Charlotte Motor Speedway

Coordinates: .mw-parser-output .geo-default,.mw-parser-output .geo-dms,.mw-parser-output .geo-dec{display:inline}.mw-parser-output .geo-nondefault,.mw-parser-output .geo-multi-punct,.mw-parser-output .geo-inline-hidden{display:none}.mw-parser-output .longitude,.mw-parser-output .latitude{white-space:nowrap}35°21′09″N 80°40′57″W / 35.35250°N 80.68250°W / 35.35250; -80.68250

Motorsport track in the United States

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Charlotte Motor Speedway
America’s Home for Racing

Quad-oval (1960–present)
Location 5555 Concord Parkway South, Concord, North Carolina, 28027
Time zone UTC−5 (UTC−4 DST)
Coordinates .mw-parser-output .geo-default,.mw-parser-output .geo-dms,.mw-parser-output .geo-dec{display:inline}.mw-parser-output .geo-nondefault,.mw-parser-output .geo-multi-punct,.mw-parser-output .geo-inline-hidden{display:none}.mw-parser-output .longitude,.mw-parser-output .latitude{white-space:nowrap}35°21′09″N 80°40′57″W / 35.35250°N 80.68250°W / 35.35250; -80.68250
Owner Speedway Motorsports (1976–present)
Broke ground 28 July 1959; 64 years ago (1959-07-28)
Opened 15 June 1960; 63 years ago (1960-06-15)
Construction cost $2 million USD
Former names Lowe’s Motor Speedway (1999–2009)
Major events Current:
NASCAR Cup Series
Coca-Cola 600 (1960–present)
Bank of America Roval 400 (1960–present)
NASCAR All-Star Race (1985, 1987–2019)
Former:
IMSA SportsCar Championship
Grand Prix of Charlotte (1971, 1974, 1982–1986, 2000, 2020)
Pirelli World Challenge (2000, 2007)
Indy Racing League
VisionAire 500K (1997–1999)
Can-Am (1978–1979)
Website charlottemotorspeedway.com
Quad Oval (1960–present)
Surface Asphalt
Length 1.500 miles (2.414 km)
Turns 4
Banking Turns: 24°
Straights:
Race lap record 0:24.735 (Sweden Kenny Bräck, Dallara IR-7, 1998, IndyCar)
NASCAR Road Course “Roval” (2019–present)[a]
Surface Asphalt
Length 2.280 miles (3.669 km)
Turns 17
Banking Oval turns: 24°
Oval straights:
Race lap record 1:18.188 (United States Paul Menard, Chevrolet Camaro Trans-Am, 2022, Trans-Am)
NASCAR Road Course “Roval” (2018)[a]
Surface Asphalt
Length 2.280 miles (3.669 km)
Turns 17
Banking Oval turns: 24°
Oval straights:
Race lap record 1:18.078 (United States Kyle Larson, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, 2018, NASCAR Cup)
Roval (1971–2014)
Surface Asphalt
Length 2.250 miles (3.621 km)
Turns 18
Banking Oval turns: 24°
Oval straights:
Race lap record 1:05.524 (Denmark Jan Magnussen, Panoz LMP-1 Roadster-S, 2000, LMP900)

Charlotte Motor Speedway (formerly known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway from 1999 to 2009 due to sponsorship reasons) is a 1.500-mile (2.414 km) quad-oval intermediate speedway in Concord, North Carolina. It has hosted various major races since its inaugural season of racing in 1960, including NASCAR, IndyCar, and IMSA SportsCar Championship races. The track is currently owned by Speedway Motorsports, LLC (SMI), with Greg Walter serving as the track’s general manager. Charlotte Motor Speedway is served by U.S. Route 29.

The speedway has a capacity of 95,000 as of 2021, down from its peak of over 170,000 in the 1990s and 2000s. The track features numerous amenities, including a Speedway Club, condos, and a seven-story tower located on the complex for office space and souvenirs. In addition, the Charlotte Motor Speedway complex features numerous adjacent tracks, including a .mw-parser-output .frac{white-space:nowrap}.mw-parser-output .frac .num,.mw-parser-output .frac .den{font-size:80%;line-height:0;vertical-align:super}.mw-parser-output .frac .den{vertical-align:sub}.mw-parser-output .sr-only{border:0;clip:rect(0,0,0,0);clip-path:polygon(0px 0px,0px 0px,0px 0px);height:1px;margin:-1px;overflow:hidden;padding:0;position:absolute;width:1px}15 mile (0.32 km) clay short track, a 25 mile (0.64 km) dirt track, and a 14 mile (0.40 km) long drag strip. The main track also features an infield road course that is used with the oval to make a “roval“.

