Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

Memories of Speedweek at Charlotte
By Mark Baudermann
May 26, 2000

Well, it is that time of the year, again. The time of the year when all race fans are focused on the cities of Charlotte and Indianapolis.  For southern stock car fans, the time of the year when the city of Charlotte becomes a carnival of racing paraphernalia, and becomes the weekend home of NASCAR fans from throughout the country. It is time for Speedweek in the Queen City.

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While attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for two and a half years, I learned that this is the most exciting time of the year in Charlotte. This is the time of the year where NASCAR fans from around the country are in line to eat at places like the Sandwich Construction Company. The, usually, empty lots and fields that surround Charlotte, ..oops, Lowe's Motor Speedway, are filled beyond capacity with motor homes.  American, Confederate, and racing flags wave in the wind.

Thinking of speedweek makes me look back to the last time I stepped foot at the famed speedway. It was the Coca-Cola 600, in May of 1997. It was a dreary, soggy day, but it did not stop the 150,000 plus fans from attending the race. The fans were honorably wearing the colors and numbers of the drivers and teams they pull for. There was the smell of hot dogs, barbecue, and fried chicken in the air.  I close my eyes and can still smell them.

On the top of the motor homes were fans, drinking their brews, trying to get what little sun there was that day. Fans line up at the souvenir trailers; the lines for the Earnhardt and Gordon trailers stretch forever, while the lines for the lesser known drivers are sometimes non-existent.

As race time nears I make my way to the track, and proceed to the grandstand.  I walk along the narrow walkway, more commonly known as "chicken bone alley", to find my section. I find my seat, but not before turning my head to look at the track. It is an amazing spectacle to think that, on this day, the speedway itself will become the third largest city in North Carolina. 

The race begins, the engines roar, and the crowd cheers. As the race goes on, the smell of tires and exhaust becomes thicker, and the mood of the crowd changes with the performance of whatever driver they pull for. The race leader swaps several times; from Bobby Labonte, to Ernie Irvan, to Jeff Gordon, and so on. However, it is Gordon that will prevail on this day. It sits well with some of the fans, while others give their thumbs down. Yet, it does not matter to most because it was a good race. Hell, six-hundred miles is a long time, and it is a hundred more miles of drinking beer and having a good time. Some may have had too good of a time. A few rows behind me, an Earnhardt fan and a Jarrett fan exchange some words and some blows. That is OK, though. It is not a NASCAR race until Earnhardt fans yell at somebody.

Watching the Winston the other night bring back those memories.  I wish I was there at the speedway. To see Bill Elliott win the first two segments would have been exciting. To see Joe Nemechek turn the race into a demolition derby would have been even more exciting. I could just hear the reaction of the crowd.  The last time I was in Charlotte, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was a name I heard mentioned, but I never thought he would be in a cup car in three years. He stole the show, Wednesday night. 

The Coca-Cola 600, this coming Sunday night, should be another historical event at the famed speedway. I am predicting the younger Burton to repeat, but I will not be surprised to see Jarrett, Gordon, or "little E" on top at the end. One thing is for sure; when the race is over many fans will have the same lasting memories of speedweek at Charlotte, that I have.

Comments can be sent to the author at contacts@autoracing1.com.

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