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NASCAR is Building Something Special in Charlotte

Source: Monte Dutton, Gaston Gazette  

April 15, 2009

When the NASCAR Hall of Fame opens in downtown Charlotte in 2010, expectations will be high.

After all, a former NASCAR official said at the groundbreaking that NASCAR is constructing "the most technologically advanced hall of fame ever built."

One of the Hall's champions, seven-term Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, said, "The home of racing history will be here forever and ever.

"The world is going to identify Charlotte with NASCAR," he added, "the way it identifies Hollywood with the movies."

The overall budget is $154.5 million. According to executive director Winston Kelley, the exhibit budget alone is $31 million.

Visitors to the Hall of Fame's Web site, www.nascarhall.com, can look at a simulated video of the various attractions, as well as a slide show and a "Web cam" of ongoing construction. The Grand Opening is scheduled for the "second quarter" of 2010, which means it will likely be held in conjunction with the May races at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

The project, already massive as it rises in the Charlotte skyline, bears some resemblance to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn. Above the massive walls, the NASCAR Hall of Fame takes an oval shape, and there's a practical reason. Inside, that oval shape will translate into a simulated short track, with still, full-sized race cars placed around it.

Even as construction crews are slowly erecting the edifice, which will feature a 10,000-square-foot main floor, Kelley is busily acquiring artifacts, which already number almost 1,000. The overall size of the building is 130,000 square feet. Exhibit space is approximately 40,000 square feet.

NASCAR's first great car owner, Raymond Parks, recently donated a trove of artifacts from the sport's early years, including the trophy honoring the winner of the ruling body's first race and its first champion.

"Obtaining the first championship trophy is akin to having the trophy from Major League Baseball's first World Series in 1903," said Hall historian Buzz McKim. "We are honored and thrilled."

Kelley called Parks "a genuine legend of this sport." In Kelley, the Hall of Fame literally has a familiar voice. Kelley, a race reporter for MRN (Motor Racing Network) Radio since the late 1980s, left a job as vice president of economic and business development at Duke Energy Carolinas.

The principal remaining question mark is the first class of inductees, though a process has been established. A nominating committee will choose 25 names, and a larger voting committee will select five members each year. To be eligible, a driver must compete for at least 10 years and be retired for three. A non-driver must be involved in the industry for at least 10 years.

Three of the first inductees will almost surely include NASCAR founder William H.G. ("Big Bill") France and drivers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Among those who will undoubtedly be considered for the other two spots in the inaugural class are David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and William C. ("Bill Jr.) France.

"You get to focus on five people every year, and they get their due," said Kelley. "It could've been four, and it could've been six. Some people said ‘you need a bunch of people in there,' but I didn't like that concept and gave my feedback to NASCAR." The selection committee will consist of 47 people, including the 20 from the nominating committee, and one vote will come from a fan poll.

"We have put an awful lot of effort into getting this right," said Kelley. "Based on my experience, I think everything that has been put in place has been done so that this Hall of Fame is not only an enjoyable experience for fans, but also a balanced, historically accurate depiction of the people who made the sport great."