With the rise of popularity in stock car racing in the American Southeast that began in the late 1940s and stretched into the 1950s, racing promoter Bruton Smith sought to build a state-of-the-art facility. At the same time, driver and businessman Curtis Turner sought to do the same. After initially refusing, Turner eventually partnered with Smith after Smith agreed to sell shares needed for the track’s construction. Construction of the track was completed in less than 11 months. The track immediately faced a litany of issues, particularly financial woes. Within the track’s first decade of existence, ownership changed hands numerous times, with Smith and Turner both leaving. After a period of stability under the ownership of Richard Howard from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, Smith and his new partner, racing promoter and eventual longtime track general manager Humpy Wheeler, completed a takeover of the track in 1976. Since then, the Smith family and their company, SMI, have directed the track’s expansion and growth into becoming one of the largest sports facilities in the United States.

Description[edit]

Configurations[edit]

The speedway in its current form is measured at 1.5 miles (2.4 km), with 24 degrees of banking in the turns and five degrees of banking on the track’s frontstretch and backstretch.[1] Within the main track’s frontstretch, there is a 14 mile (0.40 km) oval that was built in 1991 that is primarily used for legends car racing.[2]

Numerous tracks exist in the track’s infield. In 1970, the track announced plans for an infield road course that was connected to the speedway’s backstretch. According to then-general manager Richard Howard, original plans for the speedway included a road course, but was cut due to budget issues.[3] The original road course’s length has varied in reports; the track has been reported to be as short as 1.75 miles (2.82 km) according to the Salisbury Post,[4] and as long 1.9 miles (3.1 km) long according to The Charlotte Observer. The road course held its first races on May 22, 1971 as part of the 1971 World 600 race weekend.[5] By August 1974, the track was reconfigured to become 2.25 miles (3.62 km).[6] In 2018, the road course was modified to suit NASCAR racing, adding a backstretch chicane.[7] In 2019, the speedway’s chicane was modified.[8] In 2020, the track constructed a purpose-built go-kart track in the track’s infield.[9]

Amenities[edit]

The track is located directly next to U.S. Route 29.[10][11] At the time of the track’s initial construction, the complex covered 551 acres and had a capacity of around 30,000.[12] Over the span of several decades, the track and its complex has expanded and been improved numerous times. Throughout the ownership of Bruton Smith, the track saw capacity grow, seeing a peak of over 170,000 by the end of the 1980s.[13] However, since the 2000s, capacity has seen a decrease, with multiple grandstands being demolished in the 2010s.[14][15] As of 2021, the track is reported to have a capacity of 95,000.[16] The complex has also expanded to around 2,000 acres as of 2020.[17]

Numerous buildings are located on the complex for various uses. In 1983, to celebrate the track’s 25th anniversary, the track announced the construction of 36 condominiums that were built to overlook the track’s first turn.[18] By the time the project was completed in mid-1984, the amount of condos increased to 40, and all were sold out by the end of 1983.[19][20] At the end of 1984, the track announced the construction of a mall underneath the condos.[21] In 1987, the track announced the construction of a members-only private club and restaurant named The Speedway Club, with annual membership starting at $6,500 (adjusted for inflation, $17,432).[22]

Adjacent tracks[edit]

The Charlotte Motor Speedway complex has two adjacent tracks and a dragstrip near the main speedway. By 1993, the track built a 15 mile (0.32 km) clay short track that was made to conduct dirt legends car races.[23] On August 10, 1999, then-general manager Humpy Wheeler announced the construction of a new 38 mile (0.60 km) dirt track that was to be constructed across the main speedway.[24] By January 2000, however, the track length changed to become a 25 mile (0.64 km) track.[25] The track held its first races on May 28, 2000, with the track featuring a lighting system and a capacity of 15,000.[26][25]

The Charlotte Motor Speedway drag strip pictured in 2008. The drag strip was built after a tumultuous and controversial approval process.

