NASCAR opened the doors of its new Hall of Fame in Charlotte on Tuesday in a ceremony attended by most of the sports personalities.
Following five years of work and a $195 million investment funded by the city, the 150,000sqft building opened its doors to the public to showcase more than 60 years of NASCAR history in a high-tech environment. The 40,000sqft exhibition space is filled with artifacts, displays, interactive exhibits, a theater and other facilities distributed over three floors that will bring fans closer to the sport's heritage.
"It's going to be a place our fans can come and celebrate, and look back at the history of the sport," said NASCAR's Brian France. "For us not to have that in a formal way for all these years was not really the best approach. This is going to change that overnight."
Emulating other major-league sports, NASCAR's Hall of Fame will induct some of its main players over history starting this year in a ceremony that will take play on May 23. NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and his son and former chairman Bill France Jr. will lead the class of 2010 inductees, along with seven-time Cup champions Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, as well as legendary driver and team owner, Junior Johnson.
"This is to help keep the fans we have and to help get new fans into the sport as well," Petty said. "This is just like baseball history or football, or any history for that matter. It gives you a background of why you see things the way they are today. Without the history behind it, there would be no today.
"I think having the new fans learn, having them appreciate where we came from, will help them understand a little bit more about what's going on today."
Team owner Rick Hendrick, who was one of a number of special guests in the opening ceremony that none of his drivers attended, believes that the Hall of Fame will not only help grow the sport's fan base, but also allow those new fans to learn more about the roots of America's biggest racing series.
"I just think if you don't hold onto history in anything, that it doesn't mean much," he said. "The fact that we can showcase our history in such a great setting is going to pay us huge dividends down the road because new fans ought to know about Junior Johnson and they ought to know Buck Baker and those kinds of guys."
Although other stock car-related Halls of Fame have been operating before, the new facility is the only one licensed by NASCAR and the most complete display of the sport's history.
Officials expect around 800,000 visitors to pay the $12.95 to $19.95 admission tickets during the first year of operation of the venue, which had more than 1,000 people in attendance during the opening day.