Charlotte, North Carolina, may be NASCAR country, but hot rodding is alive and well virtually everywhere you look. On a quick trip there earlier this week we were excited to find early-’60s customs roaming the streets, bustling shops cranking out all manner of rod and custom projects, and even a few famous land speed and drag racing cars like the Woody Lee T roadster and the “Dos Palmas Machine Special” front-engined dragster.

North Carolina has long been a hot rodding hotbed, and we recently traveled there to tour a number of facilities around Charlotte. In Ray Evernham's collection, we especially liked seeing the Woody Lee T roadster with its beautiful Jack Hagemann bodywork alongside the golden #22 T, which was originally built to run at the lakes before getting converted into a track roadster. Both are originally California cars, but they now call North Carolina home.

North Carolina has long been a hot rodding hotbed, and we recently traveled there to tour a number of facilities around Charlotte. In Ray Evernham’s collection, we especially liked seeing the Woody Lee T roadster with its beautiful Jack Hagemann bodywork alongside the golden #22 T, which was originally built to run at the lakes before getting converted into a track roadster. Both are originally California cars, but they now call North Carolina home.

We were in town for the grand opening of Axalta’s state-of-the-art Customer Experience Center—an expansive $30 million facility that will serve as a training and conference/event center for automotive refinishers. The array of color matching technology and paint application equipment was impressive, as was the Center’s setting on the Hendrick Motorsports campus in Concord, just outside of Charlotte. Axalta’s enjoyed a 25-year relationship with Hendrick, and both Rick Hendrick and NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon were on hand to celebrate the facility’s opening. We enjoyed talking with Rick about his days drag racing a ’31 Chevy as a teenager, and we could have spent all day checking out the history housed within his racing museum just across the street from the Axalta building.

You can’t have a grand opening without a ribbon cutting ceremony! Axalta’s new Customer Experience Center will serve as a training and conference center for auto refinishing professionals from across the United States. Axalta Chairman and CEO Charles Shaver (holding scissors) is flanked by legendary NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon on the left and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick at right. Axalta’s Director of Sales, Jim Muse, is second from the left, and the company’s president, Mike Carr, is third from the right.

Acclaimed NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. flies the Axalta colors on his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, and he recently announced that he is going to retire from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series once the 2017 season comes to a close. He stopped by the new Axalta Customer Experience Center to check it out before the grand opening.

After lunch we stopped by NASCAR legend (and Hendrick cohort) Ray Evernham’s shop in nearby Mooresville. Through the years, the former crew chief, team owner and current host of the popular television show AmeriCarna has amassed a diverse collection of racecars ranging from the record-setting Woody Lee T roadster (a Hot Rod Magazine feature car from the ’50s) to the four-cam Ford-powered Indy racer that put Mario Andretti on the map at the ’65 Indy 500.

Evernham has an affinity for all types of competition machines, including front-engined dragsters like the Dos Palmas Machine Special—an AA/Gas rail that was campaigned by Bob Keith and wowed the crowds as a member of the 1964 U.S. Drag Racing Team. After disappearing for decades, it was recently restored by Ray and his team. In the background is another of Ray’s finds: Gene Snow’s Jake Johnston-driven ’71 Dodge Charger Funny Car.

Evernham has an affinity for all types of competition machines, including front-engined dragsters like the Dos Palmas Machine Special—an AA/Gas rail that was campaigned by Bob Keith and wowed the crowds as a member of the 1964 U.S. Drag Racing Team. After disappearing for decades, it was recently restored by Ray and his team.

In addition to cavernous storage rooms filled with rods, restored racecars, barn find ridge runners (this is North Carolina after all) and anything else on wheels, Ray operates a full-time shop for his personal projects. While we were there lead fabricator Dan Baker showed us an interesting ’36 Chevy-based Asphalt Modified Ray plans to race on the SVRA circuit after it debuts at SEMA this year. Also in the works were a chopped ’33 Ford three-window, a ’58 Impala with a tri-power 348 and several others.

This perfectly patina'd Modified remains a bit of a mystery. Evernham came across it while shooting an episode of AmeriCarna in Vermont, and he believes it was set up for board track racing but was never finished. Power comes from a Riley-equipped four-cylinder.

This perfectly patina’d Modified remains a bit of a mystery. Evernham came across it while shooting an episode of AmeriCarna in Vermont, and he believes it was set up for board track racing but was never finished. Power comes from a Riley-equipped four-cylinder.

Stock car racing was born out of moonshine running, and occasionally an old ’shine runner turns up in a shed. This one resides in Ray Evernham’s collection, and was actually used by Pixar as the basis for Junior “Midnight” Moon, the Junior Johnson-based character from the upcoming movie Cars 3.

Stock car racing was born out of moonshine running, and occasionally an old ’shine runner turns up in a shed. This one resides in Ray Evernham’s collection, and was actually used by Pixar as the basis for Junior “Midnight” Moon, the Junior Johnson-based character from the upcoming movie Cars 3.

