Drop the hammer!
Inexplicably, one of the things I was most looking forward to on our road trip across North Carolina was the Charlotte Motor Speedway tours. I have never seen a NASCAR race and couldn’t tell you anything about the sport, but I have seen Cars eleventy-billion times and may or may not channel Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder and exclaim, “I’m dropping the hammer!” when I’m about to do something quickly. Plus? Stroker Ace. So, while I may not know any actual real race car drivers’ names, I do get a bit excited about Lightning McQueen and Cole Trickle. And even Ricky Bobby.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is located in Concord, NC – which is about a 20 minute drive from downtown (“uptown”) Charlotte. The biggest draw here is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but there’s usually an event happening every week either at the main oval, the zMAX Dragway, or the Dirt Track. Whether it’s Monster Trucks or Bandolero cars, if it’s at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, chances are it’s loud and dirty and fast.
The Charlotte Motor Speedway tours aren’t, though. They feel fast, but that’s likely because they’re so cool.
We were signed up for the Feel the Thrill tour, which takes you through the ZMAX Dragway, and drives around the surrounding area, including the Dirt Track. But when you come through the tunnel into the main level of the main speedway track, it’s a pretty incredible view. We learned the history of the speedway while checking out the inner tracks, pit area, and got out for a picture in Winner’s Circle. Bub was a little overwhelmed.
But the absolute best part about the Feel the Thrill Tour is going around the track in the tour van.
Our tour guide, Toriano, assured me we were only going 55 MPH, but combining the speed and the angle of the track, it felt like we were going much much faster. Considering the stock cars go almost four times that speed, it certainly has given me an appreciation for what real racing is like.
Toriano was also amazing in answering my guys’ questions, which mostly tied back to Cars. “Why do you have to change the tires so often?” “Would that be where Lightning McQueen was chatting with the Dinoco boss?” And now I know why so many of the race fans in Cars are camper vans and motorhomes.
And given the quality of the experience, the Charlotte Motor Speedway tours are incredibly reasonable. The Feel the Thrill price for adults is $12, and seniors and children under 13 are $10. On non-event days they run them hourly starting at 9:30am–best to call ahead to reserve. I was delighted when Toriano pulled out a low back booster seat for Bub to use for our tour. They do have a handful of boosters available, but car seats for younger kids should be provided by their accompanying adult.
If you’re staying in uptown Charlotte, it’s an easy drive to Concord and the Charlotte Motor Speedway. However we actually stayed in Concord, and I’m so glad we could transfer that car time to fun stuff like playing and shopping 🙂
Where we stayed:
There are a number of small hotels in Concord, but we stayed at Great Wolf Lodge. Initially I was a bit concerned about getting the kids out of the waterpark to explore the rest of the area, but since we recently visited Great Wolf Lodge Niagara Falls, they didn’t feel too slide-deprived and only grumbled a teensy bit when it came to heading out and about.
I was a little surprised to see that the waterpark in Concord was a bit smaller than the one in Niagara Falls, but other than that the layout and rooms were pretty much exactly the same. In spite of it being smack dab in the middle of high season, the waterpark was not as busy as you would imagine, and the only time you knew the hotel was almost full was when you were crossing the lobby during storytime. As we’ve come to expect with Great Wolf Lodge, the guest rooms were spacious and comfortable (no Wolf Den suite for us this time, though!) and the rooms and public areas were spotless.
Where we ate:
Loose Moose Cottage — Great Wolf Lodge Concord NC
Since we were maximizing our time in Concord, we ate both meals (dinner and breakfast) at the Loose Moose Cottage in Great Wolf Lodge. Buffets are great for us since my kids’ tastes seem to change daily, and my gluten-free husband can have an easier time of it choosing separate food items he feels confident eating. And as is our usual experience with the buffets at Great Wolf Lodge, the food was really good, with lots and lots of variety.
Highlights for us included the prime rib and mac & cheese at dinner, and the omelet station and amazing fresh fruit at breakfast. Sooo good.
The Speedway Club — Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, NC
Before our Feel the Thrill Charlotte Motor Speedway tour, we had lunch at The Speedway Club that overlooks the track. The view is amazing, and this is where we first noticed that the track looked exactly like the one in Cars, and Bub pointed out all the places that were featured in the movie.
The food here is delicious. The Mr. and I both had the Black & Blue salad (blackened steak and blue cheese–I know, right?) and it seriously stands out as one of the best things I ate on the trip. This kids’ menu featured the usual suspects, and was good value at $7, but my guys ordered off the main menu. Since he seemed determined to cause a North Carolina shrimp shortage, Bub had fried shrimp (theirs are breaded) and Megs had the Speedway Club sandwich, which was DELICIOUS.
Prices here were slightly higher than we experienced dining throughout North Carolina, but were by no means unreasonable and totally seemed appropriate with the lovely atmosphere and great service. Call ahead for reservations.
Other Things to do in Concord, NC:
Concord Mills Mall — Concord, NC
One thing we had very little time to do during our trip across North Carolina, was shop. So I was glad that the giant shopping mecca known as Concord Mills was literally almost exactly halfway between Great Wolf Lodge and the speedway. There are still a few stores in the US that haven’t made their way north of the border yet, so I love to check those out. I also love finding a BOGO shoe sale and since we were driving instead of flying, I didn’t have to worry about new purchases weighing down my luggage or taking up precious room in in my carry-on. One of the best things about driving instead of flying is using your car (in our case, a loaner Honda Odyssey Touring van with amazing capacity) as a giant suitcase.
Sea Life Aquarium — Concord, NC
Due to the limited amount of time we had in Concord, unfortunately we weren’t able to check out the Sea Life Aquarium, but that gives us an excuse to return, right?! It’s actually located in the Concord Mills Mall complex, so if I could’ve dragged myself away from BOGO just a bit sooner, we could have checked out the sharks, stingrays, sea stars, sea horses, jellyfish, and thousands of colorful fish, and the interactive touch pool. My kids love seeing sharks up close (who doesn’t, really) and I definitely wish we had more time to visit.
We visited North Carolina with the assistance of Visit North Carolina, but all opinions are my own.
Great Wolf Lodge has been on our list for ages! This looks like a great place to try it
Like you, I do enjoy “Cars” but I’m really not into NASCAR. Sounds like the tour was a lot of fun, though! I think it’s something my family (especially my husband) would enjoy.
I would never think of taking my family to something like this, but it looks like a really fun experience. I can see how if you’ve got car fanatics in your house it would be a bucket list item. I’m intrigued…
We’ve never been – looks like something my son would love!
My 7-year-old son would love this!
This is something different to do with the kids Corinne! I bought my 4 yr old one of those mini electric car, and he loves it. It’s nice to see kids get exposed to something old school, not that NASCAR is old, but you know what I mean? Their generation lacks what we had back then. Real action!