Carolina Christmas was big draw

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2011

By Mark Wineka
The “Carolina Christmas” drive-through light park at Charlotte Motor Speedway met expectations in its first year, even with some tough weather challenges in December, according to the lead organizer.
“It went great,” Mike Miller, president of Salisbury-based Miller Davis Inc., said Tuesday. “We’re not exactly sure on the total numbers … but 200,000 plus people and some phenomenal nights.”
Those big nights of more than 2,000 vehicles were tempered by evenings of low attendance because of the weather, even a snowy Christmas Day.
“The weather was very tough in December, I will say that,” Miller said. “Mother Nature did her thing.”
Overall, he said the speedway received positive feedback on the drive-through light display, the Bethlehem village and skating rink.
Miller said his company, which planned, marketed and oversaw the 42-night run of “Carolina Christmas,” already is tweaking things for a bigger Carolina Christmas in 2011.
The 2.5-mile, drive-through park of 1 million lights in 2010 probably will expand to 4 miles this year.
A “huge hit” in the first Carolina Christmas was visitors’ being able to drive on a portion of the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s high-banked track, Miller said. The light park will incorporate more of that experience in 2011.
Also, the world’s largest television screen, or Jumbotron, will be installed at the track this year. It will be integrated into the speedway’s holiday celebration.
Organizers particularly want to offer more lights as people first drive in and are considering a whole new entrance to the light park. “It will definitely make a huge impact on the entire event,” Miller said.
Because the speedway is used to handling traffic and large numbers of people, it dealt pretty well with the crowds, according to Miller. When there were delays, “we made it as easy as possible for guests,” by offering food and hot chocolate, Miller said.
Miller Davis is talking with several other venues, including other Bruton Smith-owned racetracks, about doing similar Christmas drive-through light parks. Winterland, the Indiana lighting contractor for Carolina Christmas, “has engaged us to help them expand light parks throughout the country,” Miller said.
“The first year is always tough, whether it was here in Rowan County or at the speedway,” Miller said. “Every venue is different.”
But his company gained a lot of experience in 2010 and exposed new people to Charlotte Motor Speedway and racing. Visitors to the light park represented all 50 states and several foreign countries, Miller said.
The Speedway Club also was successful in coming holiday dinners with the light park.
Last week, crews took down the light displays. And as soon as weather permits, signs, trees and the Bethlehem Village will be coming down and packed away in storage trailers.
Carolina Christmas ran from Nov. 22 to Jan. 2, and was open 6-10 nightly. Cost per vehicle was $20.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.