In August 2007, owner of Speedway Motorsports, Bruton Smith, announced plans to build a drag strip on the complex.[27] Although the plan faced heavy opposition initially from local politicians,[28] the drag strip was eventually built after Smith threatened to close down the speedway due to opposition,[29] coercing the city to give him an incentive package of approximately $80 million using fears that shutting down the speedway would cripple the Concord economy.[30][31] The drag strip, which cost $60 million to build,[32] held its first races in September 2008.[33]

History[edit]

Planning and construction[edit]

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Stock car racing, with its origins tracing back to moonshiners during the Prohibition era, oversaw a rise of popularity within the American Southeast throughout the 1940s and 1950s. With this rise, new modern tracks, such as Darlington Raceway, were built across the Southeast.[34] In the late 1950s, Bruton Smith, a promoter who had found major success promoting races across the Carolinas, sought to build his own racetrack. In 1956, he partnered with businessman John William Propst Jr. to build a racetrack. At the same time, driver and successful timber businessman, Curtis Turner, sought to do the same, collaborating with local track officials.[34][35] In 1958, Propst suffered a heart attack, backing out of the partnership due to health issues. Due to this, Smith sought to partner with Turner. After a few weeks of initial success, in a meeting at the Barringer Hotel, Turner declined to partner with Smith. For numerous reasons, including the feeling of betrayal, the fact that Turner did not have enough funds to start his own track, and knowing that the city of Charlotte could only support one track, Smith announced his intentions of building his own speedway to rival Turner’s on April 22, 1959, the same day Turner announced his track.[34][35] On May 8, Turner announced the track would be built bordering U.S. Route 29, inside of Cabarrus County, North Carolina, with a capacity of 30,000.[12] However, Turner struggled to sell the 300,000 shares needed. Turner eventually agreed to partner with Smith, with Smith becoming the vice president of the track and selling 100,000 shares.[36][35] Additional stocks to be sold were added in December 1959[37] and April 1960.[38]

Groundbreaking on the track commenced on July 28, 1959. It was meant to start two months earlier, but was delayed due to legal issues.[39] The track was immediately plagued with numerous construction issues. The construction crew who worked on the track discovered large veins of granite underneath the track’s soil shortly after groundbreaking. To get rid of it, grading contractor W. Owen Flowe decided to blast it with dynamite, causing delays.[34] Reports of feral hornets were also made, leading to multiple workers quitting.[40] In March 1960, three snowstorms delayed construction even further;[34] although, the track’s publicity director insisted that the track’s construction was “still ahead of schedule”.[41] By the end of March, developers considered scrapping plans for grandstands to save time.[42] The issues caused the track’s first major race, the NASCAR-sanctioned 1960 World 600, to be delayed from its original date on May 29 to June 19.[43] Longtime NASCAR mechanic Smokey Yunick called the construction location “a giant mistake. If they’d have searched North Carolina for the worst possible place to build a racetrack, that’s where they built it.”[34] Smith blames Turner for the delays; according to Smith, Turner would commonly hire people irrationally while under the influence of alcohol, with Smith having to turn them away.[34] Despite these issues, the project saw additional funding and a $300,000 loan from Washington D.C. businessman James L. McIlvaine, who was so confident that the project would succeed that he stated in The Charlotte Observer, “This is going to be one of the best investments I’ve ever made, and I’ve made some good ones.”[44]

Nearing the end of the track’s construction, a mutiny formed between Flowe and his workers, citing unpaid fees and bounced checks. On June 9, days before the World 600, Flowe parked several earthmovers on the track and stopped construction, with Flowe threatening to sue.[45] Disputing accounts exist of what happened to suppress it; according to Flowe, he and his workers were threatened with a gun by numerous people, including Smith and Turner, threatening to shoot them if they did not continue working.[46] According to Smith, only Turner showed up with a shotgun and proceeded to “[act] like he was somebody” before a guard took away his gun.[34] Eventually, construction resumed, and construction was barely completed by the time the first days of activities occurred for the 1960 World 600.[34][47][48] In later interviews, Smith called it a “miracle” the track was built, having admitted to losing $150,000 building it.[35][49] The track cost around two million dollars according to McIlvaine,[50] with $74,000 in debts owed to Flowe by the end of its initial construction.[51]

Early extreme track and financial troubles[edit]

