CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway kicked off Monday with a special luncheon featuring several political dignitaries.
Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory were both on hand for opening ceremonies, sharing a table with Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO O. Bruton Smith and his son, Charlotte Motor Speedway President Marcus Smith.
Cannon and McCrory addressed a sea of journalists with McCrory telling an interesting story about his first time visiting Charlotte Motor Speedway during the 1970s.
“Back in 1975 I was driving my 1972 Fiat on Highway 29 on a weekend and I just happened to be going by the race track during the World 600,” McCrory said. “I heard the noise. I saw the traffic. I saw the stands. I said, ‘I’ve never been to a NASCAR race. Now is the time.’”
McCrory explained he drove around to the back of the speedway and, much to his surprise, the back gate was unattended. So he walked in and caught the second half of the World 600, a race that was won by NASCAR legend Richard Petty.
“I got out of my 1972 Fiat and I walked right in the gate without paying,” McCrory said. “I think it was about a $10 ticket. I saw half the race and enjoyed it. I think I saw Richard Petty win the race that year. What an experience to see the King. Ever since that moment I’ve been a NASCAR fan.”
After telling his story, McCrory called Marcus Smith to the stage and gave him a $5 bill as payment for his ticket that day.
• Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas addressed recent rumors of his interest in forming a Formula One team, saying that the idea sounded like an intriguing challenge.
“I’ve had an interest in it for a number of years,” Haas said. “I think it is an incredibly difficult challenge. It is nothing to be taken lightly. It is filled with peril and there are a million ways to fail. For all those reasons is why you do it, to see if it is something you can do.”
• Twenty-time World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series champion Steve Kinser, who will step away from full-time racing after the 2014 season, was on hand for the Stewart-Haas Racing portion of the Media Tour. He shared many stories with the media, even recalling his brief foray into NASCAR.
“I grew up an open-wheel racer and grew up around open-wheel cars until I started watching the stock cars,” said Kinser, who started five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in a No. 11 Quaker State Ford owned by NHRA great Kenny Bernstein in 1995. “I would have loved to run pavement, but it was something I should have done at a younger age. It was a mistake I made at 40 years old. Not having any experience (in a stock car), me or the team I was with probably should never have tried to do something like that.”
• Tony Stewart was clearly feeling like his old self on Monday, cracking jokes with both the media and his fellow drivers at Stewart-Haas Racing. At one point new Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick was commenting on the new knock-out qualifying format when Stewart interjected.
“It’s not literally knock-out. That’s not what they meant,” Stewart remarked.
“Only if necessary,” Harvick quickly responded. “If we’re fighting, I’m kicking you in the leg.”
“Sweep the leg and it’s all over,” Stewart said mid-laugh.
• Leavine Family Racing announced during the Media Tour Monday that the team has secured primary sponsorship from K-LOVE, a contemporary Christian music radio programming service, for at least four races during the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season beginning with the Daytona 500.
The team plans to enter 20 races with Michael McDowell at the helm of the No. 95 Ford in 2014. There are no plans to start-and-park or increase that schedule, even if additional sponsorship is found.
“I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say this, but I’m just glad I don’t have to start-and-park anymore,” McDowell said. “We came up with a strategy in November and said, hey, let’s just do quality races and lets figure out the number we can do. We felt like 20 was a good number.