NASCAR Spawned An Innovation Cluster, Right Off 'Redneck Hill'

Jun 10, 2013

You may not think of NASCAR racing tracks as hotbeds of innovation. But in Cabarrus County, N.C., home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a cluster of companies has emerged that is driving automotive technology forward.

As local NASCAR teams demand faster cars, new businesses are sprouting up in North Carolina to serve their need for speed. We spent an afternoon talking with the owners and employees of these businesses, then assembled the photos for our raciest post yet. 

NASCAR Racing Experience, a locally-owned company that lets fans drive race cars on real NASCAR speedways, hooked us up with the keys to the Charlotte Motor Speedway so we could take a couple laps in the Chevy Traverse. It's tough to capture, but the pitch on these turns was 24 degrees, and we were happy to get away without flipping. Talladega's turns are apparently 33 degrees

Winner's circle, baby:

NASCAR Racing Experience then showed us their fleet.

One of the cars, which cost $225,000 to produce, was signed by hundreds of local residents as part of Charlotte's bid to get the X Games in town. NASCAR Racing Experience said that landing the X Games would bring an estimated $100 million to the city.

Then we checked out Racing Electronics (RE), a small business that makes NASCAR headsets, and was nice enough to humor us as we pretended to be Daft Punk.

RE specializes in manufacturing ear-pieces used by NASCAR drivers to communicate with their crew chiefs.

They had drawers filled with ear molds of regular customers, including some of the biggest names in racing. Most of them we had never heard of before, because we're from Boston. Go Sox, guy. 

Don, the head of sales and partnerships at RE, spoke about bringing some of the company's manufacturing back to the U.S. Here, he holds up two versions of the same headset. The older model was made in China, while the newer one was made in America due to rising costs overseas. RE was able to bring eight jobs back to the U.S. in the last five years, and it expects to bring another ten back in the next five years.

Coolest Office Of The Day Award goes to This Guy, who runs sponsorships for Racing Electronics.  

He had old-school NASCAR helmets, Viagra-branded helmets, and an Evil Knievel helmet, signed by the man himself.

Then we were off to Roush Fenway, a NASCAR racing team. Two takeaways from this visit:

1. There is a TON of money in racing. Roush Fenway has its own commercial airline. Yup, they own a private fleet of jets that they use to ship the team around the country for races. Baller. A Roush Fenway executive also showed us one of the ways they test new cars for durability. They load the vehicle onto this massive machine that can simulate the contours of speedways around the U.S. The technician presses a button (e.g., "simulate Talladega") and the vehicle starts bouncing around as though it's on that track, with a large screen displaying all the data that's being collected. Much of the technology is a trade secret, hence the lack of photos.

2. It is insanely hard to get in and out of a race car, as evidenced by this video of Nate hilariously struggling.

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