Spring Break Road Trip: NASCAR Hall of Fame
On Day 3 of our Spring Break Road Trip, we left the fabulous Mountain Lodge and made our way to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I’m not really a NASCAR fan, I haven’t watched since Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was killed while racing. Miss JoJo on the other hand is a big NASCAR fan and has collected Tony Stewart miniature cars since back when he was a Home Depot driver. However, I am a big American Pickers fan, and had recently watched the “Nascar Challenge” episode where the Pickers scoured the country for NASCAR memorabilia to add to the upcoming displays at the Hall of Fame. So, I knew we were both going to be highly interested; she in everything NASCAR and I in anything I’d seen on the show.
NASCAR fan or not, you will immediately become absorbed into your surroundings upon entering the Great Hall. Your visit is self-paced and you’re allowed to roam until your heart is content, but are encouraged to setup your Hard Card. What is a Hard Card? It’s the business card size ticket you are given to access the exhibits at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Because we registered our cards, we were given access to the data that was recorded while we participated in the interactive exhibits. After Miss JoJo and I registered our Hard Cards, we proceeded to the High Octane Theater. There, we watched a short film about the history of NASCAR. It really helped to develop the tone and mindset of our visit.
Leaving the Theater, we entered Glory Road. It showcased eighteen real cars that spanned the history of NASCAR. As Glory Road ramped higher and higher, there were displays along the way showing forty different tracks. While on Glory Road, we watched a video and visited the displays of the Wrecks special exhibit. I was afraid that I would cry when the crash that claimed the life of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was shown. Thankfully, the only wrecks featured were those in which the drivers lived to race another race!
We moved on to the Hall of Honor on the Third Level and visited displays which included cars, trophies, jump suits, flags, and anything you could possibly imagine related to the drivers honored in this room. Along the wall were lighted plaques which honored drivers from the past. On each side of these monuments, which lined the wall of the circular shaped room, are handsets similar to old telephone receivers. After we each picked one up, we heard all about the featured racer. These monuments were the most unique of any that I’ve ever seen.
Next, we headed to the Performance Race Shop. We had so much fun going through all of the interactive exhibits! Everything in this area was hands-on and I commented to Miss JoJo that I wished I could have lived in Charlotte, North Carolina when I was teaching. There were so many physical science concepts that I could have driven home with everything we saw and experienced.
Since I’m a true kid at heart, we headed into the Kobalt Kids Zone. Miss JoJo and I raced one another with the hand crank race cars, just like the guys from American Pickers had done. The Lowe’s Transport Simulator was a really decked out 18-wheeler trailer and gave us a true inside look into the trailer, including the living quarters area. No expense was spared, but I suppose these trailers are the drivers’ and crews’ homes away from home.
Miss JoJo and I then skimmed over the next few sections. We arrived late in the afternoon, so we didn’t really have the time in the Kobalt Pit Challenge to be the pit crew like it’s set up for. One thing really stood out to me in this area though. In keeping with the feel of the NASCAR theme, clipboards were used to display information in this area instead of a standard placard, so cute and so creative!
Have you ever driven a NASCAR race car? We haven’t, but in Qualifying and the iRacing Simulators, we got a pretty real feel for what it’s like. Well, as real as it gets without actually driving an actual race car. What a BLAST! It took a while to get the hang of the simulators in both areas, but once we did we didn’t want to quit. In Qualifying, we raced individually, but in the Simulators we competed against each other. I’m glad that the current exhibit theme was Wrecks! because we certainly wrecked enough! The iRacing Simulators are NOT for the claustrophobic, something that Miss JoJo and I both quickly discovered. Each of the cars are divided so that one person can race on the left and another on the right side of the same car. A solid divider splits the car and you’re seated in a real race car seat. I’m not a skinny gal by any definition, but I’m glad that I’m no heavier than I am. I think race car drivers must have to run on the smaller side, kind of like race horse jockeys. 😉 Thankfully, the gentleman working the iRacing Simulators let me keep the door to my car open. My nerves couldn’t have tolerated the closed, caged in experience. The window of the car is even netted with seat belt like material and nearly blacks out the light.
When I selected my car, I didn’t realize I was selecting the right side of the car to drive from. Once I explained to him that it might trigger painful spasms in my hip and back to get in on the right side, he quickly, gladly, and apologetically switched me to the other side of the car. Of course, we could tell he was a real prankster, because he was (jokingly) giving me a hard time until I explained that I had a physical problem. I honestly don’t think our iRacing experience would have been nearly as much fun without this fun-loving comedian. LOL – just take a look at this picture I took of him after our race. Can’t you tell what a character he is by the way he cheesed it up for the picture?
He gave awesome instructions on how to best drive the cars to race. Miss JoJo and I competed against one other driver, she placed 3rd and I placed 2nd. I did lead the two of them in one of our laps though. The other guy had raced at least once before us, so he had an unfair advantage. 😉
Once we reached the Fourth Level, we realized it was like multiple mini-museums broken in various display areas. Here, we were reminded about NASCAR being born and raised from the prohibition era. While I knew all about people “running ‘shine” back in the day, I don’t think I ever knew about the moonshiners or their delivery people racing one another in an effort to improve their abilities to out run the law.
Many of the old-timers were honored with photos, statues, memorabilia, cars, video, and other mementos throughout this whole upper level. NASCAR Milestones were also featured from the 1960s to present. Greatest Finishes showcases fifty of the best on big screen.
As we traveled down Artifact Hallway, I found the display that best featured the legacy of NASCAR for many generations. It was the Earnhardt Family Traditions Display. There have been three generations of Earnhardt drivers:
- Ralph Earnhardt
- Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Last but not least was an area dedicated to the fans of NASCAR. This room was truly bittersweet to me, it was an immediate reminder of my former boss who passed away last year. His office at school was decorated with all kinds of M&M stuff and he always had a bowl full of them on his desk. I thought of him when I took these pictures.
After we spent more than three hours in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, we were tired and hungry. We would have munched at the Pit Stop Cafe, but it had closed by then. The smells had called to us all afternoon, but we needed to get on the road anyway.
While I initially expected Miss JoJo to be the main one interested in the exhibits, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was drawn into everything we encountered. As we traveled through each area, I made mental note about how they planned ahead to make the NASCAR Hall of Fame as handicap accessible as possible. The teacher of handicapped children and the MS patient in me always notates things like this, especially the lift at the Transport Simulator. I’ve actually used one of those before, when I didn’t have the strength or ability to maneuver stairs on the school bus for a field trip. Unlike other places that claim to be handicap accessible, the NASCAR Hall of Fame has nothing to interfere with one’s safety.
Miss JoJo and I recommend taking the family for a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. No matter your age or NASCAR interest level, we’re sure that you will be as entranced with everything as we were. Plan on spending at least four or five hours if you really want to do it all. We had a blast and would love to do it all over again!