Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Family Campground Takes Name to Heart

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

CONCORD, N.C. – Every fan knows there’s a party in the infield at just about any racetrack on the NASCAR circuit but at Charlotte Motor Speedway, if that craziness isn’t your cup of Long Island Iced Tea, you’re invited to relax in a family-friendly environment more conducive to bringing children to the races while still having a great time and catching all of the action.

The Family Campground sits outside the track between Turn 3 and Turn 4 and is one of the most-popular areas at the speedway. And, the people staying there have a strong bond with one another that has been built over decades. In fact, Joe Louis, who serves as the chaplain over the campground, said some of the fans camping next to him have been there for more than 30 years. It’s easy to find Louis, his campsite is the first one on the right as cars and campers enter, plus there is a large sign displaying to let everyone know both mesh well together.

“This particular campground is unique because it is like everyone comes together,” Louis said. “And, if they go to the race fine but if they don’t go to the race then it is like a family reunion because people have been coming here for 30-something years. The people have come to love each other, get along with each other and even in the roughest times, we’ve seen people who have left and gone to be with the Lord in Heaven and my wife was one of them. But I came down here because I needed my second family and when I came down here after my wife passed, they basically took me in and comforted me, loved me and that is why this campground is a family – we call it that because we have all become family.”

Louis said the campground is perfect for families wanting to bring the kids to the track but don’t want to expose them to alcohol and partying that may take place in other camping areas at the racetrack. In Charlotte’s Family Campground there are church services, a covered dish dinner Wednesday night before the action on the track begins and there is even an unofficial (official) mayor, who can help in case a camper needs assistance with an issue.

“As we come together as a family people come up to me and talk about things in their life and we will pray,” Louis said. “I am happy to be part of a sport that still prays. This is a very unique place. When I came down here and the reason I got back into motorsports was because my daughter had a crush on Carl Edwards 10 years ago. I thought to myself that she is a teenage girl and this is a connecting point for a daughter and a dad.”

When Louis was a youngster, his parents would take him to the New York Fairgrounds to watch racing but over the years he drifted away from the sport. He said he would go to the Labor Day race back then and racing had always been a part of his history.

“Well, I started watching the races again. And because she had a crush on Carl Edwards, I am praying with the drivers instead of one of those fans that is giving the finger to the drivers,” he said.

Despite Louis being a fixture at the Family Campground and seeing Edwards on a number of occasions, he never talked to him about his daughter’s crush, which caused him to get back into racing and ministering to the campers outside Turn 3.

“When you pull into the campground and you get to the spot you have here, it won’t be long until the mayor will come around,” Louis said. “He will greet new people and he will talk with you because he wants to go and see what your needs are and help when he can. This whole campground family started when he helped someone and over the years, other people began to help and talk with one another.”

It started, according to Harry Wiley, when one of the old-timers asked him for help at his campsite. Wiley said, whenever this particular gentleman, who had now since passed on, needed something he would send for Wiley to help. Usually, it was something to do with a problem in the camper he was staying in but over time, the man began calling Wiley “The Mayor.” The name stuck and although there is no election and the job isn’t available to anyone else, it is unofficially-official. There’s a mailbox at his campsite, a plaque honoring his designation and a respect from others in the campground that he never asked for but means the world to him, he said.

“It’s a gigantic family reunion with a feeling of fellowship and love amongst all the people,” Wiley said. “It doesn’t make no difference if they come rolling in here in with a tent or a half-million dollar motor home, everybody if the same. I call it the part of NASCAR that, if you have never experienced it, they don’t know what it is to have that feeling to come into this campground with good people and no animosity, everybody is so friendly. When I roll into this campground, there might not be another soul here but let me tell you it is the Golden Gates of Heaven to me. I feel so relaxed and so fulfilled in my life and why life has led me to this campground.

camping-2Wiley, who lives in Johnson City, TN, said he grew up around racing and working on cars. His dad wouldn’t let him drive but did steer him to become a handyman when it came to building racecars. At 70-year-old, Wiley has never missed a race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 56 years and loves what he considers his home track. He even met his wife, Judy, at Thunder Valley and the two share their love of racing with others at both tracks.

And, at every race, in conjunction with Memorial Day in May or Cancer Awareness in October, The Wileys pay tribute by erecting a memorial. In May, the decorations are red, white and blue to honor America’s military and in October, it’s pink for Breast Cancer Awareness.

“People at work would ask me, ‘Why do you go down there? Why do you want to spend time at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a field,’” Wiley recalls. “I said, ‘you don’t know what it is to be there and the experience to be there with the people and the friendships.’ It is just so good to be here with the people and I want people to come here and experience it. This is the Mecca of racing and we have a lot of new campers in here and the RV’ing is coming back.”

Wiley said he doesn’t know everyone in the family campground but he knows many of them and all of them are welcome to stop by and break bread, share some fellowship and, hopefully, build a lifelong friendship that brings them back to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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