SBJ/20100517/This Week's News

NASCAR Hall of Fame ‘looks fast sitting still’

The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte was built for speed, its chief designer says.

The programming inside the $195 million facility speaks to the sport’s theme, but it all begins with the 1,800-foot-long steel ribbon wrapping the building’s exterior, said Yvonne Szeto, a partner with Pei Cobb Freed in New York.

That signature design element, a curving, sloping form that twists at the hall’s entrance, is meant to simulate the steep turns and banks of a speedway, Szeto said.

“I was very pleased when someone told me the building looks fast sitting still,” she said.

Architect Yvonne Szeto used a ribbon of
steel outside the Charlotte building that
plays off the form of a racetrack.

Szeto, a civic architect, has worked more than 30 years for a firm that had never designed a sports-related facility before taking on the shrine to stock car racing in 2005. Her NASCAR education began five years ago by attending a race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, a track considered by die-hard fans to be the quintessential race-day experience.

“It’s big, there’s bump drafting, extreme banking of the slope; that’s what makes Talladega special,” Szeto said. “It immediately struck us that we had to capture that in the architecture, the notion of speed and spectacle.”

Inside the main doors, the sport’s twists and turns extend to Glory Road, a ramp containing 18 vehicles chronicling the 60-year evolution of stock car design and track surfaces tied to 40 facilities.

Glory Road begins with Red Byron’s 1939 Ford, part of the first NASCAR race in 1948, and ends with Jimmie Johnson’s 2008 Sprint Cup champion Chevrolet at the rear of the pack. All 18 models, except for the 1959 Lee Petty Oldsmobile, a re-creation, contain original race chassis with the bodies restored for display, said Kevin Schlesier, the hall’s exhibits manager.

The 33-degree bank at the top of Glory Road corresponds to Talladega’s steep incline, and provides visitors the opportunity to walk up a few stairs and stand on the surface at that perilous angle without falling down. It’s a difficult task.

Technology plays a key role in NASCAR, and the hall spreads that message to visitors throughout the building, both in the exhibits and the mode of communication as patrons proceed through the attractions.

Each paid attendee receives a smart card tied to radio-signal technology. They swipe the card at a kiosk, enter their personal information and select the voice of one of nine racing legends to guide them through a series of interactive displays at the Food Lion Race Week section on the third level.

Patrons score points by participating in those interactives, from car inspections to racing simulators. The goal is to define the role in NASCAR that suits them best, whether it’s a driver or crew chief. “It’s a fun way to add some competition to the learning experience,” Schlesier said.

The hall plans to use the personal information to alert visitors to future activities at the hall, said Winston Kelley, the facility’s executive director.

Upstairs on the fourth floor at Heritage Speedway, race fans over the age of 40 should especially enjoy the artifacts on display, ranging from racing writer Chris Economaki’s 1957 typewriter to the iconic orange fiberglass Union 76 spotter ball used at the Daytona 500 from 1969 to 1984.

Also noteworthy is the authentic moonshine still built by Junior Johnson, a charter member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It works, Schlesier said.

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