembled inside this 18,000-square-foot museum are a tribute to man’s love for the automobile. The second reason to visit Backing Up Classics is that it is right next to Lowe’s Motor Speedway and reached by an easy walk.
Jimmy Morrison of Morrison Motor Company is the owner of Backing Up Classics, and what an assortment of fun stuff he has assembled under one roof. The vehicles are arranged like a maze. You stroll through at your own pace, transitioning one display to another without really realizing you’ve moved along to something else.
So just what is on display? Really, the question should be, “Where do we begin?” Suffice it to say that even the casual observer will find a car that strikes the nostalgia nerve, one that will illuminate the memory of another time and another place. The facility boasts a wonderful collection of 1950s and ’60s Chevrolets, including one of the most sought-after of yesterday’s muscle cars: a 1969 Camaro. This one was owned by singer/songwriter Roy Orbison, by the way.
A 1962 Chevy Bel Air “bubble top” 409 with 425 horsepower (remember those Beach Boys lyrics, “She’s real fine my 409”?) that features a four-speed manual transmission and dual carburetors; a cherry red 1957 Bel Air convertible; a 1965 Corvette coupe “” all these are like hors d’oeuvres that precede a feast: they simply whet the appetite for more, and more is what you get.
However, the cars are not the only antiques inside this huge museum. Because the United States has a long and colorful legacy in the art of making moonshine, the Morrisons have a home distillery on display that was in full operation until the 1950s. The history of moonshine-making fits very well with the history of stock car racing, for many of those moonshiners became the first stock car drivers during the years before and after NASCAR was established in the late 1940s. In fact, one really colorful and important NASCAR driver and car owner was Junior Johnson, who has written about the days of making moonshine and then distributing the liquid gold in lightning-fast cars under the cover of darkness. And wouldn’t you know it, here at Backing Up Classics Auto Museum is a slick 1940 Ford sedan with an original V-8 flathead engine that features multiple carburetors. Also on hand is a Junior Johnson-owned Monte Carlo that Terry Labonte drove for Johnson when he took the checkered flag at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 1988.
Cameras are welcome at Backing Up Classics Auto Museum, and its fine gift shop offers an extensive range of souvenirs. The museum is open Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors 60 and over, and $5 for students age 6 to college; free for kids under 6. For more information, call (704) 788-9500 or visit www.backingupclassics.com.
And now let’s go to Mooresville, home of more race shops than you can shake a piston at. Mooresville greets visitors with a message painted on the city water tower in giant red, white, and blue letters: “Race City USA.” And so it is.
What’s a race shop? Basically, it’s headquarters for a race car team and is open to visitors. The public can watch as the cars are being built and prepared for upcoming races. Some race shops have their own museums also. Race shops for approximately 50 race teams (Nextel Cup, Busch, Craftsman Truck, ARCA) operate in the Mooresville area alone. We obviously can’t cover all of these race shops (see sidebar for race shop info) in one article, so instead, we’ll look at a couple of important racing-related attractions located there.
One is Memory Lane Motorsports & Historical Automotive Museum. Here is a bonanza of automobile memorabilia and racing history that will interest even those with only a short attention span for such matters. Take Interstate 77 to exit 36 and travel one mile west to 769 River Highway. You will be directly in the midst of the largest private collection of retired and vintage NASCAR race cars in the United States.
Memory Lane Motorsports & Historical Automotive Museum was opened in 2001 when owner Sam Beam decided that the public needed to have access to his massive collection of priceless cars. He has been restoring and saving the vehicles since the mid-1960s.
The collection includes the Winston Cup car that Rusty Wallace drove to his first victory. The very first car (a 1958 Oldsmobile) that Richard Petty drove in his first race is on hand as well. A car driven by Bill Elliott, and the car that Darrell Waltrip drove to earn his last two victories for Junior Johnson also take the stage. Others? These include the 1976 Monte Carlo that Terry Labonte rode to his first victory at Darlington Raceway in 1980; the Ford Torino that A.J. Foyt piloted in both NASCAR and USAC competition; the #22 1983 Miller High Life Buick used by Bobby Allison; Dale Earnhardt’s #15 Wrangler Ford; and Alan Kulwicki’s #7 Ford.
But Memory Lane features far more than just 100-plus retired NASCAR race cars. It also has racing uniforms and helmets, go-carts, gas cans, old gas pumps, tractors, bicycles, motorcycles, buggies, and Model Ts, plus antique toys. Some of its regular-type, non-racing cars have been used in movies such as Days of Thunder, The Color Purple, and Driving Miss Daisy. Give yourself a half-day to see everything. It’s that good.
The Memory Lane Museum is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed on Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for children 6 to 12. For more information, call (704) 662-3673, or visit www.memorylaneautomuseum.com.
While you’re spending your day in Mooresville, you might as well make it a full one. Head for Knob Hill Road, and you are there. And just where is “there?” It’s the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame, a nonprofit organization that contributes to charities that help protect abused children. That alone makes it a worthwhile stop, but it’s the collection inside this 11,000-square-foot museum that makes you really stand in awe. It’s an excellent display and a first-rate tribute to the world of motorsports: Nextel Cup, Busch, Indy, ARCA, NHRA, and Craftsman Truck.
Forty cars that represent all types of racing and that date back almost 70 years are housed inside. The lineup includes actual race cars that were driven by Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Curtis Turner, and Rusty Wallace. The dragster driven by Darrell Gwynn is also on display.
In the Hall of Fame’s Goodyear Theater, a video presentation commemorates many important and dramatic moments that have occurred in NASCAR over the last half-century, moments in racing that date back to NASCAR’s beginning in the late 1940s.
The gift shop has items race fans covet. You can buy tires Nextel Cup race cars that have been driven in NASCAR events. Each tire comes with a certificate of authenticity. Other memorabilia includes apparel worn by drivers while competing in Nextel Cup and Busch events. Driver’s suits, helmets, photos, and memorabilia also are on display. Official NASCAR-licensed souvenirs, such as driver hats, T-shirts, posters, and more, are sold, too.
Each year the Auto Racing Hall of Fame inducts two people into the Hall. One is a driver and the other an individual who works behind the scenes, such as a mechanic, engine builder, or team owner who has had a stellar career in motorsports.
The Hall of Fame is centrally located just off I-77 and close to the vast majority of all NASCAR race shops “” dozens of them are within minutes of this place. It is open Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.; admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors age 55 and up, and $3 for children ages 6 to 12. Call (704) 663-5331 or visit www.ncarhof.com for more information.
While you’re at this museum, be sure to pick up your free guide to Mooresville race shops and tourist attractions in town. Or, if you’d like to obtain one ahead of time, contact the Mooresville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 265 N. Main St., Mooresville, NC 28115; (877) 661-1234 (toll free) or (704) 799-2400; e-mail [email protected]. The CVB’s Web site is www.racecityusa.org.
Popular Area Race Shops
Daytona Beach, Florida, may be where NASCAR was established and still maintains its headquarters, but the majority of teams that compete in the Nextel Cup, Busch, and Craftsman Truck series call North Carolina’s Charlotte/Concord area home. Race shops for most of the teams that compete in these series are located less than an hour’s drive Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Many of the shops offer tours or walkways where visitors can watch cars being prepared for upcoming races. Most shops also include a gift shop and museum. Below is a listing of the top Nextel Cup teams that have race shops in the area.
Bill Davis Racing
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Haas CNC Racing
Joe Gibbs Racing
Penske Racing South
Richard Childress Racing
Robert Yates Racing
Wood Brothers Racing