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Charlotte adds coating to increase passing after lackluster All-Star race

(Photo: Jim Dedmon, USA TODAY Sports)

CHARLOTTE — Responding to a mundane All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last week, track officials attempted to stoke passing at the notoriously sensitive 1.5-mile oval by applying a compound to increase traction used this season at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Numerous drivers experienced everything from wiggles to near-missed slides plying the high line, and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson brushed the wall coming out of an applied area in a corner. Track officials had also used a device to apply grip-improving rubber to the corners, but heavy rains might have washed some of it away on Wednesday night.

"It’s just not very black, and it seems very dusty when we all rolled off this morning," said All-Star race winner Kyle Busch. "Interesting there, but other than that, you know, the cars were starting to put the rubber down and it was starting to get more black as practice progressed, but you get outside of that black just a little bit, and it seemed pretty slick."

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Busch theorized that an Xfinity Series race on Saturday would help condition the track with additional rubber. The use of so-called VHT traction compound began in drag racing but has become a tool for tracks to increase racing grooves at places like Charlotte, which traction allows drivers to monopolize the shorter low lane.

"Years ago at my home track, they put it down in the outside groove to try to make an outside groove," he said. "It wasn’t noticeable the first week that they did it, but it took a few weeks for it to kind of get wore in and kind of groomed a little bit, and then it was actually not bad. I don’t know if we can groom it that fast here in just one weekend, but we’ll see."

Follow Brant James on Twitter @brantjames.

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Charlotte church has survived war, disease and revolution. Now comes the airport.

Steele Creek Presbyterian Church, founded when North Carolina was still a British colony, is the second oldest house of worship in Mecklenburg County.

But to stay alive, this 257-year-old church may soon have to decide to give up its land, maybe even its name.

The thoroughly modern reason: Its close proximity to the ever-expanding Charlotte Douglas International Airport, which has its eye on the property that’s been home to the church since Scots-Irish settlers had their first worship service there in a brush arbor – a lean-to built with tree limbs – in 1760.

This Sunday, the 351-member church will vote on whether to pursue a possible merger with one or more of the other Presbyterian churches in the Steele Creek area.

Any merger would likely mean eventually selling the land to the airport, which is already in talks with Steele Creek Presbyterian over the purchase of its manse. This former home of the church’s pastors is down the road and across the street from the church’s current sanctuary, built in 1889.

Pursuing a merger and all that might entail is an emotional decision that has split the congregation at a church whose motto is “Remembering the Past, Serving the Present, Anticipating the Future.”

Many on both sides of the debate have generations of ancestors buried in the church’s historic cemetery – the final resting place for 25 Revolutionary War veterans, 101 Civil War veterans, the parents of evangelist Billy Graham and a signer or two of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.

The airport has no interest in buying the cemetery and the church has no plans to sell it. But it’s located adjacent to the sanctuary, which would change hands.

“I was born and raised in that church,” said retiree John Freeman, who’s 82 and plans to vote against the merger motion. “I want to stay until we have to move. There are still roads that lead to the church. We (he and wife Annette) can still get there. Planes don’t bother us. You get used to it.”

But Walter Neely, 69, another life-long member, said Steele Creek Presbyterian must be realistic and explore possibilities. He’s clerk of the church’s session, the elected leadership body that is bringing the merger idea up for a vote and will pursue talks with the other churches if it passes.

“If we don’t do anything, we’re going to be in the middle of an (airport) industrial park,” said Neely, who favors the motion. “If we want to continue to exist, we probably ought to be flexible and look at our options.”

More jets, fewer worshippers

Bumping up against the growing airport has been an increasingly dominant fact of life for Steele Creek Presbyterian Church – and homeowners in the area – for decades. For a long time, more than half the congregation lived in neighborhoods just north of the church. But most moved away, said Neely.

In the early 1970s, the church had more than 1,000 members. Now it’s down to 351, with maybe 170 of them attending Sunday services.

“We have to maintain our buildings with declining membership,” Neely said. “We don’t have as many staff as we used to and we’re having trouble meeting budget.”

Steele Creek Presbyterian’s 40 acres constitute one of the largest remaining parcels in the area that the city-owned airport hasn’t yet purchased. Most of the homeowners around the former pastoral residence have already sold their houses to the airport. Mecklenburg County real estate records show the airport bought the house just north of Steele Creek Presbyterian Church’s pastoral residence, on 1 acre, for $44,5000 in September.

