Every year from mid-to-late May, race fans descend on the entire Charlotte area during what is known as Race Weeks. In no other large metropolitan area that NASCAR tours through is racing fever as electric as it is in the Queen City. This is such a big event in Charlotte that it was extended into a two week-long experience that comprises All-Star Week, followed by Memorial Day weekend and the Coca-Cola 600.
The only part of the NASCAR schedule that can compare in stature is Daytona Beach, Fla. with their Speedweeks to kick of the season. The Daytona 500 is without a doubt the biggest race of the season, but the Charlotte area benefits greatly as the home of nearly all of the race teams.
Racing-themed events are a great stimulus to the Charlotte economy, with the sheer number of attendees participating in at least one piece of the NASCAR celebration is estimated to be just shy of one million people.
Food Lion Speed Street receives the lion’s share of the foot traffic, with nearly half-a-million people walking through the city of Charlotte in this family-friendly party atmosphere.
“The three day event (May 24–26) has two draws, drivers and bands,” Jay Howard, president of JHE Production Group, Inc. told me in an interview two seasons ago. “We’re appealing to race fans and we’re appealing to event fans. The overall objective is to show people coming to town for the race, to show them a little bit of the city. And for people that are in the city, looking to go to events, expose them to a little bit of NASCAR.”
JHE Production Group officially kicks off the Race Weeks’ festivities with the start of All-Star Week at 7 p.m. today at Time Warner Cable Arena (May 16). This will be the eighth running of the annual NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge – an idea Howard conjured up while trying to find a way that NASCAR could mimic the wildly popular NBA All-Star slam dunk experience.
An announcement was made yesterday at the Media Challenge, that today is expected to be the first sellout in the history of the event.
Yesterday, Frontstretch participated in that Media Challenge, where we were trained by the two-time defending pit crew champions from the No. 11 FedEx team. We participated alongside Examiner.com as a team against other media outlets and if not for a hung lug nut or two, we would’ve made it into the semifinals. WCCB FOX 18 were the eventual champions of the Media Challenge.
After tonight’s Pit Crew Challenge, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a post-party across the street at his Whiskey River night club, where recording artist and former American Idol contestant Kelly Pickler will be performing for free. This will be sure to keep the epicenter humming into the early hours of Thursday morning.
Also today, local Walmart stores are also getting into the spirit of things. From 11:30-1:30, Trevor Bayne will be appearing at the 150 Concord Commons store and from 2-4 p.m., Jeff Burton will also be at the N. Tryon St. store. Walmart is just about the only big-box retailer where you can consistently find NASCAR paraphernalia.
Friday, May 18, the NASCAR Hall of Fame officially unveils the complete 2012 Class of Inductee exhibition in the Hall of Honor.
“We plan to deliver a special day of activities for the Inductees and their families, our Members and all our guests in conjunction with the Hall of Honor opening,” said Winston Kelley, executive director for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “The day promises to be memorable for all involved – our Inductees, members and guests.”
The on-track racing commences on Friday at 8:00 p.m. during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200. Preceding that race is the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 at 5:00 p.m.
May 19 at 7:30 p.m., the Sprint Showdown begins. The top-two finishers qualify for the week’s main event, the 9 p.m. NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, along with the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote.
May 22 from 6:00-9:00 p.m., Performance Instruction & Training (PIT) is hosting their third annual open house. Race fans have the chance to tour the 32,000-square-foot facility and gain insight on the pit crew training programs that are offered to those who aspire to become a full-time over the wall pit crew member.
Jeff Hammond, Timothy Peters and John King will be signing autographs from 6:30-7:30 p.m. On display will be King’s No. 7 Red Horse Racing Toyota Tundra, winner of the 2012 NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway in February. SPEED Energy will also be there with free samples of their energy drinks.
If you are in town, you can also stop by PIT’s booth at the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge to get a 10% discount towards Pit Crew U training if you cannot attend the open house. The shop is located at 156 Byers Creek Road, Mooresville.
May 23 at 6 p.m., is the fourth annual NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day. The vote will be followed by a press conference announcing the five new inductees who will join the first three classes. The announcement is open to fans that purchase a ticket to the NASCAR Hall of Fame for this day.
May 24 at 8 a.m., Roush Fenway Racing will host its annual Fan Day. Autograph sessions begin at 10:00am with Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bayne and team owner Jack Roush. Then Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle will sign for fans at 11:30 a.m. This event features several displays along with show cars, free samples, food and a band.
“Our fan day is a great opportunity for people of all ages to get to meet the drivers, see the show cars up close and learn about the wide range of products our sponsors offer,” said Jack Roush. “It is a fun way to kick off the Memorial Day race weekend and we enjoy having so many fans visit our facility.”
May 24 from 4:00-6:00 p.m., Brad Keselowski will be doing an autograph session at the Walmart on 8521 Concord Mills Boulevard. May 25, Biffle will be signing at the 5825 Thunder Road location from 10:30-11:30 a.m.
The 18th annual Food Lion Speed Street runs May 24-26 with free live entertainment and many vendor displays. Musical lineup consists of Loverboy and Night Ranger, Justin Moore, Halestorm, American Idol contestant Casey James and more.
Racing stars will also be making appearances during this time. Throughout its 17 years, Food Lion Speed Street has been visited by approximately 335 drivers. The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest standing sports entertainment property in the greater Charlotte region. Food Lion Speed Street has the next four positions in that statistic. Coca-Cola and Miller Lite joined during the inception in 1995, with Chevrolet and Food Lion jumping on board the following year.
Racecars will return to the track May 24 at 7:10 p.m., with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying. This is also Member Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, with a free shuttle available to and from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Members get to participate in simulator races at 9:00 a.m. and a member pit crew challenge at 2:00 p.m.
May 25 at 9:00 a.m. Richard Childress Racing and Childress Vineyards will have a day activities for fans at the winery and the RCR Museum.
Autograph sessions begin at 11 a.m. at the RCR Museum, followed at 1 p.m. at Childress Vineyards. Autographs include Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon, Elliott Sadler, Brendan Gaughan, Ty Dillon and Joey Coulter. You must have a ticket to these sessions. The event concludes at Childress Vineyards with a Tim Dugger concert.
“We’re looking forward to hosting our race and wine fans during a very special day at Childress Vineyards and the RCR Museum,” said Richard Childress, president and CEO of Richard Childress Racing and the proprietor of Childress Vineyards. “We’re going to have a lot of exciting activities at both places so we hope everyone has the chance to visit each one throughout the day.”
Racing returns to the track May 26 for NASCAR Nationwide Series History 300.
May 27, Darius Rucker will perform prior to the Coca-Cola 600 after the speedway’s military-themed pre-race show. At 6 p.m. is the Coca-Cola 600, concluding Charlotte’s economic windfall during Race Weeks.
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