One of the United States’ busiest sports complexes served as the venue for FMCA’s 76th International Convention.
By Robbin Gould
For four days in mid-August, RVers assembled their motorhomes on the storied grounds of the Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, to participate in FMCA’s “Fast Track To Fun” convention. This conclave, the association’s 76th International Convention, attracted a total of 4,158 motorhomes: 3,105 family coaches and 1,053 exhibitor coaches. Although the FMCA gathering, held August 14, 15, 16, and 17, didn’t set a “track record” in terms of attendance, it will go down in association annals as the first FMCA international convention to be held at a motorsports speedway “” and in North Carolina.
Lowe’s Motor Speedway
This superspeedway in Concord, just a few miles north of Charlotte, was formerly known as Charlotte Motor Speedway. It has gained fame as one of NASCAR racing’s premier and most popular tracks. The complex features a 1.5-mile-long oval track that provides permanent seating for 167,000 spectators. It was designed and built in 1959 by current Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman O. Bruton Smith, who worked in conjunction with business partner Curtis Turner, one of stock car racing’s earliest driving stars. On June 19, 1960, the first World 600 stock car race was run at the track. Today Lowe’s Motor Speedway is considered the center of NASCAR, with 90 percent of NASCAR teams based within 50 miles of the complex. It hosts NASCAR Nextel Cup, Busch Series, and Craftsman Truck Series races, among myriad other events. The complex includes a 2.25-mile road course and a 0.6-mile kart course in the infield, as well as the 0.4-mile Dirt Track, among other attractions.
Lowe’s Motor Speedway has been called one of the busiest sports venues in the United States, as approximately 380 events are held at the complex each year. In addition to numerous races, Lowe’s hosts car shows; has served as a setting for motion pictures such as Days Of Thunder, Speedway, and Stroker Ace; and also ranks as a popular tourist spot. With FMCA’s “Fast Track To Fun” convention, the complex was able to add a motorhome convention to its list of events.
“The [FMCA] convention staff and Convention Committee had several requests from members wanting us to try a racetrack for convention,” said Don Moore, F154921, FMCA national president. “We arranged it and it was approved by the Governing Board. New locations are always a challenge, but I think most of our members enjoyed the 76th International Convention in Charlotte/Concord.
“The Lowe’s Motor Speedway staff were great to work with,” he added. “They were very gracious and willing to help us in every way.”
Seminars, indoor exhibits, daytime entertainment, and some family coach parking were positioned inside the infield. Exhibit coaches and the bulk of family parking embraced the outer portions of the facility. The adjacent Fleetwood RV Campground accommodated some family coach parking. That area was close to the abovementioned Dirt Track, the site of evening entertainment.
Despite years of planning, an FMCA convention cannot be insulated from the vagaries of weather. Heat and humidity, including temperatures in the 80s and 90s, were prevalent before and during the event. On Tuesday, August 15, a torrential downpour brought the evening entertainment act “” the Ricky Nelson Legacy Tour “” to a close after just a few songs. The rain continued through the night and into the next day. However, most convention activities went on as planned. Many attendees donned rain gear and went about their business.
Convention to-do list
FMCA conventions typically offer a whirlwind of activities, and in Charlotte/Concord these were documented in the 174-page program given to attendees upon their arrival. So much to do! FMCAers chose to learn, shop, snack, socialize, and be entertained during their stay, plus enjoy many other activities.
Ever since FMCA’s formation in 1963, association members have placed a priority on information exchange, including an ongoing interest in learning more about their homes on wheels. And as the RV lifestyle has matured, motorhomers have been presented with many more travel and recreation choices. “Fast Track To Fun” convention attendees received instruction on as many topics as their schedules and interests would allow. Many folks selected from a seminar slate that included 104 topics and 126 individual seminars. They obviously came away more informed, for these educational sessions added up to a total of 538.25 hours of learning time.
Technical topics are always popular. To satisfy this interest, seminars in Charlotte/Concord covered towing, supplemental braking, chassis maintenance, engine operation, refrigeration basics, and RV inverter/charging systems. Other technical topics included Aqua-Hot and Hydro-Hot hydronic heating systems, generator maintenance, and batteries.
The ever-popular “RV Safe Driving Course,” cosponsored by Aon Recreation Insurance, C95, an FMCA Super Star sponsor, and FMCA, filled up quickly. In this two-part session, attendees sharpened their existing driving skills and learned new defensive driving techniques for nighttime driving, piloting coaches in adverse weather, and even mountain driving. Similarly useful was a discussion of “RV Life & Fire Safety In Your RV” by 30-year fire-fighting veteran Mac McCoy, C7648, also sponsored by Aon Recreation Insurance and FMCA.