The house just south of the residence, on 2.3 acres: Bought in August for $180,000.

I was born and raised in that church. I want to stay until we have to move.

John Freeman, 82, member of Steele Creek Presbyterian Church

The airport says it is interested in the church’s land – minus the cemetery – but has no plans to demolish the church sanctuary if a sale ends up happening.

“CLT is committed to working with the church to find purchase options that work for them and for the airport,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement in response to questions from the Observer. “If CLT and the church do come to a purchase agreement on the church buildings, the Airport will be committed to preserving the historic property. We would anticipate evaluating reuse options for the building, but we are not considering demolishing the historic structure.”

Laws protecting sites registered as historic places would also require not only the continued care and preservation of the cemetery at Steele Creek Presbyterian, but also maintenance of “the physical integrity of the property,” said Dan Morrill of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

“One has to be very, very sensitive to (the church property’s) sense of space,” said Morrill, the commission’s consulting director and principal administrative officer. “That means being sensitive to the tree cover, and the connection between the sanctuary and the cemetery.”

Charlotte Douglas International Airport has been steadily buying land for decades, especially north and south of the main runways. The airport typically buys out homeowners and businesses affected by jet noise and then demolishes the structures. Federal funds reimburse Charlotte Douglas for much of the costs.

There was a time when, in deference to churches, planes were not supposed to take off from the Charlotte airport’s west runway between 11 a.m. and noon on Sundays.

In 1995, the airport began working with Steele Creek Presbyterian and four other nearby churches to soundproof their sanctuaries, allowing planes to run full throttle off the west runway.

But the Rev. Jeff Pinkston, the church’s pastor for the last 10 years, said jet noise is still a problem for those engaged in outdoor activities, such as when children in the church’s daycare play outside and when there are burial services at the cemetery.

Plus, Pinkston said, the airport has other plans that could someday make the church a neighbor to a loud industrial-like area with trucks and railroad cars.

The airport’s rail cargo yard, located between two runways, is seen as a major economic development tool. Norfolk Southern operates the yard, transferring cargo containers between trains and trucks. Charlotte Douglas’ long-term plans call for tearing down the houses in the area it has purchased south of the the airport and developing new warehouse and logistics facilities for shipping.

“Based on our conversations with (the airport),” Pinkston said, “it would be uncomfortable for us here.”

Headstones of various stonecutting traditions in the historic cemetery at Steele Creek Presbyterian Church. The church, the second-oldest in Mecklenburg County, will retain ownership of the graveyard even if it ends up selling its property to Charlotte’s airport.

JEFF WILLHELM Observer File Photo

‘It’s really sad’

Still, the prospect of leaving behind the land that has had such a rich history is just as demoralizing to many at Steele Creek Presbyterian.

For church member Brenda Bledsoe, whose husband, Lewis, was pastor for nearly 30 years, “it’s really sad. We know that, with the airport coming upon us lately, we don’t really have a choice.”

The church traces its beginnings to the early- to mid-18th century.

When the king of England took control of the Carolinas, the royal government began to promote settlement by non-Native American people, said local historian Morrill. That led to a “land rush” between 1730 and 1770, with a multitude of Scots-Irish Presbyterians streaming into what is now Mecklenburg County from mostly Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.

They started churches. Steele Creek Presbyterian is one of Charlotte’s “seven sisters,” the first churches – all Presbyterian – started in the area. Sugaw Creek Presbyterian is the oldest. It was organized in 1756.

Four years after that, Steele Creek Presbyterian was established. The church got its name from a small stream that rises from a spring near Shopton Road and Steele Creek Road and flows into South Carolina.

Seven sanctuaries were built on the site over the years. Slaves worshipped from the balcony until after the Civil War, when they left to start their own churches, including McClintock Presbyterian and Mount Olive Presbyterian.

According to the lore, each of the member families at Steele Creek Presbyterian were once assigned a tree from which to tie their horses.

Even into the 20th century, it was a place that was cited as a famous example of the rural setting and ambience of country churches.

“One cannot put a higher level of historical and cultural significance on a property than what Steele Creek Presbyterian Church and its setting possess,” said Morrill. “It’s as high as it gets.”

Of particular historical importance is the church’s cemetery.

The names on the old gravestones later became the names of prominent Charlotte area streets, schools and politicians: Berryhill, McDowell, Coffey, Knox, Irwin, Polk and Spratt.

