Ever wondered what it feels like to be a NASCAR driver as you are waiting for the lights to turn green and your engine is revving underneath you? This is exactly what we encountered at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Museum in Charlotte when we visited recently.
Eat your heart out Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. because this was our time to shine as we sat in the driver’s seat of our favorite NASCAR drivers vehicle, waited for the signals to turn and then fired our engines before speeding off into the distance. Ok, so this was all just on a virtual simulation that you are able to experience at the Hall of Fame but for a split second you really do feel like you are in the shoes of your favorite driver.
The Hall of Fame Museum is much more than just a simulation experience. Our self-guided tour started with a short movie depicting the history of NASCAR and how it all began right here in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Did you know that the history of NASCAR dates back to the years of prohibition when the so-called ‘bootleggers’ drove their bootleg whiskey, also known as Moonshine, mainly through the Appalachian region of USA? The bootleggers used small, fast vehicles to evade the police to illegally distribute this whiskey and of course many of the drivers modified these vehicles for better handling and speed.
By the late 1940s, races began to take place to show-off the skills of both drivers and the souped up cars. NASCAR as we all refer to it as is an acronym for “National Association for Stock Car Racing” and it was in 1948 when this association was formed by William France Sr. The first NASCAR race was held at the Charlotte Speedway, though this is a different racetrack to the present day Motor Speedway that is used on the NASCAR race calendar.
Legendary Stock Cars
After sitting through the short yet detailed movie introducing the history of NASCAR, you can make your way to “Glory Road” which is a 33-degree banked ramp designed to match Talladega’s Speedway and peruse a number of different cars, both former and present day designs. The ramp, designed in many ways similar to a racetrack increases in angle as you make your way to the summit of the second floor. At various points along the track there are points identifying up to 46 different racetracks and the angle that those tracks are constructed at.
The final stop on Glory Road is to mirror the angle of Talladega and at this point you can even attempt to walk up the side of the track just to see how steep this is – impressive and scary at the same time! Imagine driving a vehicle at 33 degrees, it’s bad enough driving down a hill that has a gradient of about 15% so I can only imagine what it must be like to drive over 200mph around Talladega.
There are other notable exhibits worth exploring on the second floor at the Hall of Fame including The Great Hall and Studio 43. The former provides a video screen and a number of iconic exhibits, while Studio 43 was named after Richard Petty’s number 43 and actually served as the home of Showtime’s Inside NASCAR tv show.
Here are some of the vehicles you can see along Glory Road.
Race Week Experience
The real hands-on experience at the Hall of Fame takes place here at the ‘Race Week Experience’. You can start out by planning out the race strategies for the week including which tyre compounds best suit the racetrack before moving on to time trials and practice before the big race.
Try your luck at being a mechanic for the week and experience exactly what goes on during a pit stop including trying to change a wheel as quickly as possible and refueling the stock car. Only then can you realize the intricate details and processes that go into making a race week go like clockwork.
We both took part in the time trials to get a feel of the car and understand how to maximize your speed around the racetrack. After a few laps of practice, we were almost ready for race day!
Preparation goes for nothing if you are not ready for the big race so the moment we were strapped inside our cars, we were ready to race each other. Heather opted for Jimmie Johnson’s vehicle and I chose Jeff Gordon’s. We had one other individual in our race, but this was all about personal glory and who would gain bragging rights for the rest of the road trip.
Heather made a great start but I quickly found some pace and slotted in right behind Heather on the racetrack. I soon found myself with a perfect opportunity to pass on the high side of the track and I didn’t need a second chance as I cruised beyond Heather. The other driver in the race had clearly drove this simulation before and he quickly passed both of us.
I noticed Heather in my rear view mirror picking up speed and closing in but then suffered the unfortunate mistake of spinning out which probably cost her the opportunity of the all-important family bragging rights.
The NASCAR race simulation is a really cool experience and I would love to head back to the Hall of Fame just to try this again. However, given that I beat Heather perhaps it would be best to leave it at that! After leaving the race day experience, you are even given a print-out of your best lap times and position relative to the other drives.
I finished a respectable second place with Heather a distant third (don’t tell anyone that there were only three participants) but we both had an absolute blast!