Charlotte Motor Speedway was designed and built by Bruton Smith and partner and driver Curtis Turner in 1959. The first World 600 NASCAR race was held at the 1.5 miles (2.4 km) speedway on June 19, 1960. On December 8, 1961, the speedway filed bankruptcy notice. Judge J.B. Craven of US District Court for Western North Carolina reorganized it under Chapter 10 of the Bankruptcy Act; Judge Craven appointed Robert "Red" Robinson as the track's trustee until March 1962. At that point a committee of major stockholders in the speedway was assembled, headed by A.C. Goines and furniture store owner Richard Howard. Goines, Howard, and Robinson worked to secure loans and other monies to keep the speedway afloat.
By April 1963 some $750,000 was paid to twenty secured creditors and the track emerged from bankruptcy; Judge Craven appointed Goines as speedway president and Howard as assistant general manager of the speedway, handling its day-to-day operations. By 1964 Howard become the track's general manager, and on June 1, 1967, the speedway's mortgage was paid in full; a public burning of the mortgage was held at the speedway two weeks later.
Smith departed from the speedway in 1962 to pursue other business interests, primarily in banking and auto dealerships from his new home of Rockford, IL. He became quite successful and began buying out shares of stock in the speedway. By 1974 Smith was more heavily involved in the speedway, to where Richard Howard by 1975 stated, "I haven't been running the speedway. It's being run from Illinois." In 1975 Smith had become the majority stockholder, regaining control of its day-to-day operations. Smith hired H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler as general manager in October 1975, and on January 29, 1976, Richard Howard resigned as president and GM of the speedway.
Together Smith and Wheeler began to implement plans for improvement and expansion of the speedway.
In the following years, new grandstands and luxury suites were added along with modernized concessions and restrooms to increase the comfort for race fans. Smith Tower, a 135,000 square feet (12,500 m2), seven-story facility was built and connected to the grandstands in 1988. The tower houses the speedway corporate officers, ticket office, gift shop, leased offices and The Speedway Club; and exclusive dining and entertainment facility. The speedway became the first sports facility in America to offer year round living accommodations when 40 condominia were built overlooking turn 1 in 1984, twelve additional condominium units were later added in 1991.
In 1992, Smith and Wheeler directed the installation of a $1.7 million, 1,200-fixture permanent lighting system around the track developed by Musco lighting. The track became the first modern superspeedway to host night racing, and was the largest lighted speedway until 1998 when lights were installed around the 2.5 miles (4.0 km) Daytona International Speedway. In 1994, Smith and Wheeler added a new $1 million, 20,000 square feet (1,900 m2) garage area to the speedway's infield.
In 1995, 26-year-old Russell Phillips was killed in one of the most gruesome crashes in auto racing history.
From 1997 to 1999 the track hosted the Indycar Series. On lap 61 of the 1999 race, a crash led to a car losing a tire, which was then propelled into the grandstands by another car. Three spectators were killed and eight others were injured in the incident. The race was canceled shortly after, and the series has not returned to the track since. The incident, along with a similar incident in July 1998 in a Champ Car race at Michigan International Speedway, led to new rules requiring cars to have tethers attached to wheel hubs to prevent tires from breaking away in a crash. Also following the crash, the catch fencing at Charlotte and other SMI owned tracks was raised from 15 feet (4.6 m) high with 3 feet (0.91 m) overhangs to 21 feet (6.4 m) with 6 feet (1.8 m) overhangs to help prevent debris from entering the stands.
In February 1999, Lowe's bought the naming rights to the speedway, making it the first race track in the country with a corporate sponsor. Lowe's chose not to renew its naming rights after the 2009 NASCAR season. The track reverted to its original name, Charlotte Motor Speedway, in 2010.
