CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On the eve of Charlotte Motor Speedway's premier race, track officials are prepping for their chance to land nation's biggest extreme sports event, ESPN's X Games.
Concord, named a finalist to host the event for 2014-16, hopes to impress the network's decision-makers on their June 4-5 site visit.
Beating out three other cities would mean topping Detroit’s strong fan support, Chicago’s large media market and Austin, Texas’ younger demographic the city has successfully tapped into in recent years.
But both speedway and Cabarrus County tourism officials see a practical advantage to hosting the extreme sports event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In place already is a large venue able to facilitate fans as well as all the events in the games offer, along with the experience of operating big events.
There’s also an emotional advantage: Speed.
“I think it would change the dynamics and most certainly set the stage that the speedway, Cabarrus County and Charlotte region is a true extreme and speed destination,” said Donna Carpenter, president of the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It already is, and that would elevate it to the next level.”
One of the most decorated extreme sports athletes of all time believes Charlotte would be a great landing spot for the four-day summer event.
Travis Pastrana, an 11-time X Games gold medal winner who races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, said there’s a similar mentality to race car drivers and those who participate in action sports.
“I thought that was really cool that they got a bid,” Pastrana said. “If you look at Charlotte and Charlotte Motor Speedway, they’ve got dirt track, NASCAR, drag racing, they’ve got so much right here.
“I really think if they have an X Games here, you’re going to build this place that’s already the racing hub of the world – you could argue Indianapolis. But if you add action sports to that, you’re grooming the next generation of racers right here.”
The Summer X Games is an action sports event that was created by the sports television giant in 1995 and first held in Rhode Island. Since then it’s been held during July primarily in southern California, and recently it expanded internationally. Last week, qualifiers were held in Barcelona, and next month they will be held in Munich before the finals in Los Angeles in early August.
The speedway, one of 29 hopefuls last fall, was part of a list whittled down to nine in January and then four last month. Branded X Games Charlotte, the speedway’s bid stands alongside Detroit, Chicago and Austin, Texas, for the three-year host gig. Speedway officials expect ESPN to make its decision on a host city in late June or early July. A specific date has not been set.
ESPN planned to visit all four cities in May and June, though it’s unclear where the network’s trip to the speedway falls among the other visits.
Despite hosting nearly two weeks of races and festivities, including the NASCAR All-Star race and Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, speedway officials are still prepping for their two-day pitch to ESPN.
“It’s going to be huge for us,” speedway spokesman Jonathan Coleman said. “We will have the decision makers at our disposal on our space asking us the questions, and we have one opportunity to make our case face-to-face.
“We have a lot going on this week with the races, but that’s not deterring our efforts.”
Those efforts have been concentrated largely on social media and fan outreach during race week. Together with the CCCVB, CMS has put together an official Twitter account and Facebook page as well as a 3-minute video showing extreme sports in and around the speedway.
While some of the events, such as BMX racing and motocross, will require construction at the speedway and zMAX Dragway, Coleman said the speedway’s infrastructure is likely one of the reasons the site is so attractive to ESPN.
“One of the things that made us such a strong finalist is so much of it is turn-key,” he said. “We have experience with parking plans and traffic plans and security plans in place. With the various venues that we have on property, we have the seating capacity ready to go, all it would take us is 100,000 fans and some ramps.”
Charlotte and extreme sports aren’t exactly synonymous. Skateboarding, BMX racing and motocross aren’t as ingrained in the area’s DNA as NASCAR, pro wrestling or basketball.
But that’s why the Charlotte area would be a great fit for the event, Pastrana said. Though the sports were and still are immensely popular in southern California, he believes getting them to an area less familiar with the sports can help the X Games continue to grow.
“Honestly I think it would be more successful in Charlotte,” Pastrana said. “For action sports the most difficult place to go is California. It was kind of the capital of action sports early on because the climate is so good and you can do it year-round, and a lot of your action sports athletes are from there.
“We just went to Spain and we were getting standing ovations, and in Brazil we were like rock stars. In L.A. it was easy for media and TV, but as far as expanding it to new areas for people who appreciate the excitement level that action sports bring, I think California is the worst place for it. I’m pretty excited to see it move to different places.”