Local major NASCAR teams

• Mooresville: Penske Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, JR Motorsports, Turner Scott Motorsports, Swan Racing, Red Horse Racing

• Huntersville: Joe Gibbs Racing

• Cornelius: Michael Waltrip Racing

• Denver: Eddie Sharp Racing

 

Mooresville is known as Race City, U.S.A., but it’s not the only Lake Norman location with NASCAR teams, drivers and crews.

Huntersville, Cornelius and Denver also play major roles in the sport.

NASCAR’s goal of centralizing its operations more than three decades ago led to two possible sites: the College Park community outside Atlanta and Lake Norman.

The sport and its teams chose Lake Norman, and they haven’t looked back.

“You can look at it from both sides,” said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition for NASCAR and a Cornelius resident.

“The advantage is the workforce is pretty steady around here and there’s competition for shops and teams to get good help. It makes it easy for vendors. We have our own wind tunnels here now, whereas we used to have to go to Detroit or Ottawa (Canada). The cottage industry we have here helps everybody.”

Growth hasn’t been limited to teams like Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, who have called the lake area home for decades. Wood Brothers Racing, the sport’s oldest team – founded in 1950 – moved from Stuart, Va., to this region in 2004.

Ironically, the area has become home to new owners and drivers as soon as they start their careers.

“It’s a very convenient location,” Swan Racing Owner Brandon Davis said. “I think (basing a team in the lake area) is the only way to do it. It’s the Mecca of NASCAR racing.”

Davis, who at 34 is the youngest NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner, joined the ranks last fall. His team’s shop is in Mooresville, but Davis’ independent oil and gas company, Swan Energy, is in Colorado.

Davis said he never considered moving his operation to Colorado, where only one team – Furniture Row Racing – is based.

“If we need someone to do contract labor, we can find them here,” he said. “It’s all about the manpower. If you’re not based at the lake, you’re at a disadvantage.”

Pemberton said that mindset is what helps the area keep its status as NASCAR’s home.

“It grew here,” he said. “When I first started, (teams and drivers) were all over. It was kind of fragmented. But now you’ve got teams competing with one another for the same guys.”

NASCAR built its Hall of Fame in Charlotte in 2009. Charlotte Motor Speedway is a short drive from the area, as well.

Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame’s attendance numbers have been an issue since it opened. The hall lost $1.4 million its first year due to low attendance – 272,000 people instead of the projected 800,000 – but its attendance rose once the hall began aggressively marketing itself.

“Museums are the hardest thing (to sell to customers on a long-term basis),” said legendary NASCAR broadcaster Ken Squier, a namesake of the Squier Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

The racing side of the sport, however, has no problem with growth, said veteran Sprint Cup driver and 2004 Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Sprint Cup cars began racing the lighter, faster Gen 6 chassis in February. The nearby wind tunnels help with the cars’ development.

“There’s about 110-115 more horsepower under the hood (than in the past),” said Earnhardt, a Mooresville resident. “That’s 10 mph at the end of the straightaway. That changes everything about how a car is going to run a lap when you change the end of the straightaway speed that much. It's ust a lot of different stuff, a lot of changes.”

The goal, Pemberton said, is for the sport to keep growing right where it is.

“The area is such a nice area. It attracts people,” he said. “I moved away once, and said I’d never move away again. It continues to grow and I think when you have a chance to relax when you’re in a high-paced business like racing cars, that’s what that water does for you.”