CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NASCAR Hall of Fame kicked off its opening day with a star-studded ceremony.
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue joined Charlotte-area dignitaries and representatives of NASCAR's past and present on a stage outside the Hall for the hour-long opening ceremony.
The city spent $195 million on the project and is touting it as the biggest and most technologically advanced Hall of Fame in professional sports. The 150,000-square-foot building is a shrine of memorabilia, exhibits that recreate old-time NASCAR lore, 154 video screens, racing simulators and interactive activities.
Richard Petty, legendary driver and one of the first inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, says that Charlotte did a great job creating the state-of-the-art facility.
"It's a big deal to me and hopefully it's a big deal for the fans," he said. "You know, it's unreal, this place. It took them 60 years for NASCAR to get their own Hall of Fame and they've done a heck of a job doing it."
Petty stepped outside to talk with NewsChannel 36 anchor Bobby Sisk. A large group of fans followed Petty outside the Hall of Fame, wanting pictures and autographs.
"They (the fans) mean that I’m Richard Petty. There wouldn't be a Richard Petty without the fans because they wouldn't have bought tickets or I wouldn't have been able to play around for 30 years with the race car. The fans are what it's all about."
The curtain covering the NASCAR Hall of Fame dropped shortly before 10 a.m., unveiling Glory Road, a display of 18 cars telling the history of racing.
The highlight of the morning no doubt involved Petty. Petty drove his signature #43 car, along with Junior Johnson in a black #3 car, with their engines revving from Brevard Street into the ceremonial plaza.
"We came in in a race car and that made it really, really neat," Petty said.
Petty, along with Johnson, is part of the inaugural inductees into the Hall of Fame.
"It feels like history I guess," Petty said. "I walked through the museum and stuff and figure I was here when they ran the very first race."
Team owner Rick Hendrick served as chair of the effort to the hall built in Charlotte.
"When you walk in it and see it you'll be so proud, and for people all over the country that come to Charlotte that have just heard about our sport and don't know about our sport, a walk through memory lane is going to be something they'll never forget," Hendrick told the crowd during the grand opening ceremony.
"Of all the thousands and thousands of people it took to get NASCAR to where it is today, we just went along for the ride," Petty said.
"When you've got that kind of company in the process of doing the Hall of Fame, you just cannot explain it. It's just the greatest thing that's ever happened to me," Johnson said.
The inaugural class will be inducted May 23.
Among the first to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NewsChannel 36 sports reporter Jarod Latch was among the first to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame at 10 a.m. for its grand opening.
At 10 a.m. fans were allowed inside and the anticipation turned into excitement. A lot of people wandered around the hall looking at different exhibits and using some of the racing simulators.
"It's really cool because you see a lot of stuff that maybe isn't explained on TV or you haven't heard of anywhere else. You come here and you really get to touch and feel a lot of the stuff you just see on TV," one NASCAR fan said.
Tickets to get inside were sold at one-hour increments for crowd control after the ceremony.
Fans travel thousands of miles for grand opening
Fans all the way from Michigan, Florida, Canada, California and Texas traveled to Charlotte for the grand opening.
Most of the fans who entered the hall started at Glory Road, a display of 18 cars that tell the history of racing. There are actually pieces of the race track on display as well.
The Kodiak #27 is one of the many cars on display. Rusty Wallace drove #27 in 1989 in a controversial finish with Darrell Waltrip. Both drivers were at the ceremony Tuesday.
Wallace actually stopped by the #27 car. He hopped the barrier to sign autographs for fans and chat about hall.
Some of the NASCAR fans said that’s why they wanted to attend the grand opening, to see what drivers would be there and hopefully get a few autographs.
There is no distance too far for die-hard NASCAR fans. Some fans were outside the hall as early as 4 a.m. to be part of NASCAR history.
"I can't wait to see the legends and see what Charlotte has to offer," said one NASCAR fan.
"Charlotte is the home of NASCAR. It's where it should be," said Jack Corbin, who drove from Texas with the entire family to be part of the grand opening ceremonies.