A young boy dressed in a NASCAR-themed T-shirt zooms around the lobby of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte. He’s so excited, it’s hard to keep up with him, but he eventually makes his way to a hands-on station showcasing six generations of NASCAR dashes and steering wheels.
“Everyone can relate to the automobile,” says Buz McKim, the Hall’s on-staff historian and one of the warmest people you’ll meet.
McKim, a native of New Jersey, but raised in NASCAR-heavy Daytona Beach, ensures that every fan will enjoy the exhibits that he and the hall plan each season. “I’m a fan first,” he says, “so I plan our exhibits based on what I would want to see. It’s really a dream job.”
Celebrating its 10-year anniversary this May, the Hall is an interactive museum dedicated to the history and heritage of NASCAR, which has deep roots in the Charlotte region. The high-tech venue is designed to educate and engage race fans, but you don’t have to be a hard-core fan to enjoy a day at the Hall.
The four-story, 150,000-square-foot attraction can seem a bit daunting, so McKim suggests starting in the theater with a brief video overview of the history of the sport and what to expect on your visit to the Hall.
Fully briefed in NASCAR 101, you’ll start your journey along Glory Road, a path that changes gradually from zero to 33 degrees, replicating every turn in NASCAR. The Road covers the evolution of the race car through the decades—beginning with the 1952 Hudson Hornet and ending with the 2013 No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, the car that Matt Kenseth drove during his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing. All of the cars along the Road are authentic except two (No. 6 and No. 21 are replicas), and all have a story to tell.
“They’re all great,” says McKim. “But my favorite is probably the 1966 ‘Banana car.’” Fred Lorenzen drove the No. 26 Ford Galaxie for Junior Johnson during the Dixie 400 at Atlanta International Raceway in August 1966. The yellow car—with a slightly concave body that resembles a banana—qualified third and was leading midway through the race when a front hub broke and the car hit the wall. This controversial Ford stock car brought attention to the need for body templates, which have been used in the NASCAR inspection process ever since.
For the adventurous, there are driving simulators and pit-crew challenges on the second floor, along with other activities that might occur during race week. The Hall of Honor on the third floor pays tribute to the year’s Hall of Fame inductees, most recently highlighting the careers of Joe Weatherly, Red Allen White, Fred Lorenzen and others. And from a list of impressive nominees (fans can nominate in this sport, according to McKim), the 2016 Hall of Fame class will be announced on May 20.
History buffs, save your time for the fourth floor, which offers a full history of NASCAR from its roots (there’s even a functioning Junior Johnson moonshine still) to information about Founder Bill France and the first formal race in 1948 and through today. The floor is divided into three sections: early history through 1971, 1972-1999, and 1999-today, with an interesting section highlighting added safety features through the years.
Hungry after all the action? Stop by the Pit Stop Café for a sandwich or snack, or visit the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant located on property. For something to bring home to your friends and family, hit up the NASCAR Hall of Fame Gear Shop before you leave.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Parking is available on Brevard Street. For more information and up-to-the-minute race-week events, visit nascarhall.com.