NASCAR at Lowe's Motor Speedway
We spent a little over a week at Ebenezer Park just south of Charlotte in South Carolina until Friday before the Bank of America 500 NASCAR race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. As we said, we would be meeting our daughter, Lora, our son in law, J. Michael, and their friends, Jon and Kathy, for the race. While the others would be staying at a motel, we found a small campground within sight of the track where we could stay the night before and the night after the race.
On Friday before the race, we drove about an hour from Ebenezer to Yates Family Camping, which is located behind Lowe's Motor Speedway just north of Charlotte in Concord, NC. We thought the price at Yates Family Camping was extremely reasonable at $30 a night for a non-electric site (with water only) considering the convenient location and close proximity to the track. Many other campgrounds cost $75-150 per night on race weekends. The photo below shows our site at Yates Family Camping.
Yates Family Camping has about 40 sites and about 10 to 15 of them have electricity. We didn't call soon enough to get an electric site, but we figured we would be just fine with our on-board generator, especially since the weather was cooling off to the 70s and we wouldn't need air conditioning.
For those staying a little longer or with extra people in their RV, the Porta-John truck drove through the campground every day in case you needed to empty your holding tanks.
As you can see in the photo above, the campground had tight quarters with side-by-side and back-to-back hookups. And, of course, a race weekend is a party weekend. Everyone had flags with their favorite driver's number as well as their grills, chairs, coolers, radios and TVs set up outside. But Yates calls itself a family campground; and, although everyone had a good time, the crowd was by no means unruly. The photo below was taken in the morning, but you can see some of the set-ups as a few folks are beginning to gather at the site to the rear for breakfast.
The most noise at the campground was made by the inexpensive, portable, contractor-type generators. These are the kind sold by home improvement stores and and designed for construction site use, not the close quarters of camping. On-board RV generators are usually fairly quiet and sound like a car running at a fast idle. Honda also makes a series of very quiet, portable generators, but they cost more than twice as much as a contractor-type generator. Unlike the contractor-type generators, the Hondas also provide very clean alternating current power suitable for electronic equipment like TVs, computers, and microwaves.
By Friday afternoon, Lora, J. Michael, and their friends arrived. After they checked into their motel, we met them at the race shop of Roush Fenway Racing. Last year, we visited the shops of Hendrick Motor Sports and Richard Childress Racing, so we were eager to go to a shop that we had not visited before.
Roush Fenway is the home of Sprint Cup Series drivers Carl Edwards (#99), Greg Biffle (#16), Matt Kenseth (#17), Jamie McMurray (#26), and David Ragan (#6). Of these drivers, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth are currently in the running for this year's championship. The photo below shows some of the cars belonging to driver David Regan.
In addition to being able to view part of the garage area (unfortunately, we got there after quitting time, which is noon on the Friday before a race), there was also a museum touting the wins and accomplishments of the team's drivers. The photo below shows our group in front of one of the cars from the recent past on display in the museum.
Afterward, the girls wanted to stroll around the nearby shopping mall. Meanwhile, the guys went to Bass Pro Shops/Outdoor World.
We met up again at On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina for dinner. The hot corn chips and salsa started coming from the moment we sat down. We got a "pick 3 - make your own" platter where we both chose beef empanadas, a chile relleno, and a fish taco. It was the first time either of us had had a fish taco. We had a hard time getting used to the idea of fish in a taco, but everyone said they were great. They were right! Most of the items on their menu are under $10; and with all the corn chips and salsa you can eat, it's a relatively inexpensive meal out.
On the morning of the race, we drove over to the track about 11:00 AM to meet Lora, J. Michael, and their friends. The reason for going so early was to beat the pre-race traffic and to get a convenient parking space near the gate. The photo below was taken shortly after we arrived looking across the parking lot toward the vendor area.
And this photo is the same area taken shortly before we went into the speedway at around 5:00 PM. You can see how much the crowds had grown. Keep in mind, this is only one of many parking lots.
After we met up with the rest of the group around 11:00 AM, we chatted a while and had some snacks. There was shrimp dip, cowboy cookies, peanut butter cookies, and pepperoni roll.
