Memorial Day traffic expected to be heavy near NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway
By Shavonne Walker
SALISBURY — More than 1 million North Carolinians are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend by road, and no doubt hundreds will descend upon the region for NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
State troopers warn that if there is an accident on Interstate 85, it could have a ripple effect in Rowan County. When there are traffic delays, most people heading out of Rowan County take Exit 68 for China Grove and get back on I-85 via U.S. 29.
More than 150 troopers will assist with race-day traffic from various parts of the state, including Rowan County. Typically, each county sends two or more troopers to help during major events, said N.C. Highway Patrol 1st Sgt. Stephen Pace.
Pace, who heads the patrol office in Rowan County, said Memorial Day weekend is generally a busy one for travel.
Charlotte Motor Speedway officials encourage motorists to use U.S. 29 and N.C. 49 if they are traveling to the racetrack. Roads are usually busier within hours of race times, which are midday today and Sunday, said Jonathan Coleman, director of public relations for the speedway.
Fans are encouraged to follow the directions of law enforcement at the speedway. Coleman said people often have a tendency to turn left when authorities are directing them to turn right out of the speedway.
“If you follow those directions, all roads will lead you to 29, 49, I-85,” Coleman said.
Across 10 days of racing events, fans from all 50 states and 23 foreign countries are expected, Coleman said.
“The Coca-Cola 600 has been around for 58 years. It has a rich history and is one of the crown jewels of NASCAR. It certainly draws a crowd,” he said.
Coleman said he expects lots of people from Rowan, Cabarrus and Gaston counties as well as those in the Charlotte market to attend. There will definitely be travelers from areas such as Greensboro who may stay in Rowan County hotels, eat at local restaurants and possibly buy groceries to fill campers.
The annual economic impact for the greater Charlotte region is $451 million, which helps support 8,600 jobs, Coleman said.
“Each race has over $100 million economic impact in Cabarrus County and other counties that touch Cabarrus, Rowan included,” he said.
Race weekends are a big part of what the speedway does, but they are not the only benefit for neighboring counties like Rowan.
The Speedway Children’s Charities black-tie gala, held Wednesday, raised $890,000 to support local organizations that benefit children, including in Rowan County, where 23 agencies benefited, he said.
“We want our friends in the community to know we are not just creating headaches but creating good memories and trying to give back to the community,” Coleman said.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation has some safety tips for drivers this weekend:
• Leave early to get a head start on the drive. Travel at nonpeak hours when possible.
• Stay alert. Even if road construction work is suspended, you may encounter narrowed lanes and traffic shifts in work zones
• Be patient and obey the posted speed limit
• Use alternate routes, when possible, to avoid traffic congestion
• Don’t drive drowsy. Travel at times when you are normally awake and take frequent breaks
• Avoid distracted driving. When drivers stop focusing on the road ahead, they react more slowly to traffic conditions and are more likely to be involved in an accident.
Visit http://www.charlottemotorspeedway.com for more details about this weekend’s races and related activities.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.