2012 Charlotte Race Weeks Events Guide

Welcome to TNI’s annual look at things to do in Charlotte during All-Star and Coke 600 weeks.

If you’re in town, or on your way, below is a list of things for you to do while you’re here. If you know of an event occurring in town not listed please feel free to add it in the comments.

We hope you enjoy your time in the Queen City!

Daily Events

Thursday, May 17 – The Sprint Pit Crew Challenge is one of my favorite events of race weeks in Charlotte and if you love NASCAR, you’re sure to love this event. Enjoy the Pit Crew Challenge at Time Warner Cable Arena in Uptown Charlotte. Click here for more information.

Thursday, May 17 & Friday, May 18 – Check out racing at Concord, N.C.’s other racetrack, the Concord Speedway. See a full list of events here.

Friday, May 18 – Enjoy an outdoor showing of the movie 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story on a beautiful Carolina evening in Kannapolis. Find out more information here.

Saturday, May 19 – Mooresville, N.C.’s annual Race City Festival takes over the streets of historic Downtown Mooresville. Enjoy music, live entertainment, local merchants and artisans and food. More here.

Thursday, May 24 – Saturday, May 26 – Food Lion Speed Street – Don’t miss this favorite event for fans and Charlotteans alike. See great musical acts like Easton Corbin, Clay Walker and Loverboy, get autographs from your favorite drivers and pick up some swag. All events are free. The event takes place in Uptown Charlotte. For a complete list of events, click here.

Wednesday, May 23 – Michael Waltrip Racing Fanfest – SiriusXM will be live broadcasting from this event featuring booths of team partners, a free poster, team transporters and prizes. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning Monday, May 21 at 9 a.m. More info here.

Thursday, May 24 – Roush Fenway Racing’s Annual Fan Day – See show cars, the team shop, sponsor booths and meet Jack Roush and select team drivers. Tickets for autograph sessions are available beginning at 8 a.m. day of. More info here.

Thursday, May 24 – Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Fan Day – See the EGR shop and meet team drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray. Wristbands are required for autographs and are available to reserve now. More info here.

Friday, May 25 – Richard Childress Racing Fan Day – Check out the Childress Museum, see the team’s shop, get autographs and end your day with a concert at Childress Vineyards. Tickets are required for the autograph sessions and will be distributed beginning at 9 a.m. the day of. More info here.

Friday, May 25 – Hendrick Motorsports Fan Fest – Check out the shops of all your favorite Hendrick drivers and get their autographs. A limited number are available beginning at 11 a.m. on the day of the event. More info here.

Friday, May 25 – JR Motorsports Fan Day – Open house activities including an autograph session Friday. Tickets for the autograph session (including drivers Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) are free – a donation of a pet item or canned food item is requested – and are distributed beginning Monday, May 21. More info here.

Friday, May 25 - There’s no racing at the big track on Friday, so head over to the Dirt Track at Charlotte across the street and check out the Circle K NOS Energy Outlaw Showdown with all your favorite WOO stars. Click here.

Saturday, May 26 - Check out racing at Hickory Motor Speedway, the “birthplace of NASCAR stars.” More info here.

Autograph Sessions

From Timothy Peters and Jeff Burton to Cale Yarborough and Bill Elliott, chances are if you have a favorite driver, you can get their autograph sometime these weeks. Find a complete list here.

Ongoing Entertainment

Race Shop Tours – Get a map and enjoy driving around the North Carolina Piedmont to see all of your favorite team shops. More info here.

Lancaster’s – Looking for good barbecue and a racing atmosphere? Lancaster’s has a ton of racing memorabilia – you can even eat in a converted school bus painted like Dale Earnhardt’s Wrangler ride. More info here.

Go-Kart Racing in the QC – Want to do some racing of your own? Check out the NASCAR Speedpark at Concord Mills, Victory Lane Karting in Charlotte and The Pit Indoor Karting in Mooresville.

