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CUP: NASCAR Hall A Winner

The NASCAR Hall of Fame, nearing the finish line as its May 11 opening date approaches, is all that the diehard stock car racing fan could anticipate.

Officials opened the hall to dozens of news media representatives for a preview Tuesday afternoon, and it is as advertised – a comprehensive, first-class look at the history of NASCAR and its drivers, teams, officials and magic moments.

The hall has enough “wow” pieces and displays to keep fans busy for hours.

The hall is scheduled to open May 11 with a ceremony, concerts and other activities in and around the downtown Charlotte location. The induction ceremony for the hall’s first class – Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Junior Johnson – is scheduled May 23.

The most impressive display area in the hall is Glory Road, designed to duplicate a sweeping section of race track that changes in degree of banking from zero (flat tracks) to tracks with steep banking like Daytona and Talladega. Eighteen historic race cars, including the Plymouth Richard Petty drove to 10 straight wins in 1967 and a 1939 Ford raced by pioneer woman driver Louise Smith, are displayed along the “road."

Information placards along Glory Road tell the history of the cars on display and of various NASCAR speedways.

At two spots along Glory Road, visitors can walk onto the track to get a feel for the banking.

Glory Road leads to the Hall of Honor, the facility’s centerpiece. The oval-shaped room has space for 75 spires, one honoring each inductee. Plans call for five individuals to be inducted each year.

Displays related to that year’s inductees will be placed in the center of the Hall of Honor.

The hall’s Race Week section offers visitors the opportunity to experience many of the same activities race teams go through in the week leading to a race. The most impressive piece in this area is a full-size NASCAR Sprint Cup hauler fans can walk through.

The Heritage Speedway area is the “vault” of the hall, containing hundreds of artifacts from NASCAR’s 60 years and the racing that took place in the years before the organization was formed.

Enclosed in glass cases here are trophies, driver helmets, speedway posters, illegal race car parts, driver firesuits, diecast car collections, competitor passes from 50 years ago and pieces from the personal collections of drivers and their families.

Of particular interest in this section are large cases devoted to the Earnhardt, Petty, Allison and France families. Displays also provide details of safety innovations, racing equipment and driver lifestyles.

One area certain to be popular with fans includes video of the famous 1979 Daytona 500 crash involving Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison, clips of the two drivers describing the accident and replicas of their smashed race cars.

There are interactive displays throughout the hall. Many can be accessed using a “hard card” visitors will receive as they enter the facility.

The hall also includes a 275-seat, wide-screen theater that shows a film about NASCAR history.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame Grand Opening is set for May 11, 2010. Outdoor Opening Ceremonies are May 11th from 9 to 10 am ET free of charge, open to the public. Outdoor festivities including driver appearances and concerts May 11th from 10 am until 8 pm ET open to the public, free of charge. Tickets to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame are on sale now at www.NASCARHall.com or by calling 877-231-2010. The countdown to the NASCAR Hall of Fame is on! Visit www.NASCARHall.com/50days for daily updates about the NASCAR Hall of Fame.