The track officially opened to cars for a practice session on June 15, 1960. Immediately, the track saw issues. During the track’s first day, incomplete facilities were reported by The State.[52] To further compound problems, the asphalt of the track had several holes due to speeds of approximately 130 miles per hour (210 km/h) of the track. The issue had gotten so prevalent that Charlotte Observer writer George Cunningham reported that “four gravel-deep fox holes grew… out of the second turn. And practically the entire surface on the third and fourth turns resembled an old lady’s wrinkled face”.[53] However, some hope remained that the track would cure at faster speeds, including driver Fireball Roberts.[54] Track leaders ordered a hasty repave of the track, and by the next day, most of the track’s surface held up.[55] By June 18, more financial problems ensued; the track was sued by Roy E. Thomas, a souvenir program advertising seller, for $10,000 (adjusted for inflation, $102,992) for breach of contract because he was let go of his job.[56] By race day, Smith began to pray that the race would go over halfway so he would not have to give out refunds.[34] During the race itself, track surface issues resurfaced; numerous mechanical problems, including blown tires, broken axles, suspensions giving out, and other problems were reported by drivers such as Tom Pistone, Doug Yates, and Ned Jarrett due to the track’s rough surface. Another driver, Emanuel Zervakis, stated, “It’s rough as hell! All the cars will have to be rebuilt… there’s no doubt about it”.[57] In addition, the track was reported to have come apart in numerous areas, with drivers having to avoid flying pieces of asphalt during the race.[34] Max Muhlehurn, writer for The Charlotte News, stated that “The 600 will go down in history as the only race ever run in which drivers were forced to dodge track blemishes more often than other cars”.[58]

By July 17, McIlvaine spread rumors that the track would appoint new management, under either NASCAR president Bill France Sr. or Darlington Raceway president Bob Colvin.[50] The rumor was repelled by both Smith and Turner, with Turner threatening legal action.[59] Within the next couple months, numerous claims of Smith and Turner owing money to various groups and companies were made, including owing $90,000 to the Connecticut General Life Insurance Co.,[60] $40,200 to the Internal Revenue Service,[61] $65,000 to Propst and his construction company, and $204,000 to McDevitt Street and Co. The track also was found to have defaulted on their initial mortgage.[62] By August, only Propst had been paid off, with further repaves scheduled to fix track surface issues.[63] In November 22, the track was reported to have amassed around $1 million in debts.[64] Two more lawsuits were filed in January 1961 by excavating companies.[65] In February, the track wished to host a National Football League (NFL) exhibition game between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles;[66] however, the deal fell through when Smith found terms from Redskins owner George Preston Marshall to be unreasonable.[67]

On March 1, 1961, Flowe filed a civil action lawsuit against the track, seeking to recover $138,155.28 in reparations for construction costs, claiming breach of contract.[68] Three months later, as of result of McIlvaine threatening the foreclosure and subsequent auction of the track, Turner and Smith resigned from the board of directors, with Smith staying as a promotional director.[69] Board of directors member Duke Ellington replaced Turner as the track’s general manager. Turner later accused Smith and Ellington on conspiring to oust him, along with stating inflated profits.[70] In July, Turner and his investor group announced plans to regain control of the track by either buying the track in a public sale or accumulating enough stock.[71] By August, even though the track experienced an “unusually successful” 1961 World 600, they warned stockholders that the track was in “serious trouble and can only gain financial stability through the arrangement of long-term financing immediately”.[72] By the beginning of October, with the track still having $500,000 in debt, foreclosure proceedings began, with the track being planned to be sold at auction on October 30.[73] In attempts to stop it, numerous solutions were brought up, including seeking to take out a “miracle” loan[74] and Smith partnering to raise $600,000 with investors to save the track.[75] After the auction was delayed,[76] on November 3, James Braxton Craven Jr., a judge for the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, ruled to let the district court take over and manage the track, with the track entering Chapter 10 bankruptcy, ceasing all officers’ and directors’ positions. The track was also protected from creditors by the count, essentially becoming a ward.[77][78]

Bankruptcy under federal court control[edit]

In the aftermath of Craven’s ruling, Robert Nelson Robinson, a local Charlotte lawyer, was appointed to run the track by Craven.[79] Numerous loan offers to pull the track out of its financial woes, including separate offers from businessmen Roger D. Edwards[80] and Dwight Cross were made.[81] On December 9, Craven ruled to let the track’s management find loans and funds to creditors who were seeking money, with Robinson being ordered to come up with a plan to ensure the $900,000 payment to various creditors, essentially saving the track.[82] By the beginning of January 1962, however, no progress was made, leading to threats from Craven to liquidate the track by March if no plan was made.[83] By the end of the month, a stockholders committee, headed by A. C. Goines, planned to ask the nearly 2,300 shareholders of the track to buy trustee certificates ranging from $100-1,000, with a plan to raise $300,000; half of the $600,000 needed to start reorganization.[84] After a “wonderful” initial stockholder meeting on February 18,[85] a last-ditch effort was scheduled to raise $50,000 six days later.[86] On the day of the meeting, the committee was successful in raising the $300,000 needed.[87] However, Cross, who was planning to loan the rest of the funds needed, was rejected.[88] By May, Craven ordered a investigation on the track to find out instances of mismanagement.[89] By July, although Craven was convinced the track could be saved,[90] the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was asked to assist with the investigation due to preliminary findings of mismanagement and potential fraud.[91][92] Eventually, a reorganization plan hearing was set for November 5.[93]

