Ia Hidden Star: /Iarlene Stone
February 19, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
As Tour Coordinator for Bruton Smith’s Concord facility, Stone has actually completed more laps than many of today’s popular drivers. In March, she will celebrate her 33rd anniversary at the Speedway; so naturally, she knows a thing or two about its history. Most fans would be surprised to learn that she knew nothing about the area or NASCAR when she began her career.
“I didn’t even know a driver’s name. I’m originally from New Jersey. It grows on you though,” she said.
Stone started working in the warehouse in 1969. Eventually she began selling programs from a 1756 farmhouse once occupied by North Carolina’s first governor. The house sat on Speedway property, but was demolished in the 70’s.
Today, its legacy endures through Stone’s stories – and the one memento she managed to nab from a garbage bin during demolition. A stone from the old fireplace is displayed in the Speedway’s gift shop.
Although she was not pleased to see the house go, Stone said changes at the track have been extremely positive for both employees and fans. She has seen the addition of more tracks (like the road course and newly constructed $7 million dirt track), more seats, condominiums, the lavish Speedway Club and the Smith Tower itself. However, Stone said the most significant difference is found in the people themselves.
“Years ago, (drivers and fans) were more country people. It’s a business now. We have the VIP suites, but there are more women and families filling the seats. There’s still a place for everybody,” she said.
Todd Adams, regional manager of merchandise at LMS, recalled one of Stone’s first tours as she introduced him to his new workplace in 1990.
“Fans are consistently amazed by how much she knows,” Adams said.
Stone can name the drivers with the most wins at LMS (Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip) and the one who holds the record for the fastest lap (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.). Beyond the obvious statistics, she also knows the top speed of a Legends car, the price for taping a commercial at the Speedway
and length of the waiting list for an infield camping spot at LMS.
Stone recalled one day when a “tourist” corrected a statement she had made to the group. That person became a part of the tour when she announced that she was the wife of car owner Joe Gibbs. Jeff Gordon’s mother also has been along for the ride, though her identity was not revealed to fellow passengers. The biggest surprise for most people, she said, is the 24-degree banking in which she demonstrates at a speed of at least 80 mph.
Last year, nearly 30,000 people learned about LMS from Stone or one of her guides. They came from nearby towns like Thomasville, N.C., to see what the venue was like without 160,000 other people crowding the infield and grandstands. Fans also came from as far as Africa for a first look at an American icon. Stone has personally escorted groups from Japan and Australia who eventually constructed tracks in their own countries.
She definitely is popular among fans, but Stone is not the only one in her family who can talk about the history of NASCAR. Her husband Robert recently retired after a long career dealing with merchandise. In fact, he was present for the first race, which began in May and finished in June of 1960. If today’s fans think a little rain delay is a problem, Robert can tell them about a long race during which the asphalt crumbled, causing drivers and fans to return weeks later to see Joe Lee Johnson take the checkered flag.
“I was here before the days of screen-printed shirts,” Robert Stone said. “We were the first and only real souvenir group at the time. We sold programs and carnival novelties like toy monkeys on a stick. We would buy the stuff on the first of the month, sell it at the race on the 15th – and hope we had enough money to pay for it and make a little by the 30th.”
Like his wife, Robert said he enjoyed “every second of every day” he has spent at the Speedway. Although there is a long line of takers for her job, Stone will not retire anytime soon.
She does not want to disappoint her fans!
For more information on Speedway tours, call 704-455-3204. Reservations are required for groups of 8 or more, but not accepted for individuals