Troopers to race fans: Park closer to speedway

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comOctober 7, 2013 

N.C. Highway Patrol officials say they’ve gotten a lot better at moving traffic in and out of Charlotte Motor Speedway on race day – so good that it has created a problem.

“In the old days, traffic crawled out of the track after a race, but we have it moving a lot better now,” Highway Patrol Sgt. Glenn Stokes said. “And that raises the risk for pedestrians who are walking along U.S. 29.”

Stokes said it’s time for NASCAR race fans who park a long distance from the track to pay a few extra bucks and find a parking place closer to the venue.

Stokes joined N.C. Department of Transportation and speedway officials Monday to discuss the issue of traffic surrounding NASCAR races Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the speedway in Concord.

Speedway officials say they have plenty of parking places near the track for race fans. But over the years, some fans have parked their vehicles as much as three-quarters of a mile north or south of the track, off U.S. 29. Most of the roadside along that heavily traveled highway and other main connector roads to the track do not have sidewalks, which means fans who park far away must walk along the side of the road.

“That can be dangerous, especially given the fact that these are night races,” Stokes says.

Last October, a 65-year-old Gastonia man was critically injured when he was struck by a vehicle on a race night while crossing U.S. 29 in an area without a crosswalk or other traffic control devices. That man survived, but officials say they are concerned about possible future incidents.

“We want our fans to stay safe,” says Jonathan Coleman, a Charlotte Motor Speedway spokesman.

Stokes says the Highway Patrol has worked with the DOT and the city of Concord to install some sidewalks and improved lighting along portions of U.S. 29 and other major feeder roads near the speedway. But he says some fans’ parking locations are farther away from the street improvements.

“Racing fans are creatures of habit,” he says. “They tend to want to park in the same place. But traffic isn’t always leaving the track bumper to bumper any more. We’re able to get vehicles moving quicker.

“We would prefer that fans pay a little more and be safe.”

Officials say they expect to keep traffic moving at a steady clip for this weekend’s races, despite some possible headaches.

Four other events drawing thousands of spectators are scheduled within a few miles of the speedway during Friday night’s Nationwide Series race – a concert featuring the Zac Brown Band at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, not far south of the track; and three high school football games at Cabarrus County schools near the speedway.

The Sprint Cup Series race will be the only major event in the area Saturday night, but fans arriving for the race could encounter traffic leaving UNC Charlotte’s homecoming football game and the typical heavy traffic on a Saturday at nearby Concord Mills.

“We have a plan, and it has been working well,” said Sean Epperson of the state DOT. “We monitor traffic constantly and can tweak our plan if needed.”

“If fans just follow our instructions, we’ll get them into the speedway and on their way home faster than they think,” Stokes added.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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