The First 600 Miles is the Sweetest: My Trip to the Coca-Cola 600

Author Annette White once said “Stop dreaming about your bucket list and start living it.”

This NASCAR season, I decided to take that to heart. I’ve been to four races: Richmond, Martinsville, Dover, and the most recent race on the schedule, the Coca-Cola 600. I’ve been lucky to have a great partner in crime in Sarah Davis, another race fan who has given me a couch to sleep on and a car to ride in from track to track.

However, the sport’s longest race could have turned into the longest weekend ever.

I’ll begin my story with our first stop on the trip. The day before the race, we decided to make the most of the race shops and fun nearby. We stopped in Welcome, North Carolina to visit Richard Childress Racing.

Sarah in front of RCR’s museum doors.

The first thing you’ll notice inside of RCR is the team store, which has merchandise for Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and the PettyGMS team. There are also some race cars from Richard’s driving career that are in the back of the store.

Childress’ 1976 Chevrolet Laguna
The 1985 championship car and sculpture. Sculpture represents Dale’s first win for Childress and the trophy from the race.

If you want to see more of the cars, you have to pay to enter the museum. However you can see a few before you walk in. All three are Dale Sr cars. We didn’t have time to do the full tour, but we were happy with what we saw.

That happiness soon turned into worry as we had come across some car issues. The issues took us off our path a little bit but thanks to the great people at Firestone across from Concord Mills Mall, we were back in business in no time.

With our planned stop to JR Motorsports cancelled due to the car issues, we stopped at a Walmart in Huntersville for a Meet & Greet with 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace and sponsor Dr Pepper.

Bubba Wallace and I

Sarah has had a door rail with Bubba’s name on it that she bought in the off-season that we’ve been trying to get signed since Richmond. Unfortunately, we’ve either been at the wrong place at the wrong time, or we just missed him. She was able to get it signed and get a picture with Bubba. I really want to note just how friendly and approachable Bubba is and how he took his time with everyone in line, including small kids.

Next on our schedule was a much needed trip to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This was the first time visiting for either of us, and it didn’t disappoint.

NASCAR Hall of Fame, right in the heart of the city.

Before we could even check in, we ran into a familiar face or shall I say, voice. As we turned the corner we saw Winston Kelley, a former NASCAR radio member and the Executive Director of the Hall. It was my first time meeting him after years of my childhood were spent listening to him help call the races when I couldn’t be near a TV.

A Broadcasting legend.

After that, it was time to sign in and begin our journey through the hall. We started with Glory Road, Dale Jr’s tribute to our sport’s past. It was emotional for me, seeing cars of my heroes like Jeff Gordon, and cars of those we lost too soon like Alan Kulwicki.

The Hudson Hornet, you might know him as Doc.

One of the goals of going into the Hall was to see Frybox, Bubba Wallace’s Talladega winning car from last fall. These were the last few days to view it, as it will be leaving the hall and going to Bubba’s personal collection.

Frybox in race winning condition.

After spending a few minutes with the car, we headed upstairs to where there’s a tribute to the most recent seven-time Champion, Jimmie Johnson. Inside that tribute is his “One Final Time” car, and one firesuit from every season he raced in Cup, including his very first one.

“One Final Time” complete with damage and tire marks.

After spending some time with the simulators, where I finally learned how to iRace, it was time to pay our respects to the drivers, moguls, innovators, and characters of the sport that we have lost.

Hearing and seeing some of the names of those we have lost, made the wounds feel fresh again. It was a reminder that to get to where we have with safety, lives were lost along the way. It really gives you a chance to reset and remember the reason why you came to visit.

As we finished our list of things to do in the city, it was time to stop and get some food. We stopped at a NASCAR driver staple in Cornelius, Saeed’s.

The selection

Saeed’s doesn’t look like a place where you’d see drivers hang out on a weeknight, but as Saeed told us that was hardly the case. Denny Hamlin stopped in a few nights prior. “Kyle Larson loves karaoke, he’s always here for that”. Apparently it’s the place to be if you want to jam out to your favorite song. As far food and drink go? Try the chicken fingers sub with the Sugar Creek Brewing Gose. Next was dessert from Cook Out, which was my first trip. I had the peach cobbler shake, and it was heaven in a paper cup.

The next morning we got an early start. Not too far from our hotel was 23XI Racing’s campus. It’s still closed to the public, however they didn’t say you couldn’t take photos in front of the door.

I have a feeling the offices were closed for race day.

Along that route there are several other shops, including the Ford Performance and RoushYates Engines shop. A few Xfinity teams like Brandonbuilt and Hattori Racing are there as well.

We made our way to Main Street Antiques after a Twitter follower suggested going while we were in Mooresville. We found a few things that we needed for race day, albeit not how we expected to. Sarah needed to find some ribbon for her hair, as she likes to keep up with the paint schemes for Bubba and dress with the sponsor colors. She found some Bill Elliott McDonalds ribbon, just looking through a random pile.

It’s all in the details.

My pickup was an old ACDelco hat, that went perfect with the shirt I had on for Sunday. It was good protection from the midday Concord sun for a little while at least.

Booth 34. All I can say about it.

After our stop at the antique mall, we were ready to go to the track. The drive and traffic wasn’t too bad, probably one of the easier drive ups we’ve had this season. After we parked we caught the shuttle to the bridge, where we waited to enter the track. When we finally did, it didn’t disappoint.

Little did we know, the party was just starting.

No matter what you think about SMI as a company, they give you the best bang for your buck as far as experiences go. This is the second track I have paid for pre race access and this might have been the best time. We did the customary signing of the finish line, rocked out to Skynrd and watched parts of the military program they do each year.

Steve Phelps, president of NASCAR

You are allowed to stay on the infield until the end of driver intros, so we were able to high five and fist bump most of the drivers which was cool. My favorite was Kyle Larson, who thanked us for showing up. But now it was time for the show to begin.

Cars coming up to speed through turn 4.

By now you’ve heard that this could possibly be the best Coke 600 of all time. For someone who had only seen the race on TV over the last 25 years, I can honestly say it was an amazing showcase of speed and longevity. Doesn’t matter if your driver won or lost, there was excitement from mile one to mile 619. Our seats were in the Toyota grandstand and it felt like the best seats in the place. The sun was never an issue, sight lines were awesome and showed action all over the track.

Hamlin celebrates

If you’ve never been but want to go, by all means DO IT. Don’t let the distance scare you, because it’ll be over quicker than you think.

Published by Phillip Spain

A 25 year veteran in the world Motorsports, Phil loves anything with an engine. When he’s not watching cars, he’s out with family.

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