With the completion of Charlotte-area interstate widening projects and spectacular pre-race shows on tap, Charlotte Motor Speedway officials expect smooth traffic flow for the May 21 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and May 29 Coca-Cola 600.

In recent years, fans traveling to the Charlotte region have encountered ongoing road construction along Interstates 77 and 85. But this year, both major arteries will pump race fans quickly toward the speedway, thanks to the completion of 68 additional miles of highway in the form of four additional lanes on I-85 and eight additional lanes on I-77.

"With nearly 65 percent of our fans coming from out of state for the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend, it's crucial that the major Interstates carry as much traffic as possible," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"Now that the new lanes have been added, it will only enhance the many other traffic improvements we've seen courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Transportation and State Highway Patrol during the past few years."

Since Speedway Boulevard linked the speedway's main entrance to I-85 in 1999, enhancements to improve traffic ingress and egress have been made on an almost annual basis. In 2001, Highway 29 in front of the speedway was expanded to five lanes and overhead directional signs were added. In 2002, all unreserved parking in speedway-owned lots became free of charge to get fans in the lots and off the roadways faster. In 2003, Interstate 485 provided another major artery to the speedway area by looping northbound race traffic around Charlotte to U.S. Highway 29. In addition, the speedway spent $1.5 million paving parking lot aisles to weatherproof parking areas.

For the upcoming race weekends, traffic engineers will consistently monitor flow patterns from highway cameras and use electronic message boards to steer fans toward less-congested routes. The message boards will be in key locations from the South Carolina border to as far north as Greensboro, benefiting not only out-of-state traffic but also thousands of in-state race fans from the Raleigh/Durham and Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High-Point areas.

Charlotte area fans are encouraged to use U.S. Highways 29 and 49 to reach the track.

Wheeler added that it's up to the speedway to provide good reasons for fans to arrive early to avoid traffic jams just before the green flag is waved.

"That's a major reason we put so much effort into creating entertaining pre-race shows," he said. "We want our fans to get the most entertainment value for their ticket dollar, but we also want to give them a compelling reason to arrive early in order to pace the inbound traffic flow."

On Saturday, May 21, rock group The Black Crowes will perform a pre-race concert at 3 p.m. as a prelude to the 7:30 start of the NEXTEL Open and the 9 p.m. NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge.

For the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 29, gates open at noon so fans can enjoy a spectacular pre-race show headlined with a musical performance by the "American Idol" finalists from the hit FOX television program. Show host Ryan Seacrest will emcee the performance. An extreme aerial circus with a human cannonball and a high-wire helicopter trapeze act is also on the pre-race agenda along with Robosaurus, the car-eating mechanical dinosaur. The Coca-Cola 600 will start at approximately 5:40 p.m.

Each pre-race show concert is included in the price of admission to its respective event. Tickets are still available for all May events at Charlotte Motor Speedway and can be obtained online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-455-FANS.