When NASCAR began its search for a location for its Hall of Fame a few years ago, Charlotte immediately began putting together a package to land the coveted attraction. The city was the hub of the sport with its close proximity to all of the major race teams, plus it had Charlotte Motor Speedway that played host to the sport’s all-star race, along with two Cup events each year.
Charlotte eventually won the right to build the Hall, and with its recent grand opening, the city can officially make the claim that it is indeed the center of everything NASCAR. The sanctioning body got it right when it awarded Charlotte with the Hall as the city did the sport proud with the ultramodern facility that it constructed right in the heart of downtown.
Like my family does every year, we loaded the car and headed to Charlotte for its Speed Weeks celebration, but this year was different as we got our first up close look at the sport’s new HOF. We had been to Canton to see the Pro Football HOF and to Cleveland for the Rock-n-Roll HOF, but what awaited us in NASCAR’s shrine to the past was unlike anything we had seen.
Don’t even plan on going if you don’t have four to five hours to spend being entertained and educated about the sport. As you would expect, there are plenty of cars to look at from some of the first to ever compete in the sport, all the way up to the cars of today, including one of the cars that Jimmie Johnson used to win four consecutive Sprint Cup championships.
The multi-floored facility demands your attention at every turn but maybe its best-kept secrets are saved for the third floor. This is where the history of the sport is told in exhibits that feature artifacts from the very early days of the sport. The Hall paints you a picture of the evolution of the sport from the early days on the beach course at Daytona to where the sport is now.
The Hall really sets itself apart from any facility of its type by off ering so many interactive displays. When you enter the Hall you are given a “hard” card that you use to work the interactive displays. You can get your hands “dirty” by driving a simulator, changing a tire during a pit stop or by going through a real race day hauler. Once you get home you can take your “hard” card and go to the HOF website and punch in your number and it will tell you how you did on each interactive displays.
The facility is intended to be both entertaining and educational, but let’s not forget it is also home to where the sport honors the people who played such a huge role in racing. The HOF got it right when it inducted Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and Dale Earnhardt. All five of these belong in the Hall, and to see their likeness enshrined evokes a wide range of emotions.
If you are a big enough fan of the sport to go through the HOF then you know what these five individuals have meant to the sport. The France family is NASCAR, and without them chances are we would have never heard of the other three inductees.
I was lucky enough to see Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt drive, as well as seeing Junior Johnson on pit road wearing his headset, but seeing them in the Hall really drives it home just what roles they played in elevating the sport to where it is today. These are definitely the five who deserve to have gone in first, and their induction last Sunday put a huge stamp of approval on the sport’s Hall Of Fame.
When your day is finally over and you walk out of what has been one of the best days you have ever had in the sport, you know that NASCAR and Charlotte got it right!
Speculation is already beginning on who will make up the second class to be inducted next May. David Pearson seems to be high on everyone’s list with Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip also being mentioned. T. Wayne Robertson, who headed up Winston’s involvement in the sport, is also being mentioned as a possible candidate. The list of early car owners, mechanics and drivers who may be considered is lengthy, but expect one of them to be included when the final list is announced.
Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500. Track:
Pocono Raceway (2.5- mile tri-angle, (14 degrees in turn 1, 8 degrees in 2, 6 degrees in 3). Date:
June 6, 1 p.m. TV:
MRN. Defending Champion: