It wasn’t all that long ago when Ray Evernham would drive to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the annual AutoFair and find himself among the tens of thousands of people at the racetrack.
“Trying to get in there on a Friday and Saturday, it was like trying to go The Winston back in the day,” Evernham told The Charlotte Observer. “It was crazy.”
The NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief and “car enthusiast” — an understatement of a title if there ever was one — feels a similar thrill ahead of the event this year.
And for good reason.
Beginning Thursday (April 13) through Sunday (April 16), the Charlotte AutoFair will turn the 1.5-mile track within Charlotte Motor Speedway into the home of the latest automobile technology: muscle cars, hard-to-find parts, exclusive memorabilia, a unique display of NASCAR history (as the sport’s 75th year of existence remains in full display), and more.
The event will still largely be what it was during its inaugural event — 44 years ago, when a small collection of vehicles were shown on pit road, before it grew to have regional acclaim.
But event officials say it will be excitingly different, too.
“This is not going to be the same old AutoFair,” said Evernham, a good friend of Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith, who is running the AutoFair and asked if Evernham would mind helping with the event.
“We’re going to keep the DNA of what car culture is about,” Evernham added. “But we’re also going to bring out a bunch of new and exciting things.”
Those “new and exciting things” include offering ride-alongs with Ford Performance Racing School drivers on parts of the “Roval” — the road course within Charlotte Motor Speedway — as well as dedicated theme areas for electric vehicles and off-road machines.
The main attraction will come on Sunday for the “Smith Heritage Invitational,” named after Bruton Smith, the founder of Speedway Motorsports and NASCAR mogul who passed away in July 2022. Sunday’s show will feature dozens of some of the most exclusive vehicles in the world. That includes three 24 Hours of Le Mans winners — including the 1966 Ford GT40 Mark II that inspired the film “Ford v Ferrari” — and one of the first electric cars (1905 Columbia Mark XXXV).
“Just on the front straightaway grass in Charlotte, there are going to be three Le Mans winners there,” Evernham said. “I told them, ‘I don’t want to even think of the price per square foot of the vehicles that are gonna be there.’ We got some cars that are coming in here in the $25-$30 million range as just one car.”
Evernham then laughed: “So when you start stacking up, you know, 15 or 20 of those things, the insurance company people are taking heart pills as quick as they can, ya know?”
Sunday’s event will feature cars that are rarely seen by the public. They’re coming out of private collections. Out of museums. In this way, Charlotte AutoFair is doing something close to what the most prestigious car events in the country do — like The Amelia Concours in Florida, or the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California.
“It’s a chance for people here who love the automobile to see some of the most exclusive cars in the world at one place,” said Greg Walter, CMS’s executive vice president and general manager. “The reception we’re getting to the Smith Heritage Invitational — we think this is the beginning of something even bigger.”
Walter added that this event is meant to continue providing community to car enthusiasts and car clubs throughout the state and country. He wants people to leave the event with a lingering feeling of wonder.
“What we want to do is gather all those things that would draw your eye into one place,” he said, “so that it creates a cool experience.”
Charlotte AutoFair 2023
Dates: April 13-16
Tickets: Single-day tickets start at $10 for adults and free for children under 12. Find them at CharlotteMotorSpeedway.com or at the gate.
Find more information on the Charlotte Motor Speedway website.
This story was initially revealed April 7, 2023, 5:00 AM.