I recently did something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I made the trek up to Charlotte, North Carolina and took a tour of some of the NASCAR race shops. The Charlotte area is home to every major Cup team in NASCAR and most of the smaller Nationwide teams as well. Throw in the fact that Charlotte gets two races a year and is now home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and it’s hard to argue that the Charlotte area is in fact the home of NASCAR. Visiting the different race shops was a great experience and one that I highly recommend to other NASCAR fans. One of the best parts about being a NASCAR fan and getting to see the race shops is that entry into most of the shops and museums is free! As a fan, I can’t think of any other way to get so close to an actual NASCAR Sprint Cup car and not even pay a dime.
The first shop that we saw was the Stewart-Haas shop in Kannapolis, NC. This shop is a beautiful new facility that I recommend NASCAR fans go to, even if you’re not a Tony Stewart or Ryan Newman fan. Visitors walk in and are up close and personal with 3 of the Stewart-Haas cars in the entry way. Not only can visitors get a great view of the teams working on the cars, there are some great photo opportunities at the SH shop as well.
The next stop was at the Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) race shop and museum in Mooresville, NC. This is an older facility compared to the Stewart-Haas shop; however, from a historical perspective it’s an interesting place to see. The DEI facility is more of a museum than a race shop, so you’ll see some great displays, just not a whole lot of action going on. The DEI museum is a great place to see the history of Earhnardt racing over the last 30 years. For all of the Dale Earnhardt fans out there, I highly recommend you plan a stop here.
The next stop was Lunch at Lancaster’s BBQ in Huntersville, NC. Lancaster’s is another one of the must see places for a NASCAR fan if you’re in the area. Not only is the Barbeque excellent, this place almost qualifies as a NASCAR museum as it has so much memorabilia hanging on the walls and everywhere else one can imagine. NASCAR drivers and race team members eat at this place on a regular basis. Cameras are welcomed inside, just be considerate of the drivers and team members while they are eating.
If you go to Lancaster’s to eat, you’ll have to take the short drive to the nearby Penske shop. I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of most of the Penske drivers. That being said, I highly recommend making a stop here if you like NASCAR. The best part about this shop is that visitors can go up to a balcony overlooking the prep area for the cars. You’ll see team members and crew chiefs walking around and working on the cars. Don’t forget your camera as some of the best photos to be had are at this shop.
The final stop of the day was at Hendrick Motorsports, which is just a short drive away from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Of all the museums that I saw, this is by far and away the biggest. Im guessing HMS has at least 20 cars on display in their museum, everything from one of Tim Richmond’s early rides to Dale Earnhardt Jr’s latest car. The Hendrick shop’s are in two different buildings.
One of the negative aspects of visiting these shops is that many of the shops are a considerable distance away from each other. While this does provide some scenic views of the North Carolina countryside, it’s easy to eat up your day driving around to only a few of the shops. Doing your homework for a day of sightseeing the shops is very important. Just a heads up, some of the shops are much more impressive than others. Again, a little research into the different shops is time well spent.
One way to make an efficient use of your time is to use a tour company to view the shops. One of the biggest advantages of this is that they know their way around and take care of the driving. Some tour companies have pre-planned tours and others offer custom tours of the shops. I was fortunate to have discovered a company called Garage Pass Shop Tours. The great thing about this company was that our tour guide, Stan, made up a custom tour based upon what we wanted to see. Stan has worked in and around NASCAR for a long time and has an amazing amount of knowledge about the sport. By having a tour guide we really got the behind the scenes knowledge of the different shops. Additionally, the tour was significantly more educational just by having Stan explain things to us.
NASCAR has deep roots in North Carolina and I can’t think of any other city that has so much for NASCAR fans to see and do. If you’ve ever been curious as to what the heart of NASCAR looks like, go take a tour of your favorite NASCAR team’s facilities to find out.