In 2005, the surface of the track had begun to wear since its last repaving in 1994. This resulted in track officials diamond-grinding the track, a process known as levigation, to smooth out bumps that had developed. The ground surface caused considerable tire-wear problems in both of the NASCAR races that year. Both races saw a high number of accidents as a result of tire failure due to the roughness of the surface. In 2006, the track was completely repaved.
Track president "Humpy" Wheeler retired following the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, 2008, and was replaced by Marcus Smith. At the end of 2008, the speedway reduced capacity by 25,000 citing reduced ticket sales. At the same time, the front stretch seats were upgraded from 18 inches (460 mm) fold down seats to 22 inches (560 mm) stadium style seats that were acquired from the recently demolished Charlotte Coliseum. On September 22, 2010, the speedway announced a partnership with Panasonic to install the world's largest high definition video board at the track. The video board measures approximately 200 feet (61 m) wide by 80 feet (24 m) tall, containing over nine million LEDs and is situated between turn 2 and 3 along the track's backstretch. It has since been surpassed in size by the video board at Texas Motor Speedway. The track demolished the Diamond Tower Terrace grandstand on the backstretch in 2014 to reduce the track's seating capacity to 89,000.
On May 20, 2000, fans were crossing a pedestrian bridge from the track to a nearby parking lot after a NASCAR all-star race. An 80-foot section of the walkway fell onto a highway in Concord. In total, 107 fans were injured at Lowe's Motor Speedway when the bridge dropped 17 feet (5.2 m) to the ground. Nearly 50 lawsuits against the speedway resulted from the incident, with many being settled out of court. Investigators have said the bridge builder, Tindall Corp., used an improper additive to help the concrete filler at the bridge's center cure faster. The additive contained calcium chloride, which corroded the structure's steel cables and led to the collapse. The incident is considered one of the biggest disasters in NASCAR history.
The main quad oval is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long with turns banked at 24 degrees and the straightaways banked at 5 degrees. Currently the track hosts the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series.
Contained within the main oval is a 2.25 miles (3.62 km) road course and a 0.6 miles (0.97 km) Kart course. Between the front stretch is a 0.25 miles (0.40 km) flat oval designed after Bowman-Gray Stadium. The 1/4 Mile track currently host the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, the Summer Shootout Series and other events such as the Legends Millon.
The zMAX Dragway is a state-of-the-art four-lane drag strip, located on 125 acres (51 ha) of speedway property across U.S. Highway 29 from the main superspeedway. It was built in 2008 involving a total of 1,876 workers and a combined 636,000 man hours. With 300 workers on site daily working an average 11-hour shift, a 13-month construction project turned into a 6-month one. At one point during construction, concern by nearby residents led Concord city council to rezone land the drag strip was being built on, preventing it from being built. Following the decision Smith threatened to close Charlotte Motor Speedway and build a track elsewhere in Metrolina. When asked if he would go through with the threat Smith replied "I am deadly serious". After a month of negotiations, the issue was settled and, instead of the speedway closing, Smith announced $200 million worth of improvements including road and highway improvements, as well as noise attenuation for the drag strip. The drag strip officially opened on August 20, 2008, and a public open house was held a few days later. The first NHRA event was held September 11–14, 2008.
The dragway features the only all-concrete, four-lane drag strip in the United States. The starting line tower is 34,000 square feet (3,200 m2) and includes 16 luxury suites, race control areas and a press box. Two grandstands, one on either side of the strip, can hold a combined 30,000 spectators. Twenty-four luxury suites with hospitality accommodations are located above the main grandstand. Two tunnels run underneath the strip to enhance fan mobility between the two grandstands.
