Children attending the Sept. 10-13, 2009 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway will have a chance to construct small-scale LEGO race cars and test them on an indoor track with the help of local LEGO store employees, on loan from the LEGO Store at Concord Mills Mall. As they snap the colorful pieces together, the young car enthusiasts will not realize that their growing brains are learning basic lessons about math, creativity and engineering.

Improving the educational value of childhood play was Ole Kirk Christiansen's goal when he applied the LEGO name to his line of wooden toys in 1932. The Danish carpenter created the word by combining the first two letters of "leg godt," which means "play well" in his native language.

In the 1940s, Christiansen realized that new forms of synthetic materials would make children's toys more durable and also safer because they required no paint and could be washed after play. In 1949, the company introduced stackable bricks called Automatic Binding Bricks. Available in bright primary colors with a pattern of short studs on top, the bricks could form simple structures such as walls, but their bond was too weak for complex designs.

It wasn't until 1958, with the addition of central, hollow tubes to the underside of each brick, that the bricks could be linked together in strong chains. With that simple modification, the LEGO System of Play made its world debut.

Within the next five years, the LEGO Group changed its brick recipe, allowing the use of injection-molding techniques accurate to within two-thousandths of a millimeter. This early attention to product detail means that bricks produced at any time during the last half-century are compatible with any other part of the LEGO universal system.

Not since the invention of the atom and the DNA molecule has such a simple building brick generated so much variety. Computer calculations tell us there are more than 915 million different ways to combine six eight-stud LEGO bricks, and that does not take into account the 52 colors or 2,350 other LEGO elements such as sloping roof tiles (introduced in 1958), wheels (1962), powered trains (1966), human-like figures (1974) and wind-up engines (1982).

The LEGO system's success funded the first LEGOLAND theme park in 1968 in Christiansen's hometown of Billund, Denmark, where 50 million bricks now make up seven themed environments displaying cowboys, pirates, knights and other characters from childhood imagination. The company has since opened similar attractions in England, the United States and Germany.

No toy has enjoyed the phenomenal popularity of the simple LEGO brick and its related parts. More than 440 billion LEGO elements have been manufactured since the company introduced the line; that's an average of 62 LEGO pieces for every man, woman and child on the planet. LEGO products are sold in more than 130 countries at the rate of seven sets per second. Marketing surveys indicate the world's children - and many adults - spend five billion hours each year playing with the snap-together toys.

Two LEGO employees, on loan from the LEGO Store at Concord Mills Mall, will offer lessons and guidance to aspiring auto designers and racers during all four days of the Sept. 10-13 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Sessions will be held at the Time Warner Media Center in the infield.

The Food Lion AutoFair annually attracts more than 100,000 visitors to Charlotte Motor Speedway and features more than 50 car club displays and more than 7,000 vendor spaces offering an array of automotive parts and memorabilia. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the superspeedway.

Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults while children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. On Friday, Sept. 11, in honor of their public service, all police, fire and emergency workers showing a badge or ID will receive free admission to the Food Lion AutoFair. Parking for the event is $5.

For more information, contact the Charlotte Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit the Food Lion AutoFair event page.