We all know Michael Waltrip is a fun-loving guy, but what I'm about to tell you may be surprising: Michael Waltrip Racing's shop and facilities were originally a movie theater and a roller skating rink. Are you surprised? I most certainly was when Fred, our extremely knowledgeable tour guide, told us that. I did the whole left eyebrow raised thing and looked at him like "are you kidding me?" But then everything clicked later on in the day.
Walking up to Michael Waltrip Racing, home of Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Brian Vickers, Travis Pastrana, and Martin Truex, Jr., you immediately notice that it doesn’t fit the stereotype of what you think a shop should look like. When you think of a shop, you think of a manicured lawn, a brick or stucco front, and a very business-like entrance. Throw that idea out the window right now. The front of the shop looked like a very fancy movie theater - maybe because it was at one point. Let me say right now that I personally think it is less intimidating walking into a shop that looks fun rather than a shop where everything is very prim and proper.
When you walk through the door, it's very open. David Reutimann's Coca Cola 600 winning car greets you as well as a car smashed in a box… I'm probably the only one who thinks that the car in a box is cool, but hey, at least I'm different! There's seating and televisions with races on. Not to mention one of my favorite parts, the Aaron's Lucky Dog. I mean, it's adorable.
Right before we went on the guided tour of the shop and facilities, we took the self-guided tour of the shop. After paying for your ticket in the gift shop you're free to walk around the shop until your tour starts. You scan your ticket and head up the flight of steps to what looks like a giant room. While walking around, you notice that the setup isn't like most shops: it looks to be like individual rooms and you can actually see everything that is going on and when I say everything, I mean everything; you get to see everything from the cars being painted to pieces of metal being made. If you walk down the hallway, you will reach a giant room where all the cars are being assembled. You can literally stand over the crew guys and watch them put the cars together. I mean, how cool is that? Once Fred (our tour guide in case you forgot) said about it being an old movie theater, all of the little rooms made sense. Each room where a piece of the car came together was an individual theater. It's cool if you think about it.
After my parents and I finished looking around upstairs, it was almost ten o'clock, which meant it was time for the guided part of our tour. "Hello, I'm Fred, I'll be your tour guide," a man a little taller than me said to my parents and myself. He started out by telling us about MWR and how it started out over ten years ago as a Nationwide Series team, then ushered us through a big, official gate and over to the area where the cars are unloaded and cleaned up each weekend. He then led us to the pit crew training area where I got a very artsy picture of the tires (if you follow me on Twitter, you know that's the one picture I get at every track I go to - an artsy tire picture); I learned a lot about the training pit crews undergo each week. From there, we headed over to the Fabrication (Fab) Shop where we weren't allowed to take pictures, which I was sad about because it was quite cool. I was intently watching one guy make a piece for a car - maybe I came off as a creeper, but that's okay. "See that pile of metal on the floor? That's a car you'll see on a track soon." Again, I did the left eyebrow raised thing. I was completely thrown off; I never really thought of a racecar as a pile of metal on the floor, even though I knew it was. Shortly after we left the Fab Shop, our tour was over.
Once we reached the front entrance again, Fred explained to us that Michael Waltrip is a very considerate person. He picked a location that was close to "civilization" as I like to call it - meaning it's near food, stores, etc. The MWR employees can literally walk across the street into a big shopping center and get lunch or go to a store. How great is that?
One of the things you will quickly learn about me is that I love gift shops. I'm being completely serious, ask my parents, I usually judge a place on the gift shop - and MWR was no different. They have a wide variety of items - T-shirts, sweatshirts, crew shirts, sheet metal, used car parts, stickers, and decals….shall I go on? I didn’t think so. What I'm trying to say is that this gift shop is awesome; simple as that.
Michael Waltrip Racing is an extremely clean facility with warm and friendly people. If you're in the North Carolina area and have a day free, I highly recommend going to spend the day at the shop!