In October, a new $345,000 loan from McIlvaine was guaranteed despite the track owing McIlvaine over $300,000, taking more financial pressure off the track.[94] The next month, Craven approved a plan made by Robinson that would let stockholders and creditors vote on a reorganization plan from December to January 3, 1963.[95][96] Although the plan initially did not receive enough support from creditors,[97] the plan was eventually approved,[98] with Craven giving final approval for a stock sale in February.[99] By April, the plan saw major success, with the track paying over $740,000 of its debt.[100] In mid-April, Craven let the track back into private owners’ hands, headed by an 11-person board of directors led by A. C. Goines that was to last for at least one year, completing the reorganization process.[101] In that same year, Bruton Smith left his job as a result of him being found guilty of failing to properly file tax returns in 1955 and 1956.[102][103]

Richard Howard era, stabilization[edit]

By December 1963, Goines declared while announcing a 10% stock dividend, “We’ve taken some bitter medicine, but the patient has been saved”.[104] By February 1964, the track saw a profit for the first time.[105] Goines resigned after the mandatory one-year period, with his position being filled by leading stockholder Richard Howard, a furniture store owner.[106] The track later oversaw numerous driver fatalities in the mid-1960s; longtime driver Glenn “Fireball” Roberts died on July 2, 1964 due to complications from a fiery crash at the 1964 World 600,[107] and Harold Kite, a World War II veteran, died on October 17, 1965, during the 1965 National 400 in a crash on the race’s first lap.[108]

Under the leadership of Howard, the track was able to pay off its mortgage three years early, finally ending the last of the track’s financial woes.[109] Throughout Howard’s tenure, he was seen as a “good ol’ country boy” who spent conservatively on the track; however, he was willing to renovate parts of the track and add capacity.[110] In 1965, the track opted to diversify their holdings, buying out the Rightway Investment Corporation, an insurance finance company.[111] By 1970, the track announced constructions of a new road course,[3] along with new grandstands according to tax records.[112] By the early 1970s, the track was increasing their profits year-by-year.[113]

Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler’s takeover[edit]

In the mid-1970s, after a successful stint in the car dealership business, Smith, keeping his true thoughts away from the public at the time, thought that owning the track during this time would be an highly profitable venture, with the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and its subsidiary Winston introducing their sponsorship of the NASCAR Cup Series in 1970.[114] By 1973, Smith bought almost 500,000 shares from his initial amount of 40,000 when he resigned, with Smith stating that he did not know why he bought as many as he did.[115] By early 1974, despite an attempt to stop elections for the track’s board of directors,[116] Smith was elected as the track’s chairman, effectively placing him back in charge. Howard was elected as the track’s president.[117][103] Later that year, Howard announced a $2.5 million renovation of the track, aimed at improving the physical appearance of the track and adding seating.[118]

Throughout 1975, Howard and Smith spat on each other in the media, entering a fierce battle for control. In January, Howard regained control of the board of directors despite threatening to resign.[119] By early February, Howard stated that that he was tired of the track being run from Illinois, where Smith lived. In response, Smith accused him of consolidating too much power along with financial irregularities.[120] In July, Smith bought around 80,000 shares from Howard’s relatives, which was considered a major turning point in the battle for control.[121] On August 29, H. A. “Humpy” Wheeler, a former public relations representative for various companies, was hired as the track’s development director.[122] With the hire, Howard felt his position was threatened, with local media predicting that Wheeler’s hiring was the final piece for a total takeover by Smith.[123][110] By October 5, The Atlanta Constitution reported that the 1975 National 500 was to be Howard’s final race with the track, with a final decision to come on January 30, 1976, the day of the annual stockholders’ meeting.[124] Although Howard initially denied these claims[125] and later stated interest of taking a consultant job with Smith, Howard stated he was “99% certain” of leaving by October 23.[126] On the day of the meeting, a tearful Howard officially announced his resignation from his position, essentially giving Smith full control over the track, with Wheeler filling in as president.[127]

Humpy Wheeler era, promotions, failed NFL proposal[edit]

