Monday, May 8, 2017

NASCAR in the South: Touring with the National Corvette Museum, May 7-14, 2017--Part One

The Old Mill of Guilford in Oak Ridge, North Carolina
With my last day of work on Friday, May 6, 2017, I left gainful employment after 35 years in the workforce and began the next phase of life On Saturday we departed southwards to join the National Corvette Museum's Museum in Motion tour, this one called "NASCAR in the South."  The museum has a full slate of trips around the United States and we thought that going to the Southern USA and getting Spring early was very attractive, although we knew pretty much nothing about NASCAR, having never been to a car race of any kind.

The tour was limited to 50 people/25 cars and we had been among the first to book, having paid by early January.  This turned out to be a good idea as the tour was sold out quickly.

We were to be based in Charlotte, North Carolina, for most of the tour but as Charlotte is too far from Ottawa for a single day's drive, we elected to stop at the historic George Washington Hotel in Winchester, Virginia for our first overnight stop.

Winchester sits at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley and was first settled by Europeans around 1729, with the incorporation of Winchester itself (previously known as Frederick Town) in 1752.  George Washington was active here as a young surveyor and the city was the site of fierce fighting during the Civil War, changing hands numerous times.  Winchester was the birthplace (and burial spot) of noted country music star Patsy Cline.  It is the county seat of Frederick County and has around 27,000 residents.

The George Washington Hotel was built in 1924 and was strategically located near the Baltimore & Ohio railroad station.  It was a vital part of the city's downtown core and expanded in 1929, to a total of 150 rooms, and hosted celebrated guests, including Lucille Ball and Jack Dempsey.  But the decline of passenger rail travel and the increase of personal travel on the Interstates (although it should be noted that I-81 passes directly by the city) resulted in closure of the hotel in 1978.  It was converted to a senior citizens' residence and used in this capacity until 1993, after which time it was vacant until 2004.  That must have been pretty depressing, having a very large and elegant building in the center of your town empty for eleven years, a constant reminder of better days.  Of course, there was a happy ending as the building was purchased and renovated over four years to become a fine hotel once again, reopening in 2008.

We enjoyed our very comfortable room after the long drive but downtown Winchester was very quiet so rather than drive to the junk food strip along I-81 for dinner we enjoyed a modest meal in the pub/restaurant at the the hotel.

The next morning, which was surprisingly cold, I walked around Old Town Winchester, which was empty although it had a nice pedestrian zone.  There was some good solid architecture, such as the Masonic Hall, and novelties like the Snow White Grill, a tiny restaurant that opened in 1949 and is the last survivor of a small chain of places selling mini-hamburgers.  The one-time Taylor Hotel, built in 1847, is a fine classical building that was used as a hospital during the Civil War.  The handsome B&O station, built in 1892, is still standing as well.

the Taylor Hotel

B&O Station

Departing Winchester on Saturday morning, we travelled south through Virginia and into North Carolina, following some smaller highways and state roads until we arrived, around 5 hours later, in Oak Ridge, North Caroline. We done come to buy us some grits!

Oak Ridge is the home of the Old Guilford Mill, a grist mill first constructed on Beaver Creek in 1767, and subsequently moved downstream to its current location in 1818.  It is one of the oldest operating mills in the United States.  The 24 foot water wheel was added in the 1950s and does not actually power the mill.  There was a nice selection of stone-ground products, including unbleached wheat flour, cornmeal and grits and we even picked up some hush puppy mix.

Taking our leave of the ladies at the mill, we continued south and ninety minutes later we arrived at our destination, Concord, North Carolina, which is basically a continuation of sprawling Charlotte.  For the remainder of the trip we would be based at the Holiday Inn Express, which was conveniently located next to the Interstate and offered the usual shopping/restaurant choices.

Seeing all the Corvettes parked at the hotel meant we were in the right place!  There was an introductory pizza party where everyone said where they were from and if they had been on an NCM tour before.  People came from all over the United States, from as far away as California, Texas and Minnesota, so coming from Canada as we did was not the longest stretch by far.  Everyone laughed when I said that I had been retired for two days: I am sure that pretty much all the participants were retirees, and some of them for a long time!

2016 Z06 C7.R Edition with additional markings to look like one of the Corvette Racing C7.R GTLM racing cars.  This is one of 500 cars built in this edition.

Continue to Part Two here...

No comments:

Post a Comment