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Charlotte Area News

NASCAR Hall Of Fame Opens

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The NASCAR Hall of Fame is now open to the public. Tuesday's opening ceremony was a celebration of how Charlotte became the museum's home. There were plenty of fireworks, business leaders, politicians, plus legendary drivers Junior Johnson and Richard Petty. There were also a good number of out-of-town visitors.

Despite its name, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is actually run by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. Ceremony speaker after ceremony speaker touted what they said is a great example of a public-private partnership. Visitors Authority executive director Tim Newman recalled when he and Winston Kelly, who now runs the museum for the Authority, first pitched the idea to NASCAR.

"He said, 'that's a might big bus. What's gonna happen if we catch it?' Friends, we've caught the bus. It's in Charlotte, NC."

It's a $200 million bus that's accumulated about $30 million in cost overruns. A special 2 percent hotel/motel tax is dedicated toward paying off about $130 million in city debt. Corporate sponsorships and brick sales are intended to retire a portion of the remaining debt, but those sales are lagging. So perhaps it's no surprise that Newman and other speakers went out of their way to tout economic benefits they believe the museum will generate.

"The dividend in terms of the investment will start to pay off big time in just 3 days," Newman said, referring to the NRA convention that's expected to draw about 70,000 people. He credits the Hall of Fame with helping land at least two major conventions a year for the next five years.

But there were many fans in attendance from several states who didn't need a convention, or a race, as an excuse to visit Charlotte. The Hall of Fame alone was good enough. Rob Grant and his wife drove up from the Tampa, Fla., area. He said they just wanted to be part of history.

More history will be made May 23 when of Grant's favorite drivers, Richard Petty and four other NASCAR legends are inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class. Watch video of Junior Johnson and Richard Petty arrive for the unveiling of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.