Under the track leadership of Wheeler and Smith, the track became known for its promotions and rapid expansion to modernize and promote the facility. In Wheeler’s first year as president, he announced a $3–5 million renovation that was to be completed in 1981.[128] Wheeler became known in the following years for pulling off elaborate and unique promotions. In 1976, he convinced Janet Guthrie to enter the 1976 World 600 to attract female spectators.[129][130] In 1977, to promote a rivalry between longtime driver Cale Yarborough and newcomer Darrell Waltrip, he paraded around a contraption that poked fun at Waltrip’s nickname, “Jaws”, and Yarborough’s sponsor, Holly Farms Poultry. Wheeler placed a dead chicken inside a dead shark’s mouth, placed it on a pickup truck’s sling, and paraded it before first round qualifying of the 1977 NAPA National 500.[131] In 1980, the track announced further renovations worth $16 million, with a stated goal of bringing capacity to 150,000.[132] In 1983, the track announced the construction of 36 condominiums;[18] the number later increased for 40, and all sold out by its completion by 1984 despite initial mockery.[19][20]

In 1985, the city of Charlotte sought to attract a professional football team. In March, Smith announced plans to build a football stadium on the track’s frontstretch,[133] with a capacity of 76,000, temporary endzone grandstands, and retractable grandstand seating behind the track’s pit road.[134] Original plans for the track had included a football stadium, but was scrapped due to numerous factors in construction.[135][136] During the official announcement on March 13, Smith stated that he would build it if either the local government or investors gave him $10 million.[134] He oversaw competition from fellow Charlotte businessman George Shinn, who wanted either a National Football League (NFL) or a team in the fledgling United States Football League (USFL). However, Smith only wanted an NFL team.[137] The city refused to assist with construction costs, and all plans died within the year;[136] however, Smith did state renewed interest of hosting an NFL team at the track two years later.[138]

Mass expansion and improvement, injury-riddled period[edit]

Night racing at the 2008 Bank of America 500. In 1992, the track installed lights to accommodate night racing, the first track of its size to do so.

In 1987, the track built a membership-exclusive club and restaurant named The Speedway Club.[22] By the end of the 1980s, the track had a maximum capacity of 170,922.[13] In 1991, Smith directed the installation of lights at the track with the help of Iowa-based Musco Lighting. At the time, it was viewed as a major feat as no oval track as big as the Charlotte Motor Speedway had ever implemented such a system.[139] The lights were installed by April 1992.[140] In 1994, the track renovated its garage area at a cost of around $1 million, drawing praise from driver Dale Jarrett.[141] In 1999, the track partnered with hardware retail chain Lowe’s to buy out naming rights to the track, the first time a corporate sponsor ever had naming rights to a track.[142]

Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, the track oversaw numerous injuries and fatalities from both drivers and spectators. In 1989, Wheeler created the NASCAR Sportsman Division, a series that had the intended goal of giving short track drivers experience on longer tracks. The track played host to numerous races.[143] The series immediately gained a reputation for being a dangerous division due to a series of crashes within the span of six years at the track. A series of three fatal crashes occurred; David Gaines in 1990,[144] Gary Batson in 1992,[145] and Russell Phillips in 1995, with the third being decapitated when his head hit a caution light.[146][147] By the end of 1995, Wheeler gave control of the series to NASCAR, who ended it quickly afterward in 1996.[148][147] In 1999, during a Indy Racing League race, the 1999 VisionAire 500K, an early accident involving Stan Wattles and John Paul Jr. occurred on the speedway’s front stretch, resulting in heavy debris. Wattles’ right rear wheel and tire assembly flew into the grandstands at high speeds, killing three people and injuring eight more, cancelling the race.[149] In 2000, after the 2000 The Winston, a pedestrian bridge collapsed, injuring 107 people,[150] which was later blamed on the manufacturer of the bridge for using an improper additive.[151][152] In the next two years, two ARCA drivers died in accidents; Blaise Alexander in 2001,[153] and Eric Martin in 2002.[154]

In 2005, the track announced a repave, with the track using a process called levigation to smooth out bumps on the track’s surface.[155] The repave led to numerous problems for both of the track’s NASCAR race weekends in 2005, leading to another repave in 2006.[156][157] In 2007, Smith announced plans to construct a drag strip.[27] The plan was met with heavy criticism from the Concord City Council, making a special legislative session to decide whether to block plans for it.[28] Smith vehemently opposed it, deciding to start preliminary grading on it regardless.[158] On October 2, the council voted unanimously to block Smith’s plans.[159] In response, Smith threatened to shut down the track or to relegate it to a testing facility unless the decision was reversed, which would lead to a massive financial blow in the Concord economy.[29] The council quickly backtracked, and tried to convince Smith to stay by offering Smith a lofty incentive package of $80 million, a street named in his honor, and a tax break along with letting him build the drag strip.[30] On November 26, Smith stated his final decision in letting the track continue as is, stating, “We’re here forever”.[31]

