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, the largest sports facility in the Southeast, hosts three major races – the Bank of America 500 in October and the Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 in May – as well as numerous other events throughout the year. The zMax Dragway at Concord is the only all-concrete, four-lane drag strip in the country, with its first race held on Sept. 11, 2008.
While Charlotte has been home to NASCAR for decades, fans can now cheer local teams of the NBA and NFL.
The Carolina Panthers are one of the most successful expansion teams in NFL history. Since their founding in 1995, the Panthers have made it to the postseason in five different seasons and won four division championships.
Coming off a 12-4 season and finishing first in the NFC South in 2013, the Panthers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. While the lifelong Panther and fan-favorite Steve Smith is no longer on the roster, the Panthers attempted the fill the void by drafting Kelvin Benjamin- a 6’5″ wide receiver from Florida State- in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Benjamin looks to be Newton’s primary target for the 2014 NFL season.
While the Panthers have certainly given Charlotte enough to talk about over the past few seasons, the big “buzz” around Charlotte lately is the return of the Charlotte Hornets. With one of their 2014 mottos, “The Home Team Is Finally Home” plastered throughout the city on billboards, buildings and busses, it’s safe to say the city is welcoming back their team with open arms.
First established in 1988, the Hornets are the true heart and soul of Charlotte. The Hornets made it to the postseason 7 times from 1988-2002, before the team was moved to New Orleans. Charlotte sat empty without an NBA team for two years before the Bobcats began play in the 2004 season. While Charlotte was happy to have a team again, the Bobcats never experienced the same amount of success as the Hornets, only seeing the postseason twice over a 10-season span.
The Hornets are set to open their regular season on Wednesday, October 29th at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Uptown Charlotte.
If hockey’s your game, check out the Charlotte Checkers. The Checkers play in the American Hockey League and are affiliated with the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League. A continuation of the former East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) team of the same name, the Checkers have been playing in the AHL since 2010.
The Checkers have been a staple in Charlotte for decades. The original Checkers team was founded in 1956 and played until 1977. The team won back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, and has four consecutive division championships – from 1994 to 1998. The Checkers also play in the Time Warner Cable Arena.
If golf is more your speed, don’t miss the Wells Fargo Championship in May. Hosted by Quail Hollow Country Club, the tournament has called Charlotte home since 2003. With one of the largest purses on the tour, the Wells Fargo Championship regularly features many of the top-tier golfers of the tour and has a distinguished list of past winners- including Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods.
While Charlotte is not a Major League Baseball town, the Charlotte Knights 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. Originally playing at Knights Castle in Fort Mill, the Knights relocated to BB&T Ballpark in 2014, right in the middle of Uptown Charlotte.
Charlotte may not have an MLB franchise, but they’ve been a baseball town for well over 100 years. In 1901, the Charlotte Hornets (not those Hornets) began play in Charlotte. The Hornets continued play until 1972 until eventually disbanding. In 1976, wrestling promoter Jim Crockett Jr. brought baseball back to the Queen City with the Charlotte Orioles, a AA-affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles eventually became the Knights and the rest is history.
The region is also home to two single-A baseball clubs – the Hickory Crawdads, affiliated with the Texas Rangers, and the Kannapolis Intimidators, farm club for the Chicago White Sox. Both teams play in the South Atlantic League.
Additionally, the Charlotte Eagles, who play in the USL Premier Development League and the Lady Eagles, who play in the W-League of the United Soccer Leagues, will delight soccer fans. The Lady Eagles have advanced to the championship match every season since 2009. 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 Alan Major, the 49ers rejoined the Conference-USA before the 2013-14 season and are coming off an NIT appearance last season.
The biggest buzz in college sports has been the addition of a UNC-Charlotte football program. After being talked about for years, the university finally commissioned a team, and the Charlotte 49ers football team officially began play in 2013. Coached by Brad Lambert, the 49ers football team will be joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2015.
Located on Lake Norman, the Davidson Wildcats men’s basketball team has revived small-town Davidson and received national attention for the entire Charlotte area. After a Cinderella-like run in the 2008 NCAA Men’s Tournament, the Davidson Bulldogs have developed a reputation as a small-school basketball powerhouse. Much of this can be attributed to former Davidson guard Stephen Curry, the number-7 overall pick in the NBA Draft and current starting point guard for the Golden State Warriors. However, under the leadership of 26-year head coach Bob McKillop, the Wildcats hope to repeat their recent successes and establish themselves as a viable postseason threat year-in and year-out.
Other Sports and Activities
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.
|Carolina Panthers||Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte||704.358.7800||www.panthers.com|
|Charlotte 49ers||UNCC campus, Charlotte||704.687.4949||charlotte49ers.com|
|Charlotte Hornets||Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte||704.262-2287||www.nba.com/hornets/|
|Charlotte Checkers||Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte||704.342.4ICE||www.gocheckers.com|
|Charlotte Eagles and Lady Eagles||Charlotte Christian School Stadium, Charlotte||704.841.8644||www.charlotteeagles.com|
|Charlotte Knights||BB&T Ballpark, Uptown Charlotte||704.36.HOMER||www.charlotteknights.com|
|Davidson Wildcats||Davidson Campus, Davidson||800.768.CATS||www.davidsonwildcats.com|
|Hickory Crawdads||L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory||828.322.3000||www.hickorycrawdads.com|
|Kannapolis Intimidators||Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, Kannapolis||704.932.3267||www.intimidatorsbaseball.com|
|NASCAR||Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Concord||800.455.FANS||www.lowesmotorspeedway.com|
|U.S. National Whitewater Center||I-485 at I-85, Charlotte||704.391.3900||www.usnwc.org|
|Wells Fargo Championship||Quail Hollow Country Club, Charlotte||800.945.0777|