Then we walked down the hill to the vendor area. Many NASCAR fans are real die-hards and must have the latest NASCAR gear. T-shirts with their favorite driver's likeness and his car's number are a must. Hats and jackets are also popular. There are also mugs, posters, bumper stickers, and just about anything you can think of with driver numbers on them. Anytime a driver changes race teams and/or sponsors, the serious fan will go right out and buy new paraphernalia.
Booth after booth stretching as far as the eye could see and the carnival atmosphere reminded us a little of Quartzsite, except that Quartzsite vendors sell mostly RV-related and general merchandise. The photo below shows just some of the many vendors.
After walking around the vendor area, we headed back to where we had parked and lit the portable gas grills. Lora and Kathy worked to prepare our feast while J. Michael supervised.
We dined on barbecued beef and pork ribs, cheesy potatoes on the grill, and a delicious salad. We got quite a few envious stares and comments from those passing by on their way to the speedway entrance.
While most NASCAR Sprint Cup races are run Sunday afternoon, an increasing number of races like the one we went to in Charlotte are being run on Saturday night. Many fans seem to like the night races, probably because they can use Sunday to drive back home and don't have to take another day off work.
We headed into the track around 5:00 PM in time for some of the pre-race festivities. There was a BMX bicycle stunt demonstration and a concert by Jessica Simpson. We had terrific seats fairly close to the track just before the start-finish line. Lowe's Motor Speedway is a mile and a half tri-oval, meaning the front stretch has a bend in it making the track somewhat D-shaped. The photo below is a panoramic shot of the track at dusk during the pre-race activities.
Here is another pre-race photo with the Good Year blimp overhead.
As it started to get dark, there were the driver introductions, the prayer, the National Anthem, and finally, the command, "GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES." Forty-three, 358 cubic inch, 800 horsepower, V-8 engines roared to life. What a thrill!
The couple that couldn't attend the race were kind enough to loan us their scanner. The scanner can be programmed to receive the conversations between any or all the pit crews and their drivers. You can scan up and down your programmed list or select a specific team and listen in on their conversations to see what strategy they may be planning, how the car is handling, or when they are planning to come into the pits. You can also receive the radio broadcast of the race (which helps figure out what is really going on) or even listen in on the officials.
The headsets that come with the scanner also help muffle the LOUD engine noise during the race. Paul deliberately took his headset off at the start of the race just to see what it would sound like. He thought the sound of forty-three engines firing to life was impressive, but it was nothing compared to forty-three, 800 horsepower engines all suddenly going to full throttle as the drivers all mashed down on the accelerator pedals simultaneously as the green flag fell.
Because this was a night race, we didn't get many good pictures of the race itself because the cars were just going too fast in the low light conditions. But we did get a half-decent shot of the start of the race as the cars approached us on their way to the start/finish line, seconds before they all put the pedal to the metal.
Attending our first NASCAR race was a great experience, especially sharing it with Lora, J. Michael, and their friends. With multiple cameras all around the track, in-car cameras, and instant replays, you can see more if you watch the race on TV. But there is nothing like being there live. You can smell the smells of oil and tires. We could even smell grass when someone spun out in the grass right in front of us. You can hear and feel the sounds - the roar of the engines vibrates in your chest.
The race was won by Jeff Burton (#31). We had seen some of Jeff's cars being prepared last year when we visited Richard Childress Racing. With his win at Charlotte, Jeff moved up from fourth place into second in the championship chase only 69 points behind the leader, Jimmie Johnson (#48).
After the race, traffic was at a standstill. Many of the 160,000 fans who attend the race end up crossing the road somewhere in the vicinity of the speedway to get to their cars. Of course, with all those people crossing the roads, the traffic that was already there ground to a halt. As soon as the fans got to their cars, they then all tried to get onto the roadways they just walked across.
Our group, along with a few others, decided to just stay a while in the parking lot (even though it was late). We got out our chairs, had some leftover snacks and waited for the traffic to dissipate. It took about an hour and a half, but it was more pleasant sitting in the parking lot chatting and snacking instead of sitting in our car wishing we were moving. When we finally did leave, we easily got out onto the main road, waited for one or two traffic lights, and got back to the motor home in about 10 minutes.
After a night's rest, we will be making a short, unexpected detour back to Pittsburgh. It's nothing serious, just a chance to test of our flexibility.