Turbulent retirement of Wheeler[edit]

Tensions between Smith and Wheeler had been documented since 1991, with the two being in “constant disagreement” over topics.[160] By 2008, Wheeler grew angry at several new developments Smith directed, including the controversial drag strip.[161] On May 21, 2008, Wheeler announced his abrupt retirement from his position at the track that was effective after the 2008 Coca-Cola 600, ending a reign since 1975.[162] Although Smith claimed that he offered Wheeler a consulting job and that Wheeler himself hoped for a part-time position,[163][164] he would leave all track duties related to the track.[162] Wheeler was replaced by Marcus Smith, one of Smith’s sons.[165] In 2009, corporate sponsor Lowe’s ended its partnership with the track, ending an 11-year partnership, with the track reverting back to the “Charlotte Motor Speedway” name.[166]

Steady attendance declines, renovations[edit]

NASCAR racing at the track’s roval course. In 2018, NASCAR changed their fall race weekend to race on the track’s roval.

Throughout the 2010s, the track oversaw steady attendance declines that correlated with an overall attendance decline within NASCAR. As a result, the track tore down 41,000 seats in 2014,[14] and an unspecified amount of seats in 2017.[15] In 2017, the track was used for filming of the movie Logan Lucky, a fictional movie about a heist that involved a group of people stealing $14 million from the track.[167] In 2018, Marcus stepped down from general manager responsibilities to focus on running SMI as its CEO, handing the position over to the speedway’s executive vice president at the time, Greg Walter. In interviews, Walter expressed a desire for expanding the track’s uses for endeavors other than racing, along with further renovations.[168] In 2021, the NASCAR All-Star Race, which had been held at the track annually with two exceptions in 1986 and 2020, was moved to the Texas Motor Speedway to try and reverse sagging attendance at Texas.[169]

The track has seen numerous renovations and additions since the 2010s. In 2011, Marcus directed the construction of a 200 foot by 80 foot television screen on the track’s backstretch, demolishing old backstretch seats in the process.[170] In 2015, the track renovated its barriers in response to Kyle Busch‘s injury at the Daytona International Speedway in February.[171] In 2023, the track announced plans to build a dedicated road course.[172]

Events[edit]

Racing events[edit]

NASCAR[edit]

Since 1960, the track has held two annual NASCAR Cup Series races per year: the World 600 (known as the Coca-Cola 600 for sponsorship reasons) and the Bank of America Roval 400. The World 600 was originally planned to be run on American Independence Day weekend;[173] however, after the success of the inaugural Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway which was held on July 4, this was put under doubt.[174] On September 23, 1959, a race date was set for Memorial Day weekend.[175] Upon the race’s inaugural iteration, the race became one of the longest, largest, and highest-paying motor races in the world.[176][177] Since its inaugural race, the race has become a staple on the NASCAR schedule, becoming a “crown jewel” event for being the longest race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule annually.[178][179]

The latter was formerly a 500-mile race that was commonly known as the National 500, which was run in October. Initially a 400-mile race, the inaugural race was officially announced on June 29, 1960, two weeks after the inaugural World 600.[180] In 1966, the race distance increased to 501 miles, which remained until 2018.[181] In 2018, in attempts to reverse declining attendance for the race, the race both decreased to 400 kilometers and was run on a specialized “roval” course.[182][183]

In 1985, Wheeler and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company directed the creation of The Winston (now called the NASCAR All-Star Race), a race that featured race winners of the previous season.[184] Since 1987, the track ran the event annually, with various changes to its format and eligibility rules throughout its time.[185] However, in 2020, the race was moved to the Bristol Motor Speedway due to COVID-19 restrictions.[186] In 2021, the race officially moved to the Texas Motor Speedway to reverse declining attendance at Texas.[169]

Open wheel racing[edit]

In late 1979, the United States Auto Club (USAC) announced plans to run a 500 kilometres (310 mi) race in October 1980.[187] However, the race was cancelled in April due to an agreement with USAC and Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART).[188] In December 1996, IndyCar announced plans for an IndyCar race to be held in July 1997.[189] The race ran for three years; the last race was cancelled after an accident caused flying debris that killed three spectators.[149]

Other racing series[edit]

Numerous runnings of the Grand Prix of Charlotte, a sports car event, have been run by various organizations. In 2000, the track held a one-off Grand Prix of Charlotte that was sanctioned American Le Mans Series.[190] The race was last run in 2020 by the IMSA SportsCar Championship.[191]

Festivals[edit]

A crowd of people at the August Jam in 1974. The concert gained a reputation for its violence, becoming “Carolina’s Woodstock”.