The oldest grave bears the name of Sarah Knox, who died at age 64 in 1763.

The cemetery also includes unique headstones carved by members of the Bigham family – skilled, creative craftsmen in the 18th century whose work qualifies, Morrill said, as “extraordinary death art.”

Some of the stone cutters also meticulously carved the headstones with detailed stories of romance and heartbreak. One family, an inscription says, lost three children within three hours to disease.

The late Lewis Bledsoe, who retired as the church’s pastor in 2001, is also buried in the cemetery. And his wife said she and their daughters have designated plots next to his.

The current pastor, Pinkston, said that, even if Steele Creek Presbyterian ends up moving or merging, the church will still own the cemetery. Members and others will still have access to the cemetery and can still be buried there.

“The cemetery will remain here,” Pinkston said. “(But) we have funds for its perpetual care.”

If the church congregation ends up moving to a new location, the pastor said, it will honor its heritage in new ways.

Pinkston anticipates “some kind of historical room, to tell the history of the church.”

The headstone of Andrew Bigham in the graveyard at Steele Creek Presbyterian Church. JEFF WILLHELM Observer File Photo Crucial vote Sunday

The church’s vote Sunday will determine what’s next.

Approval will mean the session can try to negotiate a possible merger with one or more of the four other nearby Presbyterian churches. All are “daughter” churches birthed by Steele Creek Presbyterian over the years – Central Steele Creek, McClintock, Pleasant Hill and Mount Olive.

Increasingly, Pinkston said, the five churches have done a lot of things together, including Lenten services, youth group meetings and a mission project.

But it’s too early to say whether the other churches would want to merge with Steele Creek Presbyterian and, if they do, would be open to changing their name.

In fact, Central Steele Creek and McClintock have initially told Steele Creek Presbyterian that they are not interested in combining congregations.

“We’re still hoping that will change if we pass (Sunday’s motion) and go back to them,” Pinkston said.

The airport is an economic engine and it has great plans. And (they’re) squeezing us.

The Rev. Jeff Pinkston, pastor of Steele Creek Presbyterian Church

Another possible option: Relocate.

With money from a land sale to the airport, some members said, Steele Creek Presbyterian may be able to find property and build a new sanctuary.

“This could also be an opportunity to grow, maybe in a different area,” said Bledsoe. “So there’s still hope.”

But with only 351 members and land in Steele Creek in demand, others at the church don’t consider that realistic.

One thing nearly everybody agrees on is that the airport is on a path that will make it difficult for the church to stay the same.

“The airport is an economic engine and it has great plans,” said Pinkston. “And (they’re) squeezing us.”

Charlotte Douglas has already grown in just about every direction.

North of the runways, the area between Interstate 85 and the airport was once a neighborhood. Starting in the 1970s, Charlotte Douglas bought most of the land. The houses have since been demolished, and the airport has used some of the property to build a new car maintenance and storage facility. Last year, the airport bought one of the final pieces of property in the area: the Adult Super Store off Wilkinson Boulevard, for which Charlotte Douglas paid $755,000.

South of the airport, Charlotte City Council authorized the airport’s planned purchase of about 370 acres in 2013 for an estimated price tag of $35 million. Since the opening of the airport’s fourth parallel runway just to the north, jet noise over the area has increased significantly. The area around Steele Creek Road contains about 100 homes, most of which have already been bought. The airport has negotiated with the homeowners, rather than using eminent domain to forcibly take the property.

And the city, which owns the airport, has long owned the wooded land behind the church itself, on the east side of Steele Creek Road.

If the airport eventually becomes the owner of the church property, Morrill of the local Historic Landmarks Commission said, the city, the airport and church will have to be “very, very careful” to respect the historical character of the land.

“To deny change is to deny life,” Morrill said. “It’s not the job of historical preservation to prevent change. That’s futile.” The goal of his organization, he said, is to “manage change so that the historical integrity of the property and its setting is maintained.”

Bledsoe, widow of the former longtime pastor, understands change must come. But the possibility of saying goodbye to 257 years of heritage saddens her.

“This church has such a long, wonderful history, it’s hard to give it up,” she said. “You don’t like to see things end.”

