NASCAR’S COOPERSTOWN Official Hall of Fame opens among praise, funding woes
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
The sport of NASCAR racing has been represented at two halls of fame over the years, the original one at Darlington Raceway and another at Talladega Superspeedway. But this week, the official NASCAR Hall of Fame opens in Charlotte, N.C.
Back in 2006, Charlotte beat out several cities, including Atlanta, for the rights to be the home of the Hall. The $200-million, 150,000-square-foot facility is set to open this week and the inaugural “Mount Rushmore” class will be enshrined on May 23.
In the initial class are NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., his son who led the organization, Bill France Jr., along with Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and the late Dale Earnhardt, all of whom were both outstanding drivers and team owners.
But there’s much more to the attraction than just tributes to the inductees.
The high-tech exhibit tells the story of NASCAR from its beginnings on the dirt tracks of the South to today, when a new Car of Tomorrow is the exclusive vehicle of NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series. There’s a way for visitors to walk inside a team transporter, a theater where the story of NASCAR is told.
There’s even a section on racing safety, and included in it is a copy of the accident report on the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt.
Among the things to see on the Glory Road part of the attraction are some famous race cars, including a 1939 Ford Coupe fielded by Atlanta’s Raymond Parks. Also on display is the 1971 Mercury Cyclone fielded by the Wood Brothers race team. It’s the car that dominated the superspeedways in the early ’70s, with drivers David Pearson, A.J. Foyt and Donnie Allison all taking it to Victory Lane.
Team founder Glen Wood said he’s proud to have his car, which except for some cleaning and maintenance, is just as it was when it rolled off the race track for the last time, displayed in the new hall.
“What better place could it be?” he said. “I was happy to oblige them when they asked if we would put it down there.”
Wood, now 84, also loaned the Hall the only helmet he has left from his days as a driver, a trophy he won as a driver in a race at Soldier Field in Chicago, a pit board from the days before radios were used to facilitate communication between driver and crews. And a jack once used by his brother Delano is there too. The Woods are known as the first team to focus on speedy pit stops.
Wood, who got a sneak preview of the Hall during a “soft opening” a few weeks back, said he was taken aback by what he saw.
“It’s sort of unbelievable,” he said. “It’s really an impressive showcase.”
Wood said he especially liked the way the trophies were laid out. “You can see my name on mine,” he said. “Most of them you can’t.”
Jimmie Johnson, the four-time and defending Cup champion, also loaned four of his championship trophies. The Hall initially asked for just the latest one, but Johnson offered up the other three.