On August 10, 1974, the track hosted the August Jam. Regarded as “Carolina’s Woodstock”, the festival drew over 200,000 people, more than double than what was expected due to a security breach. The festival unintentionally became the largest music festival in North Carolina history.[192][193] The concert soon gained a violent reputation; Richard Howard, president of the track, compared the actions of spectators to Japanese Army suicide attacks at the Battle of Okinawa, with damages totaling $50,000.[194]

From 2013 to 2018, the track held the Carolina Rebellion festival.[195][196] Since 2021, the track has hosted a branch of the touring Breakaway Festival.[197] In 2024, in addition to the Breakaway Festival, its organizers also plan to a second show at the track for 2024 tailored for EDM that is managed by the Breakaway Festival.[198] That same year, the track also announced it would host the inaugural edition of the Lovin’ Life Music Fest.[199]

Other events[edit]

The speedway hosts an annual Christmas-themed drive-thru lights show, a tradition that started in 2010.[200] In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the track hosted high school graduations for 10 high schools within the Cabarrus County area.[201]

Lap records[edit]

As of May 2023, the fastest official race lap records at the Charlotte Motor Speedway are listed as:

Category Time Driver Vehicle Date
NASCAR “Roval” (Road Course-Oval with chicanes): 3.669 km (2019–present)[a][202][203]
Trans-Am 1.18.188[204] Paul Menard Chevrolet Camaro Trans-Am 2022 Charlotte Trans-Am round
NASCAR Cup 1:21.795[205] A. J. Allmendinger Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 2022 Bank of America Roval 400
NASCAR Xfinity 1:23.330[206] Ty Gibbs Toyota Supra 2022 Drive for the Cure 250
LM GTE 1:26.655[207] Connor De Phillippi BMW M8 GTE 2020 MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix
GT3 1:27.546[207] Bill Auberlen BMW M6 GT3 2020 MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix
NASCAR “Roval” (Road Course-Oval with chicanes): 3.669 km (2018)[a][202][203]
NASCAR Cup 1:18.078[208] Kyle Larson Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 2018 Bank of America Roval 400
NASCAR Xfinity 1:18.869[209] Chase Briscoe Ford Mustang GT 2018 Drive for the Cure 200
Oval: 2.414 km (1960–present)[202][203]
IndyCar 0:24.735[210] Kenny Bräck Dallara IR-7 1998 VisionAire 500K
NASCAR Cup 0:28.598[211] Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet SS 2017 Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR Xfinity 0:29.962[212] Kyle Busch Toyota Supra 2020 Alsco 300
NASCAR Truck 0:30.017[213] Carson Hocevar Chevrolet Silverado 2023 North Carolina Education Lottery 200
Road Course: 3.621 km (1971–2014)[202][203]
LMP900 1:05.524[214] Jan Magnussen Panoz LMP-1 Roadster-S 2000 Grand Prix of Charlotte
IMSA GTP 1:08.170[215] Bob Wollek Ford Mustang GTP 1984 Charlotte GT 500
Can-Am 1:09.443[216] Alan Jones Lola T333CS 1978 Charlotte Trans-Am round
GT1 (GTS) 1:10.817[214] Karl Wendlinger Dodge Viper GTS-R 2000 Grand Prix of Charlotte
IMSA GTO 1:12.756[217] Dennis Aase Toyota Celica 1985 Grand Prix of Charlotte
IMSA GTP Lights 1:12.853[218] John Maffucci Argo JM16B 1985 Grand Prix of Charlotte
Group 4 1:14.406[219] Peter Gregg Porsche 911 Carrera RSR 1974 Charlotte 300
Trans-Am 1:15.046[220] George Follmer Chevrolet Camaro 1981 Charlotte Trans-Am round
GT 1:15.277[214] Dirk Müller Porsche 911 GT3-R (996) 2000 Grand Prix of Charlotte
IMSA GTU 1:16.127[217] Chris Cord Toyota Celica 1985 Grand Prix of Charlotte

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d The backstraight chicane was changed in the Roval layout in 2019; despite this, the circuit layout length is same.

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

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