The Speedway was designed and built in 1959 by current chairman O. Bruton Smith. The late Curtis Turner, one of stock car racing’s earliest driving stars, was Smith’s business partner. At the time Smith, a native of Oakboro, N.C., was an automobile dealer and short-track stock car racing promoter at Concord Motor Speedway and the Charlotte Fairgrounds. Turner, a Virginian who amassed his money in the lumber industry, became one of the first drivers on the NASCAR circuit after the sanctioning body debuted in 1949. Together, they built their dream of a 1.5-mile super speedway on the outskirts of The Queen City and, on June 19, 1960, the first World 600 was run at the new facility.
In 1961, like many super speedways of the era, the track fell into Chapter 11 reorganization from which it eventually emerged despite lagging ticket sales. After his departure from the speedway in 1962, Smith pursued other business interests in Texas and Illinois. Working within Ford Motor Company’s dealership program, Smith became quite successful and began purchasing shares of stock in Lowe’s Motor Speedway. By 1975 Smith had again become the majority stockholder in the speedway, regaining control of its day-to-day operations. He hired current president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler as general manager and the two began to implement plans for needed improvements and expansion. During the ensuing years, Smith and Wheeler demonstrated a commitment to customer satisfaction, building a facility that continuously established new industry standards. Thousands of grandstand seats and luxury suites were built. Food concessions and restroom facilities were added and modernized to increase the comfort of race fans.
Smith Tower, a 135,000-square-foot, seven-story facility connected to the speedway’s grandstands, was erected and opened in 1988. The building houses the speedway’s corporate offices, ticket office, souvenir gift shop, leased office space and The Speedway Club, an exclusive dining and entertainment facility. Under the watchful eye of Smith and direction of Wheeler, in 1984 Lowe’s Motor Speedway became the only sports facility in America to offer year-round living accommodations when it built 40 condominiums high above turn one. Twelve additional condominium units were added in 1991.
Another innovation implemented by Smith and Wheeler was a $1.7 million, 1,200-fixture permanent lighting system developed by MUSCO Lighting of Oskaloosa, Iowa. The revolutionary lighting process uses mirrors to simulate daylight without glare, shadows or obtrusive light poles. The lighting system was installed in 1992, allowing Lowe’s Motor Speedway to be the first modern super speedway to host night auto racing. Ever cognizant of the competitors as well as the spectators, Smith and Wheeler added a new $1 million, 20,000-square-foot NEXTEL Cup garage area in 1994.
Other additions and improvements include the development of the speedway’s 2,000-plus acres. In addition to the speedway, the property, some of which is leased, includes an industrial park that serves as home to several motorsports-related businesses, a modern landfill facility operated by BFI and a natural wildlife habitat.
In addition to the 1.5-mile quad oval, the Lowe’s Motor Speedway complex includes a 2.25-mile road course and a six-tenths-mile karting layout in the speedway’s infield; a quarter-mile asphalt oval utilizing part of the speedway’s front stretch and pit road; and a one-fifth-mile oval located outside turn three of the super speedway.
Three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events, two NASCAR Busch Series races and a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event are among the major events held on the 1.5-mile super speedway. The Richard Petty Driving Experience and the Fast Track High Performance Driving School and the also use the track extensively throughout the year. Other events on the various tracks include a weekly, nationally televised short-track series for Legends Cars, Bandoleros and Thunder Roadsters; World Karting Association regional, national and international races.
In May 2000, a state-of-the-art four-tenths-mile clay oval The Dirt Track @ Lowe’s Motor Speedway—was completed across Highway 29 from the speedway. The stadium-style facility has nearly 15,000 seats and plays host to the Dirt Late Model, Modifieds, Sprint Cars, Monster Truck and more. Corporations such as Lowe’s Home Improvement, Coca-Cola, Miller Brewing, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and DuPont have rented the speedway to film television commercials or to entertain employees and clients with food, music and race car rides.
Motion pictures such as “Days of Thunder,” “Speedway” and “Stroker Ace” and even music videos like Tracy Lawrence’s “If the Good Die Young” have been filmed at the speedway. Adding to rental dates are race team testing and automobile manufacturer research. Lowe’s Motor Speedway also annually presents two of the nation’s largest car shows and swap meets—the Food Lion AutoFairs in April and September. With track rentals and track events, the speedway is used more than 300 days per year.
Smith and Wheeler will quickly point out they have yet to complete their vision, and they continue to improve and expand the facility. More than 10,000 stadium-style seats, 20 new executive suites and 40 special 32-seat boxes were built in turn four in 1995. In May 1997, the Diamond Tower Terrace grandstand was opened along the backstretch to accommodate an additional 26,000 race fans for The Winston and Coca-Cola 600. In May 1998, an 11,000-seat expansion of the new Diamond Tower Terrace was completed, bringing the total seating capacity of Lowe’s Motor Speedway to approximately 147,000. Then in May 1999, more than 10,000 new seats were completed in the Fourth Turn Terrace grandstand. A 10,860-seat expansion of the Ford grandstand on the frontstretch was completed in May 2000, bringing the speedway’s total seating capacity to 167,000.
Most recently the track added a new garage area for the NASCAR Busch Series, a new state-of-the-art media facility and additional restrooms and showers for use by those enjoying the action from the speedway’s infield. These additions are all part of a long-term project calling for additional grandstand seating, infrastructure improvements, spectator amenities and the development of adjacent land for possible commercial real estate ventures. Building on the basic philosophy of keeping spectator and competitor comfort a high priority, the speedway continues to be a leading promoter and marketer of motorsports activities in the United States.