As They Prepare for the Oct. 17 NASCAR Banking 500, Top NASCAR Drivers Share Memories of Charlotte Motor Speedway
The NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America on Saturday night, Oct. 17, brings down the curtain on the 50th season of NASCAR racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
From Joe Lee Johnson's victory in the inaugural Coca-Cola 600 to David Reutimann's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win on Memorial Day in May, memories are what make Charlotte Motor Speedway an important part of NASCAR history.
The best way to tell the story of the magnificent facility is to share those memories and several NASCAR drivers were willing to do just that.
"I love this race track," said Mark Martin, who has 13 victories at the 1.5-mile track. "The first time I raced at Lowe's, in 1982, I thought it was just like the track I was used to running on at home. Just like the quarter-mile banked track I ran on all the time - except a lot bigger. I was really comfortable on the track instantly."
Martin's victory in the 2002 Coca-Cola 600 stands out as one of the biggest moments of his career.
"That race was just so special to me," Martin explained. "At my museum, in Batesville, Ark., I have that picture blown up pretty big from Victory Lane that night. My family is in there with me, and the team and everyone is just so happy. That's what winning means to me - seeing the faces of all the crew guys and watching them celebrate their hard work. That win just really stands out to me."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a student of auto-racing history and the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet is intrigued by the speedway's early years.
"The way it started out was so interesting and cumbersome. The way they had problems financially and how they kind of rebounded and made it work," Earnhardt Jr. said. "You wouldn't have that opportunity today to fail for so many years and struggle for so many years. Today, you wouldn't get the opportunity to recover like they did."
Earnhardt Jr. literally grew up watching his father race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and to him the track is much more than just another stop on the circuit.
"I just love it because it's in our backyard. It's a beautiful facility and they're always trying to improve and make a great experience for the fans. I'm really proud of it as an individual from the area. It's a proud part of the region and it's a place where I enjoyed watching a lot of races as a kid and I've enjoyed running a lot of races there."
Even though he has yet to achieve the level of success he's enjoyed at several other tracks, Kyle Busch calls Charlotte Motor Speedway his favorite track.
"Charlotte is my favorite race track for a lot of reasons," Busch said. "Growing up watching races on TV, I loved watching the All-Star Race under the lights and the 600 with all the sparks flying and all the guys going after hard-fought, hard-racing wins."
Ryan Newman has claimed eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series poles at Charlotte Motor Speedway and is well aware of how important it is to finally visit the track's Victory Lane.
"It's Charlotte. There's no home field advantage, but it's the home field. It's a place that we all try to shine," said Newman. "There are a lot of great drivers that have won there and joining that list is what we all search for.
"I really enjoy the race track," Newman added. "I've always said I really enjoy banked race tracks and this is one of the best and fastest banked race tracks out there."
Tony Stewart, who won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in May and captured the NASCAR Banking 500 in 2003, says a Charlotte Motor Speedway victory comes with something that can not be earned at any other track.
"It's bragging rights for everybody in the Cup Series because this is where everybody's homes are," Stewart explained. "If you win there you have those bragging rights for the whole year. It's not like going to Indy or Daytona where you have bragging rights, it's different when it's home and it's the home track for everybody."
One of Carl Edwards' fondest memories of Charlotte Motor Speedway took place long before he ever turned a wheel on the track.
"The first time I went there I was standing on the backstretch with Ken Schrader and my dad, and they were putting in the tunnel," Edwards recalled. "We stood up on the race track and I said, ‘Man it's real narrow,' and Schrader said, ‘You should see it at 200 mph, it really looks narrow then.'
"It was a neat experience to see that, and then come back and race with all the history and the intensity of the crowd."
Several affordable ticket packages are still available for the Oct. 17 NASCAR Banking 500. Individual tickets start at $49 and frontstretch tickets are available for $69. For information, contact the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS or shop online.