On the non-technical side, folks took in talks on microwave-convection cooking, digital photography, and working at Walt Disney World Resort, as well as full-time RVing, traveling to Mexico, and ministering at NASCAR events. Health-related topics included morning workouts; presentations on back, shoulder, and knee health; and instruction on using an automated external defibrillator (AED). Plus, who could resist topics titled “Honey, Let’s Clean the RV,” “Is Someone Running Away With Your Identity?” and “Every RVer Needs A Blog!” Even crafters indulged in producing “pumpkin kids,” glass leaf necklaces, and string angels, among other items.
David Ragsdale, F153924, who served as seminar volunteer captain with his wife, Joan, noted, “There were favorable comments concerning the vast array of topics, from diesel engines to the various crafts. There were also comments about the quality of the presenters. They seemed to be well-versed and prepared to present their topics.”
Suzie Adcock of Caterpillar Inc., C4743, noted, “Once again Caterpillar enjoyed hosting a very successful seminar on the maintenance of Caterpillar engines, presented by Tony Kapustka. Attendance at this seminar grows with each FMCA [convention] and it is a win-win for both the attendees and the Caterpillar team. We have the opportunity to provide the customers with very important information regarding their Caterpillar engine, to educate [them] and put their minds at ease to have a truly enjoyable RV experience. In addition, we all, attendees and Cat, learn from the many questions that are asked and the cross-exchange of information following the seminar.”
Whether they engaged in coach window shopping in the outdoor exhibit area or perused aisle after aisle of merchandise in the indoor exhibit building, convention attendees discovered a bonanza of RVs and RV-related merchandise. Outdoors, close to 600 motorhomes were available for touring. Three parking lots showcased type A, B, and C motorhomes representing the newest 2006 and 2007 models in a variety of sizes, styles, and price ranges. Ultra-elegant custom bus conversions also invited inspection, including a $2.5 million Featherlite Vantare coach fully outfitted for travel, from kitchen appliances to a computer work center “” even a treadmill. Motorhome chassis prompted scrutiny as well. In addition, 230 demo units gave serious lookers an opportunity to “kick the tires” and go for a spin.
In the infield, a 96,000-square-foot clear-span building, which had been erected just for the convention, invited convention-goers to stop in for a look-see at the supplier and component exhibits. Approximately 275 companies filled nearly 500 booths with merchandise and information designed specifically for motorhomes and motorhomers.
Reggie and Patsy Collins, F127926, were on hand in Charlotte/Concord as members of the Blue Ox, C2903, Rally Team in the indoor exhibit building. “Being able to help our customers with hints and tips to keep them safe so they can enjoy this RV lifestyle has been very rewarding,” Reggie noted. “It is a pleasure to see familiar faces at every rally when they come by to shop, ask questions, or just say hi.”
Motorhomers also had the opportunity to mix and mingle while enjoying several popular convention traditions.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings, FMCAers gathered in the infield for morning Coffee Hour, presented compliments of Caterpillar Inc., an FMCA Super Star sponsor. Folks partook of doughnuts, coffee, and hot chocolate cheerfully dispensed by FMCA member volunteers. Free copies of the local Independent Tribune newspaper were provided courtesy of Tracks To Adventure, C1034, an FMCA One Star sponsor. FMCA’s official “Fast Track To Fun” convention newsletter was distributed as well, compliments of Tom Johnson Camping Center, C6230, an FMCA Three Star sponsor. From 7:15 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, FMCA’s own Frustrated Maestros provided a musical backdrop, performing on the nearby Daytime Entertainment Stage. (Wednesday’s performance was cancelled due to weather conditions.) This musical group, composed of members from FMCA’s 10 Frustrated Maestros chapters, performs at every FMCA convention and most area rallies. They are distinguished by the red-and-white outfits they wear and the varied array of tunes they perform, incorporating many vocal styles and types of instruments.
Thursday’s performance included a musical tribute to Frustrated Maestros founder Bob Gobrecht, L14273, who passed away this past June. The group recalled Bob’s sense of humor and some of the traditions he brought to the Maestros. They played a kazoo number, a military tribute, and even the University of Southern California fight song “” from Bob’s alma mater “” among other songs.
The Chapter Fair, held on Tuesday morning, was a lively event that included some great chapter displays, even music and a bit of dancing. Representatives of more than 100 FMCA chapters “set up shop” with decorated tables, from which they disseminated information about their chapters to non-chapter members browsing the displays. This event enabled folks to learn about many FMCA chapters firsthand “” and made it possible for chapters to sign up new members. Three chapters were judged to have the best displays: Coastal Tarheels, first place; Holiday Rambler International, second place; and Bay Area Travelers, third place.
