Plan a NASCAR-Themed Weekend Getaway
Updated March 4, 2013
Families who play together stay together. And in this NASCAR-crazed state, families who race together take playing to an entirely different level. Less than three hours southwest of the Triangle, your family can experience the thrill of speeding around NASCAR's Charlotte Motor Speedway, explore state-of-the-art exhibits at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and drive go-karts at Concord Mills Mall. Throw in a meal at Mac's Speed Shop, visit Discovery Place and stay at Great Wolf Lodge, and you'll experience an entire weekend of nonstop fun.
Feel the thrill at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway covers 2,000 acres and stretches 1.5 miles around, with 5-degree banking on the front and back stretches, and 24-degree banking on all four turns. In June 1960, Joe Lee Johnson won the speedway's first race – and a $27,000 prize.
"It was, and still is, a 600-mile race," says tour guide Sean Fox.
The speedway accommodates the world's largest high definition video board (200-feet-wide by 80-feet-tall with 9.3 million LED light bulbs), and the Sprint Cup and Nationwide garages accommodate 50 racecars each.
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races are May 18, 23 and 26 and Oct. 10 and 12. The Nationwide Series races are May 25 and Oct. 11. In addition to May and October race weekends, families can camp at the racetrack year-round. Here are more highlights:
– Tours include Feel the Thrill Speedway and Over the Wall (tickets cost $10-$20/person).
– Race weekends feature family-friendly activities such as bounce houses, face painting, Ferris wheels and more.
– Charlotte Motor Speedway also includes a road course, dirt track and drag way.
– Tuesday night Summer Shootouts consist of races between Legends cars, Bandoleros and school buses (tickets cost $10; kids under age 13 get in free).
– Customers can drive their vehicles around the racetrack on Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) if they spend a certain amount of money in the speedway gift shop (last year it was $50).
– A 3.5-mile drive-through Christmas light show illuminates the speedway and nearby tracks with more than 2,000 lights during the holiday season (tickets range from $15-$20/car).
Learn more at charlottemotorspeedway.com.
Celebrate racing legends at 'The Hall'
The NASCAR Hall of Fame, on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in downtown Charlotte, honors stock racing's history, drivers and racecars. Plan to spend three or four hours there to fully experience all 50 interactive exhibits and activities. Refuel at the Pit Stop Café and take home a racing souvenir from the Gear Shop. Here are more ways to enjoy "The Hall":
– Experience the thrill of racing an iRacing Simulator ($5).
– Take the Kobolt Pit Challenge to see how quickly you can jack up a car, change a tire or refuel.
– Walk through a transporter for a firsthand look at a racing team's nerve center.
– Get up close and personal with 18 racecars on the banked ramp of Sunoco Glory Road.
– Watch a film about the history of NASCAR on the High Octane Theater's 64-foot-wide curved screen and learn about the pre-NASCAR era and modern era through films and artifacts.
– Learn about the technical and safety innovations of today's racecars.
– Watch up to 50 of NASCAR's greatest finishes on a big-screen TV.
– Check out Charlotte Speed Weeks, which take place the last two weekends of May at multiple locations in Uptown Charlotte and feature family-friendly events.
Learn more at nascarhall.com.
Explore more of Charlotte/Concord
Continue your NASCAR adventures in downtown Charlotte with a pit stop for lunch at Mac's Speed Shop on Atherton Street. This former transmission shop known for its barbecue is frequented by celebrities like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ernie Irvin, Jimmy Johnson, Angie Harmon, Michael Jordan and Jane Seymour. Check out the menu at macspeedshop.com and consider taking the 5-pound food challenge. "No one has eaten all 5 pounds of food yet," says manager Jayson Sauve.
Schedule at least three hours to visit Discovery Place on North Tryon Street, an interactive science museum where you can witness chemically compromised experiments, step inside an inflatable planetarium, lie on a bed of nails, journey through a rainforest habitat, experiment with air tubes, make crafts with duct tape, watch an IMAX movie and more. Learn more at discoverplace.org.
When you're ready to rest for the night, Great Wolf Lodge in Concord offers more than cozy lodge-style accommodations. Enjoy 80,000 square feet of 84-degree-waterpark fun that ranges from thrilling slides like the Howlin' Tornado to a giant bucket of water that dumps on anyone who dares to stand under it.
Younger children can splash around in a zero-depth area and parents can relax in the Slap Tail Pond wave pool. Later, start a game of MagiQuest, featuring wand-activated interactive modules located throughout the hotel's lobby and hallways. Enjoy some pampering at Scooops Spa and let the kids check out the Northern Lights Arcade while you have a drink at the Loose Moose Cottage bar or relax in front of the lobby's family-sized fireplace. Learn more at greatwolf.com.
Beth Shugg is the associate editor of Carolina Parent. She was a guest of the above attractions during a recent weekend trip to the Charlotte area.