Carolinas Part 1 – June 2018

In June of 2018, Adam and I embarked on a lengthy road trip that took us to the Carolinas, and ultimately up into Southern Virginia before returning home to Central Tennessee. Over the next three weeks, we’ll write about 23 of the places we visited. The trip was largely NASCAR focused, but we hit a few additional sites as well.

Conagree National Park – 100 National Park Rd, Hopkins, SC 29061

The first stop was just southeast of Columbia, at Conagree National Park. Conagree was officially designated a national park in 2003, and is the largest remaining tract of old growth hardwood in the United States. The area was originally studied by the NPS in 1963 and declared a National Monument shortly after that. It’s an excellent area for hiking and kayaking, and covers over 41 square miles. As we drove through the park to the visitor’s center, it was captivating to be in such a large wooded area, with dense forestry as far as you could see all around. The park is also well known for mosquitos, and there is an interesting ‘Mosquito Meter’ on the outside of the visitor’s center. On the day of our visit, it was merely a 5 out of 6, or ‘ruthless’. I wouldn’t care to be there in a ‘war zone’ day.

Darlington Raceway – 1301 Harry Byrd Highway, Darlington, SC 29532

From Conagree we drove northeast through South Carolina to the famed Darlington Raceway, home of the Southern 500, NASCAR’s most tradition filled race weekend, which is actually taking place the weekend I am writing this. In addition to the history that dates back to 1950 at this track, it also home to the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, and the Darlington Raceway Museum. There is tremendous history to be taken in, and you can also venture out for a look at the racing surface through the fence. Darlington is NASCAR’s version of Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Lambeau Field, and Madison Square Garden. I highly recommend this as a stop for any NASCAR fan. There were several famous race vehicles and artifacts in the museum. My favorite was the car that Bill Elliott used in 1985 to win the Southern 500 and the Winston Million, which you can see below.

Carolinas Aviation Museum – Currently Closed

Our next stop was the Carolinas Aviation Museum. Thank goodness that we made this stop, as I’ve recently learned that this location has closed. The museum was located in an old hangar that was very hot, and they are currently working with the city of Charlotte to build a state of the art museum with hopes to open in 2022. Check for progress. It should be an amazing museum if they can get it completed. They have several exhibits on display, but without a doubt the most powerful is the United Airways Airbus A320 that was crashed into the Hudson River in 2009. It was quite moving to see this actual aircraft, as well as hundreds of artifacts from the flight, including luggage, the beverage cart with rusted cans, the flight crew uniforms, and Sully’s briefcase and uniform. In the picture below you’ll notice holes punched into the fuselage. This was done during the recovery efforts, to hook into the plane and pull it from the river.

NASCAR Hall of Fame – 400 E M.L.K. Jr Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28202

This was our third visit to the Hall of Fame, and I highly suggest that any NASCAR fan try to attend at some point. The exhibits are ever changing, and every time we are there we see many new items. Our favorite portion of the museum is Glory Road, where numerous cars from throughout NASCAR history are staged in chronological order, along progressive banking that allows visitors to see and feel the banking level of all of the tracks. These cars are changed out from time to time, and it’s always exciting to see what cars will be there. There are multiple floors of exhibits that trace the entire history of the sport, an interactive area for both kids and adults, and even an area with simulator cars that you can race against other visitors on iRacing’s platform. During this visit we were excited to see Dale Earnhardt Jr’s final Cup car, as he had retired the previous fall. This picture is below, but it wouldn’t be our final Dale Jr encounter of the trip.

Stewart Haas Racing – 6001 Haas Way, Kannapolis, NC 28081

Our first shop visit of this trip was to Stewart Haas racing. This team is co-owned by Tony Stewart, and drivers include Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, and at the time we visited, Kurt Busch. The shop is has a large area up front with some display cars, trophy cases, and a very large gift shop. There is a large glass panel that allows visitors to watch all of the work done to the race cars, it’s a really good setup for fans to see notable crew members and crew chiefs in action through the week. Pictured below is a cutaway car that they have in the lobby that allows you to see what all is under the skin of a modern cup car.

Penske Racing – 200 Penske Way, Mooresville, NC 28115

When Dale Earnhardt Sr was still alive and operating Dale Earnhardt Inc, his shop was referred to as the Garage-Mahal because of it’s lavish stylings and size. In my opinion, what Roger Penske has assembled in Mooresville far outclasses any race shop around, and is the modern day ‘Garage-Mahal’. In 2004, Penske paid $7 million for a 425,000 square foot abandoned air conditioner factory in Mooresville, and by 2007 had moved all of his race teams into the facility. He is the only racing team owner to have both his IndyCar and NASCAR teams in a single facility. Not only is the facility huge, but in keeping with the ‘Penske Perfect’ traditions, the building is spotless. The building is entirely floored with over a million pounds of Italian marble tiles, which can be easily replaced if stained or damaged. There is a 5,000 foot gift shop with a set of stairs the lead to a catwalk where visitors can walk the length of the building.

Jr Motorsports – 349 Cayuga Dr, Mooresville, NC 28117

Did I mention there was another Dale Jr encounter to come? We stopped at his Xfinity Series race shop on Monday morning. This shop is one of the smaller stops on our tour, as he has grown from a single car team to a four car Xfinity juggernaut since the building was built. There is a gift shop in the front, and a viewing window to see out to the shop floor. You can also look into the hauler bays from the front of the building. At the time of our visit, the podcast booth was in the back of the gift shop, where ‘Dirty Mo Media’ record several podcasts a week. Since then, they have build a much larger studio, so I am unsure of how well visitors can see the booth. On the morning of arrival, the lady at the gift shop register informed us that Dale Jr was in the building recording a podcast. As we made our way back towards the booth, there was Dale freaking Jr! He was in the booth interviewing Denny Hamlin. Adam and I stood around and watched the interview, there was only a couple of other people watching along with us. When they were done, they both came out and talked to us, shook hands, signed autographs and took a few pictures. HOLY COW!

Memory Lane Museum – 769 River Highway, Mooresville, NC 28117

The last stop for this entry was at the Memory Lane Museum in Mooresville. This museum holds over 150 race cars and antique cars, and has a very interesting gift shop with lots of vintage racing collectibles. We were able to snag some late 1980’s Darrell Waltrip and Bill Elliott items. The museum itself had a number of very historic cars that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. Some super rare examples, including Bobby Allison’s 1983 championship car, a 1985 Harry Gant car owned by Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds, an old Melling Bill Elliott car, and several others. The neatest and probably rarest item was a Dale Earnhardt early 1980’s Wrangler car. Not a number 3, but a 15! Not a Chevy, but a Ford! This is the only example I have seen of a car from his two years driving for Bud Moore.

That’s it for this update, check back the next two weeks for the second and third parts of the trip. Thanks for checking us out, if you like what you are seeing make sure to follow the blog to get updates when we put out new entries!