I woke up early in anticipation of my visit to the Hall of Fame. After a stop to meet up with a pal, we were on our way and finally arrived around 11:30am.
The first stop was a visit to The High Octane Theater to see a short film about the evolution of NASCAR. It was just enough to get the adrenalin pumping and we walked out eager to explore.
The first thing that caught my eye was Dale Jr’s bright yellow and blue No. 3 Wrangler car. As I approached to get a closer look, I found myself grinning from ear to ear. His emotional win in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona just a few weeks earlier will probably always be one of my favorite NASCAR memories.
I was especially pleased to see that the car had been brought from the track perfectly preserved, down to the mud splattered hood and windshield.
Next, we walked up “Glory Road,” the ramp leading to the second level. It has something for everyone. It’s like a candy store for NASCAR fans with the likes of David Pearson’s No. 21 Purolator car, the Intimidator’s black No. 3 car, Jimmie Johnson’s #48 car and many others.
The cars sit on a platform that mimics the various degrees of banking at different racetracks. The steepest banking simulated is the 33 degrees of Talladega. You might be surprised to find that it’s almost impossible to even walk up this incline.
It’s these small details that make the Hall of Fame a complete experience.
Making our way along the ramp, I stopped to take some pictures of the famous “Petty Blue” No. 43. As I stood there, an employee happened to walk by.
“Come back in an hour,” she said,” Richard Petty will be stopping by to film some commercial spots.”
We couldn’t believe our luck and made sure to stake out a spot in front of his car.
While we waited, I saw Winston Kelly, the Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, and I introduced myself to him. My husband had worked with him at Duke Energy so we stood there and chatted a few minutes.
I asked him how he had made the leap from Duke Energy to NASCAR. Of course I knew that he’d been involved with NASCAR for most of his life but I was curious as to what he would say.
He told me that he had always been a fan and had worked as a radio broadcaster for Motor Racing Network for several years. He was approached and asked if he would like to be a part of the Hall of Fame.
Kelly smiled and went on to say “In a weak moment, they asked me and in a weak moment, I accepted. “
The next thing I knew, Richard Petty was standing just a few feet away from me in his trademark hat and sunglasses. He had walked in alone, with no security, and joked with the staff as they prepared to shoot his part in the commercials.
The entire process was over in about twenty minutes and then came the hard part.
Petty looked over at Winston Kelly and jokingly asked “How are you getting me out of here?”
To no one’s surprise, he was almost immediately surrounded by a crowd of eager but respectful fans. As Petty slowly made his way out, some were brave enough to ask for a picture with the King but most settled for an autograph.
We were later told by an employee that Petty has become a regular visitor. You never know who you might happen to see on any given day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. On this day, we considered ourselves very lucky indeed to have been in the presence of one of NASCAR’S icons.
The second level features a celebration of the Hall of Fame Inductees and highlights their individual achievements. It’s also known as the interactive level and can provide hours of entertainment with the different displays.
You can try running a couple of qualifying laps on a simulator at the current track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. I tried two laps at Bristol and believe me; it’s not as easy as it looks, but loads of fun.
There’s also a pit crew challenge with a daily prize. You can compete as an individual or as a two person crew. We saw an awesome father and son team and a few that weren’t so memorable but everyone was having a blast.
They also have racing simulators where you can try your luck in the car of your choice and compete for the best time of the day.
There are too many activities to list and almost too much to do in just one visit. We still had one more level to explore so we headed up to the third level.
It’s named Heritage Speedway and tells the story of NASCAR with countless displays. Each case is filled with a slice of history and as I walked down the aisles I felt a sense of awe.
The pioneers of NASCAR, those we have lost, past champions and today’s best are all represented. There are tributes to Wendell Scott, Louise Smith, Herb Thomas, Smokey Yunick, Rob Moroso, Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Dale Earnhardt and countless others.
Almost four hours and 200 pictures later, we finally left, tired but satisfied. I’m proud of my hometown and what they’ve accomplished with the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I can hardly wait to visit again and see the progression of this tribute to NASCAR history.
As I rode home and reflected on our trip, I found myself grinning again. I had in my hands an autograph from the King, Richard Petty.
How cool is that?