NASCAR Hall of Fame – The two-year-old NASCAR Hall of Fame in Center City Charlotte, is a 150,000-square-foot interactive, entertainment attraction honoring the history and heritage of NASCAR. More info here.

Occoneechee Speedway – Take a day trip up to Hillsborough, North Carolina to see the Occoneechee Speedway (formerly the Orange Speedway). It is the only remaining dirt track from the 1949 season. It is heavily overgrown, but the Historic Speedway Group has converted the track into a walking trail and reconstructed some of the out buildings. It is free and definitely worth the trip if you enjoy NASCAR history.

Memory Lane Museum - A neat museum with a ton of cool, old race cars and racing memorabilia. $10 entry fee. More info here.

North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame – Located across the street from Roush Fenway’s old Mooresville shop, the NCARHOF has  interesting cars and artifacts chronicling North Carolina’s motorsports history. They have a $6 entry fee. Don’t forget to check out the Walk of Fame in Downtown Mooresville too. More info here.

Driver Haunts – Want to eat at some favorites of NASCAR crew members and drivers? Check out Vinnie’s Raw BarHickory Tavern, and Big Daddy’s in Mooresville, The Rusty Rudder in Cornelius, and Fox and Hound and Red Rocks in Huntersville.

Looking for other non-NASCAR related things to do? Check out the Charlotte Observer’s event guide and CharlotteCultureGuide.com.

Kurt Busch Is In The 51 For A Reason

There was a post yesterday over at SB Nation, written by Jordan Bianchi, that was titled “If I Were A NASCAR Owner, I’d Hire Kurt Busch.” In it, Bianchi makes a case for why a big time owner should hire Kurt Busch, despite his very recent and past problems. His main point is that Busch is a proven race winner and a championship contender and his performance on track is enough to look past his behavior. The problem is though, that teams and sponsors don’t agree.

In the new economy, and the hopefully rebounding world of NASCAR sponsorship, all companies are looking for is a return on their sponsorship dollars. As a team, you can’t sell a sponsorship based heavily on performance, because performance isn’t guaranteed. If winning races and contending for championships was all sponsors cared about, Matt Kenseth wouldn’t have open slots on his schedule, and JTG-Daugherty and Front Row Motorsports would not still be in a business. Winning is great, but it isn’t everything.

When you pour $10, $15, or $20 million into a NASCAR marketing program that is based around a driver, there isn’t a company on this planet that would be happy about their driver going on F-bomb laced tirades that show up on YouTube. You might get away with one. Kurt Busch has several. Companies can’t afford to be associated with that type of behavior, edgy or not.

And don’t you think the fact that both Jack Roush and Roger Penske threw their hands in the air and said “no mas” with this guy is a serious affirmation of his character? They both decided, regardless of his performance, that he was too much of a liability to keep.

Busch has been mentioned recently as a possible replacement in the #20 if Joey Logano gets released from JGR. He’s also been rumored to be a candidate for RCR’s #31 if Richard Childress decides to let Jeff Burton go at season’s end. But let’s be realistic here, why would either organization bring him into the mix? JGR already has enough problems with one Busch brother, who last season nearly lost his ride because of his ridiculous behavior. Word is it took some serious negotiating to get sponsor M&M’s to agree to keep Kyle in the #18 for this year. There is no way they’d want to double up on their Busch risk. And if Richard Petty Motorsports couldn’t sell Kurt Busch, what makes anyone think JGR and RCR could, or would even want to try?

There comes a point when owners and sponsors have to decide what’s best for the future of their companies. With every incident and outburst, Kurt Busch pushes himself further and further from the top. These well publicized incidents are not isolated with Busch. It’s a pattern of behavior that reveals what his character really is. There are plenty of other ultra-competitive drivers out there who manage to win races and championships without getting in confrontations with the media, and slinging profanity at their teams when things don’t go well.

Competitive or not, Busch is in the unsponsored Phoenix #51 for a reason. Teams have drawn the line of what is tolerable behavior, and Busch might not ever make it back.

