CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- About $1 million worth of luxury-suite tickets to this month's stock-car races at Charlotte Motor Speedway have been stolen, and track officials are warning fans to watch what they buy.
Nearly 10,000 tickets, intended for owners of 31 of the speedway's 56 corporate suites, disappeared March 27 from the Postal Service's General Mail Facility, speedway President H. A. "Humpy" Wheeler said yesterday.
So far, none of the tickets has surfaced, and an investigation by the U.S. postal inspector and State Bureau of Investigation has turned up nothing.
But with race week approaching at the end of May, Wheeler decided to publicize the theft for fear unwitting fans might buy the tickets, which will be worthless come race day.
"We want to make it clear right now that these tickets have no value," Wheeler said at a news conference. He was joined by Jim Woodard, special agent of the SBI.
While the investigation continues, speedway officials have recalled all luxury-suite tickets and are replacing them with tickets of markedly different size and color.
The stolen tickets feature the word "luxury" in big letters and are color-coded -- fluorescent green, blue, pink, orange or red -- for five events this month: qualifying for The Winston (May 21); The Winston (May 22); Goody's Pole Night (May 26); the Champion Spark Plug 300 (May 29); and the Coca-Cola 600 (May 30).
A speedway employee delivered the bundle of tickets to the post office distribution center on March 27, Wheeler said.
"They were put on the loading dock on Saturday afternoon, and a 30-year veteran of the U.S. post office verified that the tickets went into the processing room," Wheeler said.
The tickets were to have been sent by certified mail. Track officials realized something was wrong after a week passed, and they received no acknowledgment. They called the postal inspector and SBI, who sent investigators to the last two races at Talladega, Ala., and North Wilkesboro in hopes of finding a scalper.
They found nothing.
Wheeler expects the tickets will start surfacing as race week nears.
"I'm not an investigator, but generally they show up in the bars, lounges, restaurants where the public gathers," Wheeler said.
The stolen tickets are the most expensive type sold, averaging $88 apiece and running as high as $175 for the Coca-Cola 600.
Wheeler is offering $5,000 for information that leads to a felony conviction.
He'll also post extra security guards at the gate to look for the tickets and quiz anyone who has one about where they got it. Suite owners have also been asked to be on the lookout.
"It would be almost impossible to get access to the suite level," Wheeler said. "The problem is, they could get into the speedway with those tickets if we weren't vigilant."