Nothing says USA more than apple pie, baseball or NASCAR. The association, founded in 1948 by Bill France Sr, held its first races on the beach of Daytona on a 3.2 mile lap and has since been a staple of Americana. Gentlemen, start your engines!
I feel compelled to state that, while I have always loved cars and lived in the United States for over 15 years, I have never been a true fan of the National Association of Stock Car Racing, better known as NASCAR. As a European, I am more accustomed to Formula One or rally competitions, yet having been to a few NASCAR races since, I must admit that the fanbase is absolutely incredible and the ambiance hard to match. As such, I really wanted to stop by the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina to see what it had to offer.
Having arrived a few minutes early, I spent some time taking to Wiet, a very pleasant Dutch/Fries expat pilot who was spending his retirement days volunteering for the museum and equally acknowledged that as a fellow European he didn’t care much for NASCAR per se, but certainly saw the fanbase appeal compared to other racing sports. At precisely 10am, he scanned my ticket and I was guided towards a green screen for the obligatory welcome photo, prior to being ushered into a large movie theatre for a 12-minute video. American P.R. and marketing at its best.
The museum is truly a tribute to all of the great drivers and tells the story of how NASCAR originated: as an underground moonshine movement whereby cars were modified to outrun police. Later, in an effort to show off to their fellow shiners, they raced against each other to see who had the fastest car and NASCAR was born.
Going over the history, from the bootlegging era to today's billion dollar industry, the Hall of Fame outlines each step with lots of memorabilia such as personal items, photos, videos and trophies, and a lot of attention is given to the interactive components. Just like a real NASCAR race, the fans are given the center of attention and made to feel an essential part of the experience.
Having been to a few NASCAR races myself, the ambiance and atmosphere outside of the track is legendary. Racers spend time with their fans, and everyone has the inclusive feeling that this is ‘their’ race. Unlike Formula One, which has an elitist snobbery feel to it, NASCAR understood the power of the people and how it would make the sport big.
Once arrived at the track area, visitors are encouraged to participate in simulators to see how fast they can change the tires, or to test their driving skills. In one of them, you compete with up to 16 other museum visitors as you get to drive about 5 laps of the famous Daytona International Speedway. During one of the races - I bought the unlimited pass - I raced against “Capt. Jack”. Both of us giving 200%, we battled back and forth in each others slipstream for first place, but in the ultimate round The Belgian had to give in to Capt. Jack by 0:019 seconds. With my best lap at 0:46:779, I left the simulator all giddy as the adrenaline was still going. What a fun ride and what a great way to get that museum experience going!
Overall I spent about 3 hours inside, which was not bad considering I have very limited NASCAR knowledge, but it was well worth the visit.
NASCAR Hall of Fame is located in Charlotte, NC
Hours: Open daily from 10-5pm
Visit: plan between 2-3 hours