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Hall Has Major Wow Factor

Source: Jonathan Ingram, RacinToday.com  

January 21, 2010

Scheduled to open on May 11, the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte will combine new methods of presentation with over 60 years of the sanctioning body’s history. The facility in downtown is still under construction, but a tour given to media equipped with souvenir hard hats revealed a state-of-the-art approach to combining artifacts such as historic racecars with electronic and other interactive presentations.

“The Hall exceeds my expectations,” said Ricky Craven, who has provided to the Hall the Pontiac he drove to the closest finish in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup history. “I think that will be the response of the people who come here.”

The first induction ceremony for the inaugural class of Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Junior Johnson is scheduled for May 23, the afternoon following the Sprint All-Star race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. But it remains undecided whether the ceremony will take place outdoors at the Hall’s ceremonial plaza, in the ballroom or elsewhere in the city of Charlotte. Season ticket holders at the Hall will have priority when it comes to tickets for the induction ceremony.

Designed by the architectural firm of I.M. Pei, the Hall’s largely completed exterior features a signature, swirled facade that suggests the high banks that became the signature of NASCAR competition. In the Great Hall inside, a ramp that has banking from 33 degrees down to a flat surface will display historic racecars from all eras next to the walkway leading to the upstairs exhibits.

The Hall of Honor will have an electronic “spire” for each inductee to display information and videos about their careers as well as a 360-degree video presentation.

The Hall’s staff anticipates occupying the building in mid-April, when construction of the interior areas is scheduled to be finished. As part of the initial media preview, the Modified Ford first driven by Louise Smith in the 1940’s, a replica of a Chrysler C300 from the 1950’s, and the Grand Prix driven by Craven in 2003 were on display.

The acquisition of the cars and artifacts has taken many different turns, said the Hall’s director, Winston Kelley. But the most help has come from the sport’s participants themselves, such as Richard Petty’s offer of his 1967 Plymouth from the season when he won 10 straight races and 27 events over-all.  “We have found through this process many of the folks that have these things have gone out to get them appraised,” said Kelley. “Petty Enterprises was a different situation. Richard would always tell me he doesn’t have a collection, he has an accumulation.”

A multi-dimensional theater with a 64-foot curved screen will have built-in air vents providing surges of air to mimic seats close to a track. The 275-seat theater provides an overview of NASCAR history via a short film.

The artifacts, including a special focus on some of stock car racing’s earliest pioneers, are to be displayed in cases in the Heritage Speedway exhibit. Video footage of the 50 greatest finishes in NASCAR and a time line focused on the evolution of technology, the automobile and motor racing are part of this exhibit. The display of artifacts, said the Hall of Fame’s historian Buz McKim, will be rotated and changed to express different themes focused on tracks and different categories of NASCAR competition from over the years as well as on different regions.

“There are limitless possibilities that we have for this Hall,” said McKim.

An interactive exhibit known as Race Week allows visitors to work on pit crews, make race broadcasts and drive iRacing simulators.

The Hall is part of a five-acre complex in downtown Charlotte that includes an office tower to be occupied by NASCAR’s Charlotte-based officials and a grand-scale ballroom operated by the Charlotte Convention Center. A building featuring a restaurant, offices for the Hall and a state-of-the-art TV studio is adjacent to the Hall.

Expected to draw 700,000 visitors in its first year, the Hall’s construction budget is approximately $111 million from the combined $167 million budget that includes the ballroom and was funded by a hotel/motel tax. The adjoining 19-story office tower, which features NASCAR in neon lights on the roof, was built at a cost of $92 million and is a private development where NASCAR holds a longterm lease for its offices as well as other space.

Charlotte, which owns and operates the Hall under a licensing agreement that provides income to NASCAR, was among seven cities that made proposals to host the Hall of Fame. The city of Charlotte will benefit from an estimated $60 million annually in economic impact. The NASCAR Plaza office tower is anticipated to generate $1.2 million annually in taxes.

Kelley said that the city’s close proximity to the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the partnership with the Charlotte Convention Center, which will bring large conventions to the doorstep of the Hall, were major strengths for Charlotte. The Hall also gives downtown Charlotte its first unique destination, which gives it prominent status within the city. Other pluses for Charlotte were the proximity of NASCAR teams and drivers as well as the fact the Charlotte Speedway, a 3/4-mile dirt track, hosted NASCAR’s first Strictly Stock race in 1949.

Jonathan Ingram has been writing full-time about the world’s major motor racing series and events since 1983 for newspapers, magazines and web sites. John can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com