Charlotte celebrates NASCAR Hall of Fame's opening day
Tuesday, May. 11, 2010
Thousands of fans and a handful of dignitaries gathered Tuesday morning in Charlotte's uptown for the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Opening ceremonies took place without a hitch, and amid fireworks and cheers from the crowd, the Hall officially was opened at 9:55 a.m.
The first to enter were a half-dozen fans selected by NASCAR officials, accompanied by some of the sport's biggest names – including former champions Darrell Waltrip, Jack Ingram, Ron Hornaday, Junior Johnson and Richard Petty; and members of the France family, credited with having helped build stock car racing from its moonshining roots into one of the world's biggest sports.
"There is no place in the world any more proud today than North Carolina," Gov. Bev Perdue told the crowd gathered outdoors in the NASCAR Plaza.
North Carolina is where the sport was born and bred, she said, and where so many motorsports shops, with their combined 27,000 jobs, still call home.
"NASCAR has stood up and said, 'North Carolina, we belong to you,' " she said.
Rain threatened the opening ceremonies, but showers held off until the Hall was opened.
Fans Jesse and Fannie Davis of Brunswick, Ga., were the first to arrive in the plaza area to watch the outdoor opening ceremonies. They got there at 2 a.m. and watched throughout the early morning as workers set up the staging area. "This is where a NASCAR fan belongs," Fannie Davis, 49, said.
Fred and Pat Davis drove from Saddlebrook, N.J., while Dale and Jennifer Ralston flew in from Wichita Falls, Texas. Both couples were among the first fans with tickets allowing them to enter the Hall after the ceremonies.
Tim Sheehan, 55, came from Eau Claire, Wisc.
"The Upper Midwest has always been a hotbed for racing," he said.
Nearby was Julia Sain, 54, of Matthews, who caught the racing bug growing up in Wilkesboro.
"I thought the 'Dukes of Hazzard' was a documentary," she joked.
But while most fans snared seats early for the 9 a.m. opening ceremonies, they knew the bigger attractions were inside, numerous interactive displays in the 40,000-plus square feet of exhibit areas.
Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory was among the handful of speakers. He recalled the time, at age 19, that he slipped into a NASCAR race by way of a back fence.
"As an ex-mayor, I'm proud to pay my way in today – so I can go through the front door," he declared as he handed over a $20 bill. Admission for adults is $19.95.
Added Bank of America executive Cathy Bessant: "Mark the moment. This is a historic moment."
Outdoor concerts and other special events are planned throughout the day and evening at the Hall site, on East Stonewall Street at Brevard Street.
Portions of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Brevard Street near the Hall of Fame were expected to be closed for much of the day.
Workers made final adjustments throughout the night at the Hall site, completing the job of setting up the outdoor amphitheater used for the opening ceremonies. They did so under the glare of bright floodlights, with a growing line of fans watching nearby.
Motorists headed into Charlotte's uptown for work were reminded that streets on the east side of center city likely will be more congested than usual. NASCAR fans and commuters had been asked to use the light rail line Tuesday, but extra traffic control was scheduled.