Visitors to an exclusive preview of Carolina Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway yesterday were treated to a first look at the festive holiday light park, which has been expanded to be even bigger and better in its second year with triple the lights and an extended route.

A photo gallery of Carolina Christmas preview night photos is available at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/multimedia/photo/. High-resolution images can be found at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/photos. Video is available at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/multimedia/video/.

Speedway Children’s Charities hosted hundreds of area children who witnessed the festivities alongside media, Carolina Christmas sponsors and other special guests. Santa Claus arrived via parachute to the delight of the crowd and joined Marcus Smith, Charlotte Motor Speedway president and general manager, in the opening lighting ceremony. Smith and Santa pushed a larger-than-life button to illuminate the more than 3 million lights that make up the Carolina Christmas route.

Afterward, visitors took the first tours of the light course. Views along the way included 600 different light displays, including a variety of Christmas scenes and characters, a Vietnam Memorial display in Lowe’s Patriotic Alley and more than 30 animated race car displays in the speedway’s frontstretch grandstands.

“From the moment you enter Carolina Christmas at zMAX Dragway you see lights and it immediately puts you in that holiday spirit,” said Smith. “Carolina Christmas is going to be a phenomenal Christmas time destination for families and friends from all over the country.”

Open nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. today through Dec. 31, excluding Christmas Day, Carolina Christmas will also feature a live Nativity scene in a realistic Bethlehem-themed village, a Festival of Trees, petting zoo, photos with Santa, marshmallow roasting pits and more.

Carolina Christmas has a new, more convenient entrance at zMAX Dragway and is the anchor attraction for the Boulevard of Lights, which features three miles of twinkling lights and more than 140 light pole Christmas decorations running down Bruton Smith Boulevard from Concord Mills Mall to the speedway.

“Carolina Christmas is a festive gift to the Charlotte region,” said Mike Miller, president of 3Dudes Productions, LLC, of Salisbury, N.C., which is producing the event along with Winterland, Inc. of Marion, Ind. “It’s an affordable way to celebrate the holiday season with friends and family, and we hope it will become a favorite tradition.”

Tickets are available online or at the gate nightly during event hours for drive-up traffic. Admission is just $20 per car, truck or SUV for up to eight passengers. Group and motorcoach packages are available.

Families may also take advantage of The Speedway Club's Holiday Dinners and Carolina Christmas packages, which include a speedway-provided ride through the Carolina Christmas display and a holiday meal. For more information, call 1-800-455-FANS (3267) or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

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