Points, purse, ticket prices make UAW 500 a can't miss event at Lowe's Motor Speedway

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   A down to the wire NASCAR points race, a record purse of $5.1 million and low ticket prices for a Winston Cup race makes the upcoming UAW-GM 500 on Sunday, Oct. 13 at Lowe's Motor Speedway a can't miss trip for local race fans.
   This is the closest superspeedway that NASCAR visits, as it is only a three-hour trip from downtown Elizabethton to the 1.5-mile raceway just north of Charlotte. Speedway president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler points to an unusually competitive race for the Winston Cup title as reason enough for making the drive across Jonas Ridge.
   "Following the UAW-GM 500, 25 of 30 drivers leading the points after this race have won the Winston Cup title," said Wheeler. "The Winston Cup championship is the world stock car championship. It puts you on Broadway. The prestige is what it is. A lot of drivers look at it as the last time they will ever have the opportunity to win it, so they are going to pull out all the stops. It is going to get downright nasty before it is all over. You have so many good teams staying so close together.
   "It's a lot like 1992. If you remember that one got nasty as we got down to it. There was a lot of psychological stuff going on people trying to out-mind each other."
   Wheeler even went down the list of contenders with reasons they might be crowned 2002 champion. "Mark Martin has a lot of things going for him," remarked Wheeler. "He's a veteran and he knows what it takes to win, even though he hasn't been the champion. Jimmie Johnson is a rookie who is not supposed to be there. That shows you what kind of driver he is. He's not paid attention to everybody calling him a rookie and he's in second place. Can a rookie win the championship? He could.
   "Jeff Gordon back in fifth, you have to watch him. He's won so many championships and knows how to win them. Sterling held the lead for so long and he's tough and Tony Stewart will be tough. But, Mark Martin will be tough to beat. He's tough, tough, tough on the race track when the chips are down."
   Conditions over the past few months should make this particular stop on the championship trail, one of the best of the late season. "You will be seeing history," said Wheeler. "This is the last Winston Cup afternoon race at Lowe's Motor Speedway before we go to all night racing. Every time there has been a cool summer, we have had a great 500. The last one, there were 46 lead changes among 13 drivers. With the condition of the track, I expect to see two grooves and we could have 47 lead changes this time around."
   As part of the media day before the event, members of the media were treated to rides in excess of 165 miles per hour courtesy of the Richard Petty Driving Experience as well as getting to race WKA sanctioned racing go-karts, driving Legend cars and racing radio-controlled cars.
   In a special race with the radio-controlled cars, the STAR's own photographer Rick Harris captured second place honors, finishing ahead of Winston Cup driver Kenny Wallace. While all of that was great fun, it's down to serious business for the racers, who view the fall event at Lowe's as a homecoming weekend.
   The track didn't forget them either, hosting a parade earlier in the week and a concert featuring country music star Neal McCoy.
   Best of all for local fans, the speedway has made an effort to attend the races affordable.
   Several tickets are available from a $39 frontstretch ticket to the 500, to a $19 East grandstand ticket. That is an unheard of price for a ticket to a major NASCAR race. In fact, the track has put together several ticket packages including the $99 "Superticket", which allows you to attend the UAW-GM 500, the Little Trees 300 for the Busch Series on Saturday and two nights of World of Outlaws racing at the dirt track outside the main speedway.
   They also have a commemorative qualifying ticket featuring the young stars of NASCAR. Besides being a collector's item the ticket is good for entry to both the Winston Cup and Busch Series qualifying sessions. Also, the track tackled another major concern of fans, working with local tourism officials to address the problem of overpriced lodging on race weekends.
   Track spokesman Jerry Gappens assured that there were nice rooms in the $69 range, still available for the weekend. Wheeler added the pre-race festivities will be up to the usual spectacular level fans have grown to expect at Charlotte with a jet-powered outhouse part of the pre-race show.
   About making things affordable for the fans, Wheeler commented, "We have 170,000 seats here and we usually don't sell out in October. We hope we do this year. We started this "Fans First" program two years ago, where somebody could come and see racing all week for 99 bucks. That's not bad. A lot of fans have been taking advantage of that, particularly from Ohio and Pennsylvania."
   Those with a considerably shorter driving distance, like right here in Carter and Johnson Counties are also welcome to take advantage of the offer.
   You can contact the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS about individual race tickets for qualifying, the World of Outlaws races, the Little Trees 300 Busch race on Saturday or the Winston Cup UAW-GM 500 on Sunday. While in town, you can also visit several of the race shops and museums in the surrounding area, making this a can't miss trip for any serious racing fan.