For the first time since it opened its doors, admission to the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be free, offering unlimited access to the entire museum to all visitors on Saturday, February 1, according to a NASCAR official news release.
The free day is in conjunction with NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day, a day packed with special events that include autograph and Q&A sessions with current drivers and NASCAR Hall of Famers.
This new twist for the Hall, located in downtown Charlotte, N.C., comes at a time when attendance figures at the high-tech venue—designed to entertain and educate both the hardcore fan and the neophyte alike—continue to struggle.
NASCAR's state-of-the-art showcase museum has been an underachiever since it opened its doors to the public in 2010.
A year prior to its opening, Hall executive director Winston Kelley said in an official media release, "We’re less than a year away from opening the doors that will give visitors an unparalleled experience of the energy, excitement, technology and incredible history of NASCAR – a sport that is so closely tied to our city, our region and our rich heritage in racing."
The Hall opened to great expectations, with promises of attracting NASCAR fans and others from around the world to the beautiful showcase in Charlotte.
But despite the best efforts of everyone involved—the staff of the Hall of Fame, the city of Charlotte, the state of North Carolina and various private entities, the Hall has yet to meet many of the lofty attendance figures promised by its developers. Budget cuts came as early as six months into its existence when attendance by those living in the local market was less than anticipated.
Since opening, attendance has been disappointing, with figures declining again by 10 percent in 2013, according to figures released by Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (via the Charlotte Observer), which manages the museum.
Perhaps a chance to meet the 20-plus big-name current Cup drivers scheduled to appear on Fan Appreciation Day, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin, will create a spark big enough to reignite interest in the Hall, which recently changed the cars in the feature display called "Glory Road."
There are also several new displays including a Champions exhibit honoring current titleholders, "Mr. Six-Time" Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon and Matt Crafton.
Will the Hall of Fame ever live up to its lofty expectations? Perhaps not.
Interest in NASCAR, as a whole, has apparently declined over the past five years, based on attendance figures and other data, including merchandise sales. However, the Hall of Fame is an amazing place, for both fan and non-fan alike. The exhibits are well-designed and feature a remarkable collection of memorabilia overseen by official NASCAR historian Buz McKim.
And, everybody loves the chance to change a tire on a real race car using the air jack at the Pit Crew Challenge exhibit.
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