A Hall Fit for Kings

by Monte Dutton

A Hall Fit for Kings

CHARLOTTE — NASCAR opened its Hall of Fame on May 11, giving stock-car racing a shrine to rival baseball’s in Cooperstown, NY, football’s in Canton, Ohio and basketball’s in Springfield, Mass. by Monte Dutton As former Charlotte Motor Speedway president HA “Humpy” Wheeler, noted, “This is where the peach basket was put up in 1949, right out on Little Rock Road near the airport.”

Wheeler was referring to the site of NAS- CAR’s first major race, run on June 19, 1949, on a 3/4-mile dirt track that existed through 1956. That track was located near the present site of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame occupies a prominent share of the downtown skyline. It bears some resemblance to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. Above its massive walls, the Hall takes an oval shape, and there’s a practical reason. Inside, that oval shape translates into something of a simulated short track — and also a banked ramp to the second floor — with still, full-sized race cars placed around it, frozen in fanciful race mode.

The main floor is 10,000 square feet. Exhibit space exceeds 40,000 square feet. The overall budget was $154.5 million. The exhibit budget alone was $31 million.

The May 23 Induction Ceremony will officially enshrine NASCAR founder William HG (Big Bill) France; his successor and son, William C. (Bill Jr.) France; Richard Petty, stock-car racing’s most prolific winner; Dale Earnhardt, the only other driver to win seven championships; and Junior Johnson, who earned enduring fame as driver, mechanic and owner.

NASCAR has been around since 1948, but only five men get into the Hall of Fame each year. Inductions in succeeding years will be eagerly anticipated with legendary drivers like David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Lee Petty and Curtis Turner still waiting in the wings, so to speak.

Among the Hall’s features:

• A theater screen 65 feet wide and 15 feet high, along with a video wall containing 64 plasma-screen televisions.

• Visitors will wear either video cards or wristbands with computer chips, enabling holders to activate interactive parts of the museum like racing simulations and trivia.

• Each Hall of Fame inductee will have a “spire” with a video, emblematic photo and quote about him.

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at ‘ 2010 King Features Syndicate

NASCAR’s new Hall of Fame includes a simulated short track with full-sized race cars placed around it. (John Clark/NASCAR This Week photo)