Gordon Off To Worst Start Of His Career

Three lead lap finishes through ten races, two DNFs, an average finish of 21.6, and a points position of 23rd. It all adds up to the worst start of Jeff Gordon’s career. And with a crash and a 33rd place finish at Talladega, there is no end in sight to Gordon’s bad luck.

After blowing an engine in the Daytona 500, Gordon came back with solid runs at Phoenix and Las Vegas. But contact with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. led to a cut tire and wreck at Bristol.

At California, Gordon ran strong before problems on pit road put him deep in the field. The race was shortened by rain before he could race his way back into contention. Martinsville was Gordon’s best race of the season. He led 328 laps, but an incident late with Clint Bowyer relegated him to 14th.

Gordon followed up his strong run at Martinsville with a fourth place finish at Texas. But back-to-back finishes outside the top 20 at Kansas and Richmond, along with the crash at Talladega, have put Gordon 70 points out of the Chase.

With the exception of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports seems to be a bit off this season. Kasey Kahne got off to a rough start, but has turned it around over the last four races. He has yet to seriously contend for a win however. And even though Jimmie Johnson is eighth in the points, this is the first season since 2003 that he hasn’t won one of the first ten races.

For Gordon, he’s really just been the victim of really bad luck. He’s had good runs, lead laps, and even won the pole at Talladega. The team just can’t seem to get to the finish. All the 24 bunch can really do is continue showing up with fast race cars and hope things turn around.

A Photo For Thought

On a different note, click this link, look at the photo, and let me know your thoughts. Does it get any more perfect than this?

The Physics of Carl’s Restart Penalty

A late race penalty on a restart for what some think was a questionable caution at Richmond set into motion circumstances that likely shifted the outcome of the race Saturday night. Once again, NASCAR’s restart rules claimed a victim – this time, Carl Edwards.

Angry after the race, Edwards said NASCAR had repeatedly told his spotter Jason Hedlesky that Edwards was the leader, meaning he got to start to race. NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton disagreed, reiterating that the #99 wasn’t the leader and even if Edwards had been, he jumped the start.

The source for all things science and NASCAR, and author of The Physics of NASCAR, Dr. Diandra has a theory that the perception in this case that Edwards jumped the start, may not have in fact been reality. It’s physics I guess…

Although the restart controversy regarding the 14 and the 99 seems to be more a matter of a communications screw up (both cars claim they were told they were P1), it raises an interesting issue in terms of what we perceive vs. what actually is.  Even sat at a train crossing and had the momentary feeling that the train was standing still and you were moving sideways? Here’s a series of animations I put together really quickly. See if they do the job.

I highly recommend reading (and viewing) the rest here and staying up with the blog Building Speed.

UPDATE: I think I was light above with detail, so I just wanted to update with Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky’s comment from below:

“Thanks for the link! Just to make sure this is viewed in the proper context, even if Edwards had been the leader, it looks pretty clearly like he jumped the restart. I wasn’t trying to say that the call was wrong, just to point out that you can’t always trust what you see!

Bristol, Bruton and The Changes Coming Our Way

Before I begin, let me just say how much I enjoy Bruton Smith. He’s a non-stop source of unforgettable quotes and over the top bluster – oh and we can’t forget the Liz Taylor sunglasses. I seldom get more excited than when there’s going to be a Bruton press conference.

“I have built more speedways than anybody in the world, and I have never consulted race drivers when I’m building a speedway because it’ll drive you nuts,” Smith said.

On Wednesday, Smith along with officials at Bristol Motor Speedway announced what changes SMI would be making to the track by the time the Irwin Tools Night Race rolls into town in August.

The changes came in response to lagging attendance and a realization by track management that something had to change. A fan survey and mixed reviews later, the group landed on altering the banking of the track through a grinding process, cutting down on the number of lanes.

