Cover Story: Link up - Speedway & Center City

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CONCORD, NC (WBTV) - This weekend, North Carolina's fourth largest city is the Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Population 200,000.

Even though it's only 15 miles from Uptown it might as well be an ocean away for some.

With the Hall of Fame opening, this year a new transportation plan goes into effect.

Officials are hoping it will bring thousands of those race fans and their tourism dollars into the heart of the city.

A big effort has begun this year to bring fans from the track to Center City and send people from the city to the Speedway.

This is a story about bridging the gap.

They're pictures tourism boosters love to see.  Bags in hand, people hopping off the bus, fans returning from a spending spree in Charlotte.

And turning right around, buses loading up, fans making the trek to downtown.

A reporter asks, "Have you been downtown to Charlotte before?"  Says a race face, "Never, no, never."

Vince Lower has made the trip from his home near Watkins Glen, New York to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 race the last eight years.

And like many he comes and stays for several days.

A good size city sprouts up around Charlotte Motor Speedway during race week with an estimated 30,000 campers.  And for years they stayed up.

"This gets us into the NASCAR Hall of Fame."

This day Vince Lower and his son were taking a bus downtown to see the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

He says, "It's a lot easier than driving and fighting the traffic especially if you're from out of town. You don't know where anything's at or nothing."

The last two weeks the zMax Dragway at Charlotte Motor Speedway has been turned into a sort of transit center.

The Speedway has been offering fans who've set up residence a chance to get out of town - in this case Track City - to experience something more.

"What we're trying to do is create a great door to door experience for fans as they come."

Though the Speedway sits just 15 miles from downtown tens of thousands who come to the races never make it into North Carolina's largest city.

Speed Street has lured some to town, but now according to track spokesman Scott Cooper there's a bigger draw.

"When you couple the Hall of Fame, along with Speed Street, along with Charlotte Motor Speedway and the area race shops.. you've got a great recipe there to really let fans immerse themselves in a NASCAR vacation experience."

Which is why the bus service began.

And for those like Pat Collison from Baltimore - who missed the bus - the Speedway provided a personal escort into the city.

"Pretty good customer service?.. Unbelievable.. customer service."

It's a two-way street.

This weekend, CATS, the Charlotte Area Transit System, is running express busses - taking fans from the Center city out to the race track.

"You can come Downtown and park your car and let us fight that traffic to the Speedway," says CATS' Chief Operations Planning Officer Larry Kopf.

On Sunday for the Coca-Cola 600 the 79X runs from Noon to 630pm - leaving every 20 minutes from the Transit Center - running out to the track.

Says Kopf, "When the race is over you just walk out to the bus.. we'll load up all the buses and take people back to uptown."

It costs $6 each way.

The transit system is also running additional LYNX trains for Speed Street this weekend.

In fact, the second busiest day ever for light rail - after opening day - was on a day during speed street last year.

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