Coupes are for chickens, right? Well here's the "Chicken Coupe," a competition car from yesteryear that has made its way into the Evernham collection. Highlights include a blown smallblock Chevy, louvered roof insert and genuine spindle-mount magnesium 12-spokes.

Coupes are for chickens, right? Well here’s the “Chicken Coupe,” a competition car from yesteryear that has made its way into the Evernham collection. Highlights include a blown smallblock Chevy, louvered roof insert and genuine spindle-mount magnesium 12-spokes.

This is Evernham's latest project, a chopped '33 Ford three-window in all its baremetal glory. The lakes-inspired coupe will be getting a hot Gurney-Weslake V8 underneath the louvered hood.

This is Evernham’s latest project, a chopped ’33 Ford three-window in all its baremetal glory. The lakes-inspired coupe will be getting a hot Gurney-Weslake V8 underneath the louvered hood.

Here's a set of Ardun heads with history. The story goes that they were originally purchased by Ralph Earnhardt, father of Dale Earnhardt, in the early-'50s, but he sold them shortly after he realized he couldn't run them in NASCAR competition. They changed hands several times before making their way into Ray Evernham's collection.

Here’s a set of Ardun heads with history. The story goes that they were originally purchased by Ralph Earnhardt, father of Dale Earnhardt, in the early-’50s, but he sold them shortly after he realized he couldn’t run them in NASCAR competition. They changed hands several times before making their way into Ray Evernham’s collection.

While in Mooresville, we also dropped by Detroit Speed where owners Kyle and Stacy Tucker and their crew are continuing their tradition of blending modern engineering and performance with vintage steel. Next to their expansive manufacturing facility in the project car area were, among others, a ’41 Willys once raced by Kenny Bernstein, a completely revamped ’49 Cadillac and a radical ’65 Riviera.

Randy Wilcox commissioned Detroit Speed to transform his 1949 Cadillac into a high-performance cross-country machine. Underneath the very nice original Cad sheetmetal lurks a wealth of new-age engineering.

Randy Wilcox commissioned Detroit Speed to transform his 1949 Cadillac into a high-performance cross-country machine. Underneath the very nice original Cad sheetmetal lurks a wealth of new-age engineering.

This extensively modified chassis will end up underneath Jeff Mosing’s ’65 Riviera—a turnkey project being built at Detroit Speed.

This extensively modified chassis will end up underneath Jeff Mosing’s ’65 Riviera—a turnkey project being built at Detroit Speed.

We then drove south to spend the afternoon in Mint Hill with our friends at Fat Man Fabrications. When we arrived, owner Brent VanDervort was in the middle of chopping longtime customer Phil Kalen’s ’51 Merc. “I must have chopped 20 of these things and I’ve never done two the same way,” Brent laughed. After some further profile eyeballing, he was kind enough to take a break and show us around his facility, introducing us to the crew behind Fat Man’s custom frames, stubs and other chassis components.

We also stopped in the Mint Hill, North Carolina, headquarters of Fat Man Fabrications. In between managing the steady flow of frames and suspension components being built in the shop, owner Brent VanDervort was in the early stages of chopping customer Phil Kalen’s ’51 Merc.

We also stopped in the Mint Hill, North Carolina, headquarters of Fat Man Fabrications. In between managing the steady flow of frames and suspension components being built in the shop, owner Brent VanDervort was in the early stages of chopping customer Phil Kalen’s ’51 Merc.

Fat Man manufactures a wide variety of chassis components, from an expansive line of dropped spindles and uprights to frame stubs and complete frames. Shown here is one of their Roller Chassis for the ever popular ’47-’54 Chevy pickup trucks.


Fat Man manufactures a wide variety of chassis components, from an expansive line of dropped spindles and uprights to frame stubs and complete frames. Shown here is one of their Roller Chassis for the ever popular ’47-’54 Chevy pickup trucks.

Their complex is a really neat Gasoline Alley-style arrangement. The first several buildings house everything from a full workshop for doing custom suspension and prototype work (an early-’60s T-bird was on a lift when we were there) to fabrication/assembly shops and CNC machining operations. At the far end are two more buildings that house an upholsterer and a body and paint shop unrelated to Fat Man Fabrications, but used by Brent on his personal projects. One such project that we got to check out was his ’56 Ford Fairlane Victoria, which you may recognize from their advertisements. Though the front bumper was out being re-chromed, the DeSoto-grilled and nicely lowered mild custom is just about finished and ready to cruise this summer.

Brent is well on his way to building his '56 Ford into a tasteful mild custom. Although the front bumper is currently getting chromed, you can see that he's already filled the grille opening with 11 DeSoto teeth.

Brent is well on his way to building his ’56 Ford into a tasteful mild custom. Although the front bumper is currently getting chromed, you can see that he’s already filled the grille opening with 11 DeSoto teeth.

Even though our trip was a brief one, we’re glad we had the chance to not only see so many great cars, but also catch up with old friends. We look forward to making our way back to North Carolina in the near future.