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NASCAR Hall of Fame gets off to historic start

Source: Charlotte Observer  

January 26, 2007

Under a tent on a brisk, windy January day, NASCAR ushered in the work on its hall of fame in Charlotte with a procession of people whose busts and memorabilia will surely occupy it.

The event was a formal groundbreaking Thursday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame project in uptown Charlotte. But before the shovels were passed out, about 40 of the people who built the sport -- drivers, crew chiefs, team owners, promoters -- were summoned to the stage and introduced.

Among them: Raymond Parks, a Georgia car owner who won his first race in 1938; Ned Jarrett, the former driver and beloved broadcaster from Hickory; and, of course, the sport's iconic figure, Richard Petty.

"I want some autographs," Rick Hendrick, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said when his turn came behind the microphone. "I've never seen an assembly of history like we have here today."

Then he turned to NASCAR President Mike Helton, sitting with the rest on stage. "Mr. Helton," Hendrick said, "you wouldn't have 10 percent of these folks in Atlanta, Georgia."

The crowd of about 500 whooped and applauded. Atlanta was Charlotte's main competitor for the hall.

"Charlotte is the place. That's where it started," Petty said.

NASCAR considered proposals from not just Atlanta but Daytona Beach, Fla., Richmond, Va., and Kansas City.

Not everyone in Charlotte is thrilled about the hall, scheduled to open in late 2009 or early 2010. Minutes after the ceremony, the conservative John Locke Foundation sent a mass e-mail criticizing the controversial hotel-motel tax hike providing much of the project's funding.

Fans, though, said they see something that'll last for years and cement Charlotte's status as the hub of motorsports. David Buchner, a 43-year-old stock trader, drove from Asheville with his 5-year-old son, Bradley.

"I wanted to just be part of the history of the hall of fame, to see something he'll spend the rest of his life coming to," said Buchner, whose son wore a tiny Jeff Gordon jacket. "It'll be fun, like Disney World for NASCAR fans."

When it came time for the breaking of ground, two cars on each side of the stage -- a 1972 Dodge Charger of Petty's and a 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo once driven by the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. -- were cranked up and revved.

Appropriately enough, you could barely hear yourself think.

"What distinguishes athletes in other sports is when you're in the hall of fame," broadcaster and former championship driver Darrell Waltrip said. "It's going to be grandioso, and that's good. I like big."

Hall of Fame Figures

$154.5 million: Overall cost of the project.

$102.5 million: Amount contributed to the project by the hotel-motel tax increase.

130,000: Square footage of the hall.

2,500: Number of people the new, $43 million Charlotte Convention Center ballroom, to be built as part of the hall project, will seat. The current ballroom, which will remain, seats about 1,500.

1,060: Parking spaces slated for an adjacent office tower.

Reach Greg Lacour at glacour@charlotteobserver.com