Many ladies have no doubt heard of the Red Hat Society, an informal, worldwide women’s movement dedicated to embracing the phenomenon of aging with fun and dignity. Females over age 50 don purple dresses and red hats (those younger wear lavender and pink) and celebrate their youthfulness. Female FMCA members got into the spirit on Tuesday afternoon by gathering for a Red Hat Tea, made possible by Kiley Mold Company, C7252, an FMCA One Star sponsor. Dressed in their colorful finery, many armed with teacups, the ladies enjoyed light refreshments and lighthearted socializing.
On Wednesday afternoon, crowds of convention-goers enjoyed a cool treat at the Ice Cream Social, which was presented through the generosity of Aon Recreation Insurance. FMCA volunteers handed out the ice cream confections to lines of takers in speedy fashion “” no melted ice cream here! The Frustrated Maestros performed nearby on the Daytime Entertainment Stage.
Mornings, afternoons, and evenings afforded ample time for convention-goers to enjoy music, dancing, comedy, and more. Beginning on Sunday, August 13, the Daytime Entertainment Stage, sponsored by the North Dakota State Fair, C9318, an FMCA Two Star sponsor, became the site of many performances by familiar faces, and also featured numerous acts from the Charlotte/Concord area.
Sunday afternoon, the musical good times began with Bob’s Cats, a talented ensemble of musicians from the Frustrated Maestros, who performed Dixieland tunes and old-time favorites. They were followed by musican/singer/humorist Keith Longbotham; then the husband-and-wife duo of Tex and Mary Schutz with their classic country tunes, unusual songs, and silly stories. Other morning and afternoon acts included Flakey the Magic Clown (Henry Gartner, F197563) and his zany antics; hammered dulcimer music performed by Susan Sherlock; longtime convention favorite Willie & Company, composed of ventriloquist Peggy Miller and her irreverent, childlike sidekick, Willie; the Cultural Heritage Latin Dancers; plus bluegrass music and old-time traditional tunes set forth by the Poultry In Motion trio.
Convention-goers also heard oral historian Ramona Moore Big Eagle recount rich tales about the region’s American Indian heritage, and enjoyed the Barn Hoedown with the Buffalo Creek Ramblers as they performed Appalachian string band music. The Carolina Classic Cloggers, a Charlotte ladies’ dance group, demonstrated their fancy footwork, and the Many Goodmen Band entertained with their own brand of swing-era music from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. And as previously mentioned, the Frustrated Maestros provided many entertaining moments.
In addition to the diverse daytime lineup, five spectacular evenings of entertainment were scheduled for attendees’ enjoyment. On Sunday night, Sergeant Dan Clark, “The Singing Trooper,” and his wife, soprano Mary Colarusso, exhibited their broad vocal experience. On Monday, Big Ray and the Kool Kats, presented courtesy of Allison Transmission, C4454, an FMCA Three Star sponsor, let loose with a snazzy repertoire of jazz and big band swing tunes, plus modern melodies thrown in for good measure. As noted earlier, Tuesday night’s performance “” the Ricky Nelson Legacy Tour, starring Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, sons of famous teen idol Ricky Nelson “” was cut short by rain. The Nelsons were sponsored by ORA Las Vegas/Motorcoach Country Club, C10274, an FMCA Five Star sponsor. On Wednesday night, dry skies accommodated a dazzling performance by Ronnie Milsap, who appeared through the generosity of Monaco Coach Corporation, C2111, an FMCA Five Star sponsor. The final night of entertainment on Thursday featured the quirky Western music and cowboy comedy of Riders In The Sky, performing courtesy of Goodyear Tire & Rubber, C9158, an FMCA Super Star sponsor.
Taking care of business
On Monday morning, FMCA representatives gathered at the West Cabarrus Church, located near Lowe’s Motor Speedway, to conduct official association business at the annual Governing Board meeting. FMCA president Don Moore explains the Governing Board’s function and provides more details about the Charlotte/Concord meeting in his “President’s Message” column, which begins on page 6 of this issue.
On Wednesday afternoon, convention attendees had the opportunity to attend their respective Area Gathering. During these sessions, area officers, including the FMCA national vice president representing each area, brought members up-to-date on happenings in their particular area.
