The Charlotte, North Carolina area is full of NASCAR racing attractions for fans and travelers that one article just doesn’t do justice. Here I want to write about exploring a legendary trail, why the driver’s pit crew members are athletes in their own right and a great NASCAR-themed restaurant.
Exploring The Dale Trail
Not since I was in Qufu, China (home of Confucius), have I seen so many things named after one person. Well, I guess you could say that the late Dale Earnhardt is the “Confucius of NASCAR”, because, like Confucius, he is one of the most revered figures of his time and profession. As with Confucius, Ol’ Number 3 has some very philosophical quotes attributed to him:
“You ask me about tragic accidents? If I am on my tractor at my farm and it rolls over on me and kills me, that’s a tragic accident. If I die in a race car, that’s life. I died doing what I love.”
“God created bumpers and…Bumpers were made for bumping!”
Earnhardt’s legend continues to bring in admirers to his hometown of Kannapolis, North Carolina (less than 30 miles from Charlotte), where he grew up and lived closed by before he was tragically killed. Visiting The Dale Trail is a must for die hard NASCAR and Earnhardt fans. Earnhardt’s name is emblazoned all over the place from monuments to roads like Dale Earnhardt Blvd., one of Kannapolis’ main drags that brought in 8,000 people when it was dedicated in 1992.
In the photo at Dale Earnhardt Plaza, I’m posing with a nine foot high, 900 pound bronze statue of the great racing champion, who met his fate in 2001 at the Daytona 500 in the last turn of the last lap of this NASCAR race.
Earnhardt ironically grew up in a neighborhood known as Car Town, which also makes up the trail. He lived in an area that had streets named after cars like Chrysler and Dodge, which I noticed when I was driven through his neighborhood.
One restaurant in town (on 119 Main St. near the plaza) called Junction Café & Grill serves “Dale’s Favorite Sandwich”, a sliced tomato and Miracle Whip on white bread (sometimes with lettuce). When creating The Dale Trail, Dale’s mother Martha, stressed that it had to be Miracle Whip, not mayo.
The core of the Dale Trail attractions are within five miles of each other in this growing city of well over 30,000 people. It’s an easy drive to get to the numerous Dale Earnhardt attractions, including his first Winston Cup Championship Car from 1980 at Mike Curb’s Motorsports & Music Museum on 600 Dale Earnhardt Blvd. This venue has gotten some interesting music memorabilia because of Curb’s involvement in the country music record industry. His “congregation” performed the great theme song (Burning Bridges) to the Clint Eastwood movie, Kelly’s Heroes.
Athletes at Pit Instruction & Training
I came to appreciate the athletic prowess of the pit crews when visiting the Pit Instruction & Training, a 25-minute drive from downtown Charlotte in Mooresville. These men are no longer overweight and out of shape weekend warriors; they take minutes to service a car during a race compared to a couple of generations ago. As a matter of fact, NASCAR pit crews who can’t service a 3,400 pound racing car in 13 seconds aren’t meeting the current acceptable standards; even that time has been shaved down from 2000. Then, 18.5 seconds was considered good to fill the car with 22 gallons of fuel and change a set of tires, plus other maintenance.
I learned that a three-tenths of a second error can cost the racing driver some five car lengths in a race, so firms are doing what they can to shave the pit crew times down even further. One reason why the times are so fast is because when the tires are changed, the lug nuts are already attached to the tire via weather stripping. Another reason has to do with the extensive conditioning these athletes have to undergo. I saw men pulling 60-pound weights on the grass, running around the complex, and working in the weight room. Every edge is needed to ensure a good pit stop for NASCAR drivers.
People desiring to work on a pit crew pay close to $2,500 for eight weeks of pit crew training (with about a one in two chance of landing an actual job in NASCAR, where top jobs can earn six figure incomes). They are allowed to come back for continuing training as an established pit crew member. The training is so specific that crews even do simulated training to match a certain race track!
Eat where the NASCAR stars dine
After touring the NASCAR sites, you’ll need to satisfy your thirst and hunger at Lancaster’s Bar-B-Que & Wings, about 30 miles from Charlotte, well worth the drive! It’s inspired by Eastern North Carolina Barbeque flavors; mmany NASCAR drivers and teams have frequented this restaurant over the years. The owner, Jeff Lancaster, got them interested in coming by offering them a good deal on barbeque meals. If you leave hungry and thirsty (free refills on soft drinks that already come in large glasses), it’s because you didn’t try very hard. Lancaster’s doesn’t even have a big dessert menu because of the filling entrees. If you ask, you’ll be offered brownies, that’s about it.
I had some great-tasting food for lunch while surrounded by tons of NASCAR-themed memorabilia. This establishment is so into racing, Lancaster’s refers to the Men’s and Women’s restrooms as “Top Gun” and “Miss Winston”. The atmosphere is low key, friendly and fast service goes with your filling meal. You can even request autographs from the racing drivers and crew members AFTER they’ve eaten.
I was told that I was sitting in the same seating area as Dale Earnhardt, who ate there often! I started off with Redneck Fries and Redneck Nachos (pictured), both topped with great-tasting barbecued pork. Their appetizers come in large servings and are priced between $2.75-$8.95, but you’ll also get addictive hush puppies as your table bread.
For my entrée, I savored their popular Chicken and Bar-B-Que Pork, which came with delicious potato salad and mustard-based (rather than mayo-based) cole slaw, which I’d never tried before. Good. The delicious barbeque pork can be doused with two kinds of sauces, favorite being the smoked hickory flavored one, but a vinegar-type is also on the table. The Southern Fried Chicken was cooked to the bone, had a lightly-spiced crunchy skin. The prices for the entrees range from $5.25 to $17.95, and include a wide selection of Barbeque salads, ribs, sandwiches and seafood dinners.
View the author’s first article on NASCAR here.
Roy A. Barnes writes from southeastern Wyoming and is a frequent contributor to Bootsnall.com.