Professional and amateur sports enthusiasts have a lot to cheer about in the Charlotte region. While many area newcomers carry other team allegiances, it doesn’t take long for Charlotte’s home teams to earn a place in their hearts as well.
NASCAR is the region’s oldest professional sport, as the city embraced stock car racing long before it became a national passion. More NASCAR teams are based in the Charlotte area than in any other city. Lowe’s Motor Speedway (www.lowesmotorspeedway.com), the largest sports facility in the Southeast, hosts three major races – the Bank of America 500 in October and the Nextel All-Star Challenge and Coca-Cola 600 in May – as well as numerous other events throughout the year.
While Charlotte has been home to NASCAR for decades, fans can now cheer local teams of the NBA and NFL.
Particularly since their 2004 Super Bowl debut, the NFL Carolina Panthers draw fans to Bank of America Stadium to see stars like quarterback Jake Delhomme and wide receiver Steve Smith. In 2006-2007, the Panthers were 8-8 just missing the playoffs. Charlotteans have high hopes for the 2007-2008 season, and the team looks good, with enough depth and the steadying presence of Delhomme and Coach John Fox.
Under the ownership of Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, the Charlotte Bobcats played their first season in 2004 at the Charlotte Coliseum and moved to the new Charlotte Bobcats Arena in 2005. The Bobcats continue to entertain crowds with stars like Raymond Felton and Sean May – both from the 2005 NCAA Championship Tar Heels team – 2004 #2 draft pick Emeka Okafor and mustachioed sensation Adam Morrison.
If hockey’s your game, check out the Charlotte Checkers. The Checkers play in the East Coast Hockey League and are affiliated with the NHL’s New York Rangers. In 1996, the Checkers won the ECHL Championship and fans’ excitement about the team has remained high ever since. The team also plays in the Charlotte Bobcats Arena in Uptown Charlotte.
If golf is more your speed, don’t miss the Wachovia Championship in May. Hosted by Quail Hollow Country Club, the tournament had a successful fifth year. In 2007, Tiger Woods finished 13 under par to win two strokes ahead of second place Steve Stricker. The tournament’s purse is one of the largest on tour, which brings many of the greats to Charlotte.
While Charlotte is not a Major League Baseball town, the Charlotte Knights, 1999 International League Champions, are a favorite of all who enjoy the national pastime. As the Chicago White Sox’s AAA affiliate, the Knights afford local residents the opportunity to see the sport’s rising stars. The team plays at Knights Castle in Fort Mill, just across the S.C. state line off I-77.
The region is also home to two single-A baseball clubs – the Hickory Crawdads (www.hickorycrawdads.com), affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Kannapolis Intimidators (www.intimidatorsbaseball.com), farm club for the Chicago White Sox. Both teams play in the South Atlantic League.
Additionally, the Charlotte Eagles who play in the Second Division of the United Soccer Leagues, and the Lady Eagles, who play in the W-League of the United Soccer Leagues, will delight soccer fans. The Eagles have advanced to the championship match for the past three seasons. The Lady Eagles stunned the league when they were national champs in their second season, 2001.
Catching a Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball game is a must. Led by head coach Bobby Lutz, the 49ers joined the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2005 and consistently make postseason play.
Outdoor sports enthusiasts are excited about the new U.S. National Whitewater Center, a world-class park with controllable rapids that is modeled after the 2000 Olympic site in Australia. Located on the Catawba River near the interchange of I-85 and I-485, the park features rock climbing walls, mountain biking trails and flat water canoeing and kayaking in addition to the rapids.
Whatever your passion, and whatever your budget, as a sports fan you’ll be satisfied in Charlotte.