The Dirt Track at Charlotte is a 0.4 miles (0.64 km) clay oval located across Highway 29 from the quad-oval speedway. The stadium-style facility, built in 2000, has nearly 14,000 seats and plays host to Dirt Late Models, Modifieds, Sprint Cars, Monster Trucks and the prestigious World of Outlaws World Finals. In 2013, the track hosted the Global Rallycross Round 8.Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series:
Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race
Bank of America 500
NASCAR Xfinity Series:
Hisense 4K TV 300
Drive for the Cure 300
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series:
North Carolina Education Lottery 200
NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour
Southern Slam 150
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series
NHRA Carolina Nationals
ZMax 4 Wide Nationals
MXGP of Americas
World of Outlaws
Circle K/NOS Energy Drink Outlaw Showdown (Craftsman Sprint Cars)
Bad Boy Off Road World Finals (Craftsman Sprint Cars, Craftsman Late Models, Super DIRTcar Series)
TORC: The Off Road Championship
Showdown in Charlotte
AMA Pro Flat Track
Don Tilley Memorial Charlotte Half-Mile
INEX raceCeiver Legends Car Series/Bandoleros
Bojangles Summer Shootout Series
Winter Heat Series
Legends All Star (2010–2013, 2015)
Speed Energy Formula Off-Road (2016)
American LeMans Series (2000)
ASA National Tour (2004)
ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards (1996–2004)
Champ Truck World Series (2015)
Fastrak Racing Series (2006–2010)
IMSA GT Championship (1971, 1974, 1982–1986)
INEX raceCeiver Legends Car Series/Bandoleros
Legend Car Dirt Nationals (2001)
INEX Bandolero Nationals (2015)
NASCAR Goody's Dash Series/IPOWER Dash Series (1975–1976, 1985–1988, 1997–2004)
Monster Energy AMA Supercross (1996–1998)
Mystik Lubricant's Terracross Championship (2014)
NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (1987) – combination race with the NASCAR Xfinity Series
NASCAR Sportsman Division (1989–1995)
National Dirt Racing Association
Crate Late Models (2010–2013)
Modz Series (2011)
Pirelli World Challenge (2000, 2007)
Red Bull Global Rallycross (2012–2014)
SCCA Formula Super Vee (1974, 1978–1982)
Super DIRTcar Series
Eckerd 100 (2001–2005)
AMSOIL National Sprint Cars (2003–2005) – Dirt Track
Honda National Midget Championship (1998) – Quarter Mile
Verizon IndyCar Series
VisionAire 500K (1997–1999)
World of Outlaws Late Model Series
WoO LM October Showdown
The facility is considered one of the busiest sports venues in the country, typically with over 380 events a year. Along with many races, the speedway also hosts the Charlotte Auto Fair twice a year, one of the nation's largest car shows. Movies and commercials have been filmed at the speedway, notably Days of Thunder, and it is a popular tourist stop and car testing grounds. The facility also hosts several driving schools year-round, such as Richard Petty Driving Experience, where visitors have the opportunity to experience the speedway from a unique point-of-view behind the wheel of a race car.
The feature of the April 2005 Food Lion Auto Fair at the speedway was a popular sculpture exhibition, Jim Gary's Twentieth Century Dinosaurs. It is a menagerie of Garysauruses, all life-sized, and constructed of automobile parts. A special tent housed the heavily attended exhibition and a huge Gary sculpture, over forty feet long, was displayed at the entrance to the raceway during the entire fair. H. A. "Humpy" Wheeler and the speedway then sponsored the funding for the traveling sculpture exhibition to be featured by Belk College of Business on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where a self-guided tour of the campus-wide display was extended to the end of July.
American Idol season twelve auditions took place at the speedway from October 2–3, 2012.
Since 2013, the annual Carolina Rebellion hard rock and heavy metal festival concert on the first weekend in May has been held at the Rock City Campgrounds located at the speedway. Bands such as Avenged Sevenfold, Kid Rock, Deftones, Disturbed, ZZ Top, Halestorm, Sevendust, Anthrax. Five Finger Death Punch, and All That Remains have played at Carolina Rebellion. The event was extended to three-day format in 2016, with 80,000 in attendance.
NOTE: NHRA does not keep records for Top Fuel or Funny Car because of the 1,000 foot distance used in those two classes when the track opened.