The move will likely restore the racing to the way it was prior to reconfiguration in 2007 that added progressive banking. That means one groove and a lot of carnage. This of course drew mixed reactions from drivers.

Jeff Burton said:

“I find it interesting that some racetracks, when they make some changes, they never call drivers… Guess what? We know more about it then some people making those decisions. We might not agree.”

Kasey Kahne on the other hand wrote on his Twitter:

“Sounds great to me. I like what Bruton is doing to Bristol.”

Reference Bruton’s comment up top I suppose.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to August and Bristol, and more memorable moments like this…

Hey Kenny, Tone It Down A Bit

We first reported this week that Travis Pastrana would be making his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut with RAB Racing (or the team’s points at least). The deal was an obvious one for Pastrana 199 Racing to secure a guaranteed starting spot for the rookie driver.

This, and other deals, leave Kenny Wallace out of a ride, at least for now, at RAB. And of course, Kenny has been making a bit of a stink about it.

Before I go on, let me say, I understand why Kenny is frustrated. He’s a genial guy, who’s worked hard for this and other opportunities. And in recent years, he’s brought consistency and some measure of success to RAB Racing. Then, he finds himself without a sponsor and without a ride. Who wouldn’t be frustrated?

Kenny though has been, perhaps, a little too willing to express his frustration with the financial situation at RAB. After being informed earlier this season that he was only guaranteed five races with the team, he went on a little media tour. He told Sirius Speedway:

“(Team owner) Robby Benton came to me and said, `We’re going to run you for first five races of year,” revealed Wallace today. “`If we don’t have any sponsorship after that, I’m going to have to sell the ride.’ He’s already got some little rich kids calling about buying races, so I may be out of the car pretty soon.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Wallace. “I worked my ass off last year to get my dignity back and prove to everyone that we could still run up front. And look at me now, running around like a bozo in a plain black car. It’s demoralizing. I can’t find any more money, so it looks like I’m not going to be a full time driver this year. If I don’t have any money after California, the ride will go to whoever has money. Robby has to pay his crew, and I understand that.

Wow.

Last week, he took to his Twitter account to express his frustration with the situation. Or perhaps more accurately, let his followers do it through retweets.

So his frustrations have become theirs. And, as he gets pushed out in favor of someone with resources to keep the team in business, the self-funded driver has become a big point of consternation (see Kenny Wallace/Brian Scott Twitter fight). The self-funded driver though is a reality of our sport, for good or bad. And if you’re a team owner lacking funds, short of starting-and-parking, this is the path many must take.

Robby Benton is a guy with a business partner who has to focus on the dozen+ employees who count on him to pay their mortgages and feed their families. Robby, as a small business owner, also has to consider that business and his own financial well-being. Owning a race team is not charitable work.

The comments above and the Twitter tactics really make me shake my head. This doesn’t particularly reflect well on the driver for the current team providing an opportunity when it can, future teams he wants opportunities with or sponsors who might consider getting into the Kenny Wallace business.

I like Kenny and I understand he just wants to race, but this is not the way to get back in a car. There is nothing more admirable than the person who maintains grace and dignity in the face of adversity.

Pastrana To Debut With RAB Racing?

When Travis Pastrana, who was in attendance at Texas Motor Speedway, makes his NASCAR debut next weekend at Richmond International Raceway, it may be in a car associated with RAB Racing.

Pastrana’s Pastrana 199 Racing has an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing, but the team hasn’t run it’s #99 Nationwide car since last season and does not have a guaranteed starting spot. A deal with RAB, who is a Toyota team and short on sponsorship for regular driver Kenny Wallace, would ensure Pastrana a starting spot for his first Nationwide race. Ryan Truex ran for RAB at Texas, and Wallace is expected to return to the seat of the #09 for the Talladega race, but a driver for Richmond has not yet been announced.

If the rumored deal is completed, expect an announcement in the coming days.

