CUP: CMS Gets Into Christmas Spirit

When you think of Charlotte Motor Speedway you think of great racing and one of NASCAR’s most historic race tracks. But now the 1.5-mile track is fully geared up to deliver a special holiday experience as well, and one that allows fans to actually get on the track.

The newest spectacle at CMS is what the track is calling Carolina Christmas. A spectacular 2.5-mile drive-through course, the Christmas light park and village, includes a section where fans can drive on the same 24-degree banking as the NASCAR drivers. Open nightly, operating hours for Carolina Christmas are 6 to 10 p.m. through Jan. 2, 2011, rain or shine. Tickets are available online at or at the gate nightly during event hours for drive-up traffic. Admission is just $20 per passenger vehicle, with group and motorcoach packages available.

Carolina Christmas also features a wide variety of animals throughout the Christmas Village. All of the animals are provided by Rockin' A Ranch, a facility owned and operated by Ivey and Gerald Almond, of Midland, N.C. Perhaps the most unique animals that are a part of the show are two camels, Stewie and Skippy. Stewie is a two-year-old dromedary (one-humped) camel that has been in the care of the Almonds since he was just a few months old. Skippy the baby camel, is also a dromedary camel and is just four months old. Visitors can get a glimpse of these interesting animals along with cows, sheep, donkeys and goats in the live Nativity scene located in the Bethlehem-themed village. In addition to the live Nativity scene, one of the most popular attractions for adults and children alike is the petting zoo located just outside of the South Pole Shoppes. The petting zoo contains a variety of domestic animals as well as a few exotic animals. Nearly all of the animals are raised on the Almonds' 100-acre farm. Some of the animals on display for visitors to enjoy include a Showgirl chicken, a rare fancy breed of chicken known for its unique feather orientation; a Flemish Giant, one of the largest domestic rabbits in the world; a white buffalo, a rare genetically pure breed of buffalo that mimics the looks of an albino buffalo without the pink eyes; a miniature Zebu, an uncommon type of Brahman cow that only stands 40 inches tall, as well as turkeys, goats and yaks.

The Almonds have always been in the animal business with Gerald raising livestock for most of his life and Ivey growing up with a father as a veterinarian and graduating from N.C. State with a degree in agriculture. With their love for animals, the Almonds started their petting zoo business four years ago to educate adults and children about animals and their habits.

“It started out as a hobby and grew from there,” said Ivey. “I saw a need for good, clean, healthy animals. I wanted to put together petting zoos so children could see the animals in a clean environment. I have children and adults that learn about animals when they come to the petting zoo, so with my education and [Gerald's] experience it just came together.”

For the Almonds it's not just their passion for animals, but it's the reward of seeing how children and adults react to their petting zoo. “I enjoy seeing the children squeal and laugh,” said Ivey. Coupons for a $4 discount off admission can be found on select packages of Coca-Cola products at your Charlotte area grocer or get a $3 off coupon on receipts with select purchases at area Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse stores. A $2 off coupon is available in the Concord Mills Mall coupon book.