NASCAR – NASCAR Hall of Fame got my motor runnin’

NASCAR – NASCAR Hall of Fame got my motor runnin’


With the midterm election looming a week ago, why not go all patriotic?

How about a white guy with a white beard hanging one day with the blue bloods and then with rednecks? There’s your red, white and blue. 

That was my experience in North Carolina, where the nation’s largest privately owned home, Biltmore House, is located about 130 miles west of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

I can’t quite imagine anyone chortling “Boogity, boogity, boogity – let’s go racing, boys!” at the Biltmore. But I think George Vanderbilt II, whose home took six years to build and was finished in 1895, would’ve enjoyed trading paint — or at least, paintings — with Darrell Waltrip.

This was a she-wants, he-wants deal for my wife and me.

One of many elegant bedrooms at Biltmore House, near Asheville, N.C. You can look but don’t think about taking a nap.
(Photo: Greg Jaklewicz)

A history major in college, she was anxious to see what is described as a Chateauesque-style mansion that’s south of Asheville at the western end of the state. We spent quite a lovely day there, my dear.

I had a few hours two days later to make the drive from Winston-Salem to Charlotte, home of the hall of fame that opened in 2010. There was NASCAR racing on Interstate 85, with some black-flag moments when construction zones brought speeding motorists to a complete stop. 

The hall of fame is downtown, miles away from Charlotte Motor Speedway, which was my first stop. It is owned by Speedway Motorsports, which also has Texas Motor Speedway. Ironically, I was there when the fall Texas race was revving up here.

Both are 1.5-miles tracks, if that means anything to you (if not: there are shorter tracks, such as the half-mile oval in Bristol, Tennessee, and longer ones, such as the 2.7-mile tri-oval at Talladega, Alabama).

Why NASCAR for me

A little background. My NASCAR days go back to the 1990s, when I lived next door to Jack “Bill Elliott’s my guy” Gilreath. Jack went to races and enjoyed assigning drivers to his friends. He decided I need to follow Ricky Rudd, who was driving the No. 10 Tide car at the time.

When Rudd retired and after Jack “I hate Jeff Gordon” Gilbreath chose Jimmie Johnson as my young son’s driver, I was awarded Greg Biffle, who for years drove the No. 16 3M car. Now he’s retired. 

Just to annoy Jack, my wife chose Gordon as her driver. She joined my son and me to see his last race at the Fort Worth track. 

Our daughter basically could care less about auto racing, though she did wear the cute race track princess T-shirt I bought her. Maybe not in public, and certainly not as a tween.

Former Reporter-News sports writer Ted Dunnam and I covered the first race at TMS in 1996. After we were done, we went to Hooters, where Ted, dressed in a black leather jacket, convinced our waitress he was a driver. 

I have covered other races there since but also enjoyed watching as a fan in the stands with my son. Ted and I also saw the Rolling Stones concert at TMS in the 1990s.

So, how could I resist going to the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

A pretty cool place

It is quite the showplace, featuring real stuff such as racing suits and other memorabilia, and hands-on activities. For example, you and a buddy can be timed changing a tire and adding a splash of Sunoco fuel at a pit-stop challenge. Can you do it 12 seconds? Eleven?

I tried qualifying for the Texas race at another station. I crashed out of Turn 4 my first time but got around the track twice after that. I may have broken 40 mph.

You can get into as much history and auto-racing know-how as you want. NASCAR — the National Association for Stock Car Racing — was formed in 1948, with the first race held at the Charlotte track in 1949. If you want to know the effect of spoilers on a car, you can get deep into that. That’s big news this week, relating to Texas winner Kevin Harvick.

There’s a full scale hauler (Lowe’s, of course) that shows what gear is packed into the first level and how the race car is stowed above. It’s the race team’s home away from home.

There’s a display at which you can pick from a selection of the greatest race finishes ever. Or watch the classic 1979 fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison at Daytona after they banged doors as race leaders and eventually crashed. 

There are plenty of video opportunities.

Of course, you exit through the gift shop. They have everything.

“Do you have postcards?” I asked.

“No, sir, we don’t,” the clerk answered.

Almost everything.

Pondering the sport

Interest in NASCAR seems to be waning. I think there are several reasons, including yet another transition in drivers. Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., for years the sport’s most popular driver, and “Cousin” Carl Edwards have retired and fans haven’t latched lovingly onto many of the new guys.  

The personalities of previous drivers such as Yarborough, Richard Petty, David Pearson and others, and their rivalries have such an impact when you tour the hall. These boys created a sport, and lived for the track, not TV commercials.

“We let the success we had on the race track speak for us,” said Pearson, a three-time premier series champ.

Way back, we had the Intimidator (Dale Sr.). Richard Petty was “The King.” My buddy Jack followed “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” (Elliott), but despised “The Rainbow Warrior” (Gordon).

The 2001 track death of Dale Earnhardt had an effect. The efforts to make the sport safer may have taken away some of the edge. Pro football is experiencing the same dilemma.

Technology now gives a driver the racetrack edge. A super mechanic and gutsy driver used to win races. Of course, some of that has to do with surviving long races on big, banking tracks at high speeds. But it was simpler and maybe more fun on a smaller scale.

Back in the day, the driving was more aggressive, the original bump and grind. When I saw my guy Biffle win at TMS in 2011, I think there were two cautions, both for debris that blew on the track. The race sped along at three hours and seven minutes, the shortest full race ever at the track.

Though my driver won, it was kinda boring. 

NASCAR also is more regional than most other sports. Hockey has wedged its way south but NASCAR is not nearly as popular outside the South. I’ve heard it suggested that it stay there, and perhaps return to some of the early tracks. 

Regardless, I have enjoyed being a fan. Seeing a race in person is nothing like watching on TV. It’s loud and fast, and a great place to people-watch. A day outside will turn your neck red, too.

The Biltmore and Hall of Fame are museums of sorts, full of history. To each his own, but I enjoyed both. And guess where I bought my souvenirs.

Twitter: @GregJaklewicz

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