Kyle Busch Motorsports Sputtering Out Of The Gate

Five races into the 2012 Nationwide Series schedule, Kyle Busch is experiencing just how difficult it can be to own a team in the upper tier of NASCAR. A combination of mistakes, bad luck, and slow race cars has added up to an average finish of 17.4 and just two lead lap finishes. His team’s performance has been a far cry from what we are used to seeing out of Busch.

From 2008 through 2011, Busch won a staggering 40 NNS races. On average, he won better than every third time he ran. In the 20 races he ran last season, Busch finished in the top five 17 times. But all this success came driving for the very established Nationwide program at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Coming into this season, Busch took on the task of expanding his already successful Truck Series team to include a full-time Nationwide effort. With backing from Monster Energy, brother Kurt co-driving, and veteran crew chief Mike Beam at the helm, I believe most thought it wouldn’t take long for this team to be a contender. But that just hasn’t been the case.

The most pressing concern for Busch and crew has to be the very clear lack of speed from the cars. The team has only qualified in the top ten once this season,  and while he’s led laps in the last two races, the cars clearly aren’t as good as they need to be. Busch is the type of driver that can elevate the level of his equipment with his talent and ability (if you don’t believe that, compare Busch’s performance in KBM trucks versus the other guys that have driven for him), but a driver can only do so much. KBM builds all of its own chassis, and clearly more development is needed.

Besides the lack of speed, Busch has been the victim of mistakes on pit road. Driving for JGR, Busch’s cars were serviced by the same finely tuned and experienced crew guys that pit JGR Cup cars. But the pit crew at KBM is a standalone team. They are a talented and experienced team in their own right, but they just haven’t performed well. And Kyle Busch won’t wait long for them to figure it out.

We are currently in the midst of a two-week break for the Nationwide Series, and it probably couldn’t have come at a better time for KBM. This team won’t struggle forever, but turning KBM into a championship contender just might take a little longer than expected.

NASCAR Team Owner For Senate

In recent years, politics and NASCAR have played hand-in-hand. Presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush (First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden were at Homestead last season) have come to races and candidates for the office have made it an obligatory stop – Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were at Daytona this election cycle.

So it only seems fitting that we have a NASCAR team owner running for office – in this case it’s RAB Racing’s Robby Benton.

Graphic courtesy of VoteRobbyBenton.com

Benton, who against all odds has kept RAB going and thriving in a sport dominated by much better funded organizations, is a candidate for the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in the North Carolina General Assembly. The district, #41, covering north and a sliver of east Mecklenburg County is a decidedly safe Republican district.

Benton though faces a tough primary against five opponents including favorite, Cornelius, N.C. Mayor Jeff Tarte. The winner of the primary is very likely to go on to win in November.

Benton isn’t alone in the ranks of NASCAR team owners pursuing elected office. In 1996, Richard Petty was the Republican nominee for North Carolina Secretary of State. Petty ultimately didn’t put a lot into campaigning and lost the election by 8 points to then State Senator and current N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.

I’m no political prognosticator, but this is no doubt an interesting item to keep an eye on.

Kasey Kahne Can’t Catch a Break

Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis’ move to Hendrick Motorsports this season was met with great optimism. The two had found success in tenous situations at Red Bull Racing and various iterations of Evernham Motorsports – with Hendrick at their back, the world was their oyster.

Unfortunately for the two, this season hasn’t turned out so well. At Daytona the team was caught up in a wreck; then at Phoenix Kahne made contact with the wall and had suspension issues; at Las Vegas, after taking the pole he got caught up in a wreck late in the race; at Bristol he finished 37th after getting caught up again in a wreck; at California, the car remained intact, but the team wasn’t able to make up much ground before the rain ended the race finishing 14th, and on Sunday, after winning the pole the engine gave out.

As the saying goes, if Kasey Kahne didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. Sitting 31st in points right now, the team has got to be wondering what to do.

This is surely not an indicator of the season to come but things have to got to change and change soon. The #5 team has a hole to climb out of, but if any two can do it, it’s Kahne and Francis.

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