CONCORD, N.C. — Friday kicked off three days of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 was one of the biggest events in our area since Gov. Roy Cooper lifted COVID-19 restrictions.
Campgrounds at the speedway were nearly sold out, with tens of thousands of people like harry Wylie already there by Friday.
“It’s just a good feeling to be here,” Wylie told Channel 9. “It’s like going home. Right here.”
Wylie has made the drive from Tennessee to Concord each year since 1979 -- except last year, when no fans could watch the race in person because of COVID-19.
“It’s like being lost. You just, you’re so used to it,” he said.
What a difference a year makes. Last May, the grandstands were empty and only essential crew members were allowed trackside.
But that changed after Cooper lifted most COVID-19 restrictions. The speedway even helped get us to this point.
In February, thousands of people received a COVID-19 vaccination shot at the track through a partnership with Atrium Health. Now, just a few months later, masks aren’t required, there’s no capacity limit and the speedway was expecting around 89,000 fans for Sunday’s race.
You could even get a vaccine at the speedway’s Fan Zone during the race -- with no appointment needed.
“To provide vaccines throughout the weekend to those who may have not had that opportunity to get it,” said Jonathan Coleman with the speedway.
To eliminate touch points, the speedway asked people to bring their items in a clear, plastic bag and tickets will be on fans’ phones.
Fans also flooded area businesses in the Concord area. Those businesses were hoping the race would help get them on the right track in recovering from the pandemic.
With thousands of people attending race weekend activities, the economic impact was expected to be north of $400 million -- revenue that many businesses missed out on when the speedway couldn’t allow fans in last year.
Businesses like OMG Donuts, just a few miles down from the track. Owner Maya Chang has been hard at work in the kitchen.
(WATCH: ‘It’s like going home’: Fans ready to pack Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend)
“We’re ready for the weekend, you know, with everyone on deck,” she told Channel 9.
Chang said it’s more about the relationships she’s built with loyal out-of-town customers.
“They make it a point just to stop by here so it’s kind of like a tradition,” she said.
Nick Belick is one of those customers. Fresh into town on Friday, he made it a point to visit OMG Donuts first thing.
“We come down for our anniversary and then some of our friends come and we camp down by the track,” Belick said.
People told Channel 9 the race weekend is like a family reunion. And as such, it’s expected to be the largest attended sports or entertainment event in the country since the pandemic started.
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