By Peter Wong
From Google Earth, the Charlotte Motor Speedway looks like a giant letter “D,” or more aptly, like a gigantic fan belt strung between the pulleys of a V-8 engine. From the ground, a rising berm of earth conceals the immensity of this modern-day arena for pedal-to-the-metal gladiators.
But once you pass through a subterranean tunnel and climb the bleachers to the top, the speedway is a dizzying place, especially when combined with 60 screaming stock cars and 165,000 avid race fans.
That grandeur was not lost on I. M. Pei and his architects at Pei, Cobb, Freed Partners when they visited the track prior to designing the 150,000-square-foot NASCAR Hall of Fame. It is clear that the architects based their concept for the new Charlotte building on the circuit’s impressive circular space and 24-degree banking.
Contemporary architecture often borrows familiar forms to communicate meaning and intent, and Pei’s reference to the speedway is a classic example. Yvonne Szeto, lead designer for Pei, Cobb, Freed, describes the idea of the building as “inspired by the dynamic quality of speed” embodied in NASCAR racing. That is best expressed in the new Hall of Fame by the ribbon of stainless steel that rolls, spirals, and inverts itself across the structure’s four facades.
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