On Thursday morning, Don Moore called FMCA’s annual membership meeting to order. During the meeting Don recognized outgoing Executive Board members Ginny McGrath, F87335, national vice president, Great Lakes Area; and Tony Vincent, F161584, national vice president, Western Area, and his wife, Betty. The newly elected TATS (Teen-Age Travelers) officers, from FMCA’s youth program, were recognized as well: Philip Marlowe, F267754, president; Luke Adair, F237571, first vice president; and Tom Martin, F368975, second vice president. In addition, engraved watches for recruiting 100 or more members were presented to Owen and Vivian Autry, F55048, and George and Ann Schipper, F17603. Also recognized for their recruitment efforts but not at the convention were Chuck and Ginny Belba, F235429, and Eugene and Joyce LeMeur, F40278. A gold watch was presented to Asa Hupp, F38920, for his outstanding service at FMCA’s conventions. And Howard Cowles, L18517, was recognized for his many years of square dance calling at FMCA conventions, but he, too, was unable to attend the Charlotte/Concord gathering.
Don Moore also conducted the installation of the newly elected national area vice presidents: Judy Czarsty, F79148, Eastern Area, re-elected; Ross Boyer, F268985, Great Lakes Area, newly elected; Jay Blumenthal, F230605, International Area, re-elected; Donzella Leahy, F234822, Northwest Area, re-elected; and Tom Ainsley, F182814, Western Area, newly elected. In addition, 10 lucky FMCA members in attendance received special participation awards.
Time and again, association members display their generosity and concern for others less fortunate in a variety of ways. This charitable spirit is particularly evident in the communities that host FMCA international conventions, and the “Fast Track To Fun” gathering was no exception.
Attendees generously supported two official convention charities. First, FMCAers donated 869 pounds of food to the Cooperative Christian Ministry’s Food Pantry, according to Barry Porter, the ministry’s food service coordinator. Based in Concord, the ministry is supported by area churches of all denominations, as well as businesses, civic organizations, individuals, and volunteers. It operates a crisis center, soup kitchen, and night shelter for people in crisis.
Convention-goers also provided assistance to Speedway Children’s Charities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to children that was founded in 1984 by O. Bruton Smith as a single fundraising event prior to the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. Over the years it has grown from a local effort into a nationally recognized charity, with chapters located at each Speedway Motorsports Inc. facility. Charlotte/Concord convention-goers had the opportunity to purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win a signed, numbered print titled “Survival of the Fastest!” that was donated by renowned motorsports artist Sam Bass. Jeff Funk, F363220, was the lucky winner.
A group of FMCA members called the On-Road Quilters created quilts and blankets of all sizes, colors, and styles for donation to individuals in need in the Charlotte/Concord area. According to Sharon Eversmann, F240000, who coordinates this effort at FMCA conventions, 71 quilts, 19 fleece blankets, and three knitted or crocheted items were brought to Charlotte/Concord for donation. Fourteen blankets and quilts were given to the Hospice of Cabarrus County; others were to be distributed by the Charlotte Quilt Guild. Sharon wanted to make special note of two FMCA chapters that enthusiastically supported the project. Members from the Northern Lights of Michigan chapter brought 26 items in an effort spearheaded by Shirley Dingman, F157198, and Mary Lou Korb, F116983. Quilters from the Cruisin Chariots chapter, organized by Lucy Klaas, F170694, donated 17 items. The quilts and blankets were displayed on Thursday. for convention-goers’ perusal.
Members of the FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity® traveled to Lenoir, North Carolina, for a “blitz build” following the convention, where they participated in the construction of a house from foundation through dedication. Convention attendees could stop in the Information Center to learn more about the chapter’s builds and make donations for future builds at a booth staffed by chapter representatives. The chapter is associated with Habitat for Humanity, an ecumenical Christian housing ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing worldwide.
Used eyeglasses also were collected during the convention to support the Lions’ Foundation Eyeglass Program, which works to ensure that needy people are able to enjoy the benefits of vision correction.
FMCA conventions would not be the grand events they are without the efforts of hundreds of volunteers who pitch in to keep the convention machine running. In Charlotte/Concord, approximately 850 FMCA members gave of their time in many areas, including coffee hour, computer help desk, FMCA Store, Frustrated Maestros, handicapped and activity golf cart transportation, information, parking layout, security, seminars, trams, and the youth program. Their assistance ensured that fellow convention attendees were able to travel the “Fast Track To Fun.” Volunteers, thanks to one and all!
Motorhomers can look forward to FMCA’s next international convention, the “Georgia Jubilee,” which will take place March, 19, 20, 21, and 22, 2007, in Perry, Georgia, at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter. It’s not too early to mark your calendar. We hope to see you there.