The most difficult item to assemble at the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., wasn't one of the mesmerizing touch-screens and interactive displays, but Junior Johnson's rebuilt moonshine still from yesteryear.
The problem was solved only with the help of an expert. A call was placed, and Johnson, one of NASCAR's pioneers and a member of its first hall of fame class, gathered his tools, drove into town and did the job himself.
"That's like Babe Ruth designing, building and installing one of the first exhibits in Cooperstown," said NASCAR Hall of Fame director Winston Kelley. Johnson's still celebrating the birth of the sport by bootleggers such as himselfoutrunning the police in souped-up cars is one of the featured items at this $195 million facility. So is Red Byron's 1939 Ford, which won NASCAR's first race, and Richard Petty's blue Plymouth.
While there was a steady stream of folks such as Johnson willing to contribute to this stock-car racing shrine in downtown Charlotte, it's much more than just old cars and fire suits. Those exhibits can get overshadowed in the sensory overload of 154 video screens, racing simulators and pit-crew activities.
This is a 21st century hall of fame. The technology is the most striking element as you enter the 150,000-square-foot building. You're whisked into a theater with a 64-foot wraparound high-definition screen that shows a 12-minute history of the sport. You're directed to use your "hard card" to enter information on touch screens that will identify you when you jack a car or try to stay off the wall at Darlington in a simulator.
After you've attempted to stay on your feet standing on a replica of the steep 33-degree banking at Talladega, you can walk through a race hauler, sit in a car and pick a video of your favorite close finish.
Even the busts of hall of famers made familiar by the baseball and football halls are passé here. The first class of inductees - Johnson, Petty and Dale Earnhardt and executives Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. - have 7-foot spires that include two likenesses and embedded video.
What you'll see
While there are other motor sports museums, the first one sanctioned by NASCAR got much of the good stuff. Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevrolet from 1996 and Cale Yarborough's 1977 Oldsmobile are among 18 cars parked on Glory Road, a banked track replica. The hall of fame covers most of NASCAR history. The accident report from Earnhardt's fatal crash at the 2001 Daytona 500 is on display, part of a section highlighting safety advances. The hall also has a display labeled "diversity," with pictures of a handful of minority and female drivers are tucked away in a corner, a reminder of the sport's nearly all-male, all-white past.
NASCAR chose Charlotte, home to about 90 percent of NASCAR's teams, over Atlanta, Richmond, Va., Daytona Beach, Fla., and Kansas City, Mo., as the spot to honor the sport's six-decade history and growth from its Southern base to a national sport.IF YOU GO
If you go
NASCAR HALL OF FAME
400 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Charlotte, N.C.
Admission $19.95 ($12.95 ages 5-12)