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NASCAR Hall is open, really open, to everyone

If you aren't a fan of racing or racers or race cars, you probably won't like the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

In related news, if you aren't a fan of art you probably won't like art museums and if you aren't a fan of history you probably won't like museums.

After hearing North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue claim during opening ceremonies Monday that NASCAR is the country's No. 1 spectator sport (the NFL is, and it's not close) I debated whether even to enter the Hall. I tire of the hyperbole, of being so defensive we make NASCAR out to be something it's not. But, heck, she lives in Raleigh.

So despite the governor, I walked into the Hall in hopes I would be moved. Instead, I was stopped.

There was Dale Earnhardt's 1996 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the car black, the 3 white and Goodwrench printed neatly on the side.

Earnhardt drove as if he had a deed to every favorable line on the track. Stand next to the black 3 and you will pause to remember the man, and I don't care who you are.

Some museums preserve their treasures behind thick glass and thicker security guards. NASCAR's Hall is welcoming, the cars and exhibits so close you sometimes have to go three wide with other fans to avoid them.

The Simulator Experience allows you to get into one of eight cars, start the engine, shift the gears and replicate a race. One fan suddenly realized after he entered that the only car unclaimed was Jeff Gordon's. The fan said he'd get back in line before he'd drive Gordon's Chevrolet, and he did, standing patiently and waiting for everybody to finish.

A telephone rings in a makeshift garage and since nobody picks it up I do. It's a rotary phone, and I love phones people can't carry into airplanes, restaurants or gyms. A voice on the other end says, "Hey, this is Raymond Parks."

Parks owned the team for which Red Vogt built cars in his Atlanta garage, which is reproduced here.

I was surprised to see an exhibit that attests to NASCAR's diversity.

The exhibit is very small.

Remember the 1979 Daytona 500, the only Daytona 500 in which fans sat at ringside? Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough smacked each other around on the track as the race wound down and skidded into the infield. When Donnie's brother, Bobby, joined them, they threw helmets and punches. A three-minute film nicely describes the festivities, and Donnie Allison's car and Yarborough's car sit side by side in front of the screen.

Junior Johnson spent two weeks building a 1930s-era still for the hall, and it is preserved behind glass but not security guards. Johnson says the still works. Winston Kelley, executive director of the Hall, says the still does not.

But it could. Think of all the fans that would line up to watch history and fermented mash.

Charge $5 a drink and the Hall would end up in the black -- by the weekend.

To make the experience real, NASCAR could send fake revenuers to chase the drinkers. They couldn't catch them, though. They rarely did.

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