Tim Funk: 704-358-5703, @timfunk

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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Charlotte Casiraghi’s son joins his mom and Prince Albert at the Monaco Grand Prix

Hello! Magazine – Provided by Hello Magazine USHello! Magazine – Provided by Hello Magazine US

Charlotte Casiraghi’s three-year-old son, Raphaël Elmaleh stole the show during a rare public appearance at the Monaco Formula E Grand Prix in Monte-Carlo on Saturday, May 13. The Monaco royal, looking characteristically stylish wearing a crème pantsuit, stepped out for the event with her little boy, uncle Prince Albert and cousin Louis Ducruet. The royal family gathered on the podium stage at the Circuit de Monaco where the top three teams’ drivers joined them.

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Charlotte’s son Raphaël made a rare public appearance on May 13 Photo: YANN COATSALIOU/AFP/Getty Images

Raphaël looked adorable sporting vibrant red pants and a white button down shirt as he played with miniature racecars on the stage by his mother’s feet. Doting mom Charlotte, 30, kept a close eye on her little boy as he played beside a magnum bottle of G.H. Mumm. The mother-son duo appeared amused as they watched the winning drivers spray champagne on the podium. Charlotte welcomed her son with ex-boyfriend, Gad Elmaleh in 2013. The French comedian confirmed his split from Princess Caroline’s daughter last May, while admitting, “We stay close. We are a family.”

The royal’s son played on the floor with his car toys Photo: YANN COATSALIOU/AFP/Getty Images

Charlotte’s attendance at the formula race follows her recent getaway with her current boyfriend Dimitri Rassam. The couple took their love to Italy for the La Biennale Art Exhibition in Venice last week. Charlotte and French actress Carole Bouquet’s son were photographed cruising the canals of Venice on a boat, checking out art and holding hands during a romantic lunch at an outdoors café. On May 10, the royal mingled with actress Salma Hayek and her husband François-Henri Pinault as well as Adrien Brody at the Cini party during the 57th International Art Biennale.

Charlotte mingled with Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody during a recent trip to Italy with her boyfriend Photo: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

Charlotte and Dimtri visited Jamaica and New York City together earlier this year. Back in 2015, Princess Grace Kelly’s granddaughter opened up to the French magazine Philosophie about love saying, "I believe that the key to a long and happy relationship is when you both share a passion for the truth, for life.”

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Did race get woman booted from first class on Charlotte flight? ‘No,’ says airline

A new accusation of unfair treatment by an airline has emerged, this time from women who claim race played a role in someone losing a first class seat this month on a regional jet headed to Charlotte.

The Root, an online magazine of African-American culture, reports it happened May 2 on an hour-long flight from Kentucky to Charlotte.

Passenger Rane Baldwin told the Web site that she and a friend boarded American Airlines Flight 5389 with an expectation that their seats had been upgraded to first class. However, Baldwin quickly learned that there was only one available seat in first class, so she was seated toward the back of the plane.

Baldwin is black and her friend, Janet Novack, is white. That prompted Novack to take to social media with accusations that race was part of the airline’s decision making process.

@janetnovack_ We don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind. Please share details and your record locator. We want to look into this quickly.

— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) May 2, 2017

However, American Airlines told the Charlotte Observer Thursday that race was not a factor. Instead, it was a simple matter of a ticket agent mistakenly upgrading seats without making sure enough space was available in first class. Only one seat was available and Novack got it because her ticket had been upgraded first. Had Baldwin’s ticket been entered into the system first, she would have gotten the seat, airline officials said.

Novack reportedly left first class cabin in frustration, to join her friend Baldwin in the main cabin, The Root reported.

Neither of the two women had been charged extra for the upgrade, airline officials noted.

American Airlines officials said Thursday that they had reached out to Baldwin with an explanation for the mix up. The airline said it also discussed the matter with the agent who made the mistake “to make sure she followed policies in the future.”

Both Baldwin and Novack were left “dismayed” over what happened to them on the flight, reported The Root reported.

@AmericanAir As she asked questions, she was ignored. However, whenever I asked the same questions, I received thorough answers.

— Janet Novack (@janetnovack_) May 2, 2017

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge prepare to celebrate Princess Charlotte’s second birthday

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are preparing to celebrate as their daughter Princess Charlotte turns two on Tuesday.

William and Kate are likely to stage a birthday party for the youngster, who was born on May 2 2015, at their Norfolk home Anmer Hall.

Charlotte’s privacy has been carefully guarded by the Cambridges, and during the past year she has only been seen in public on a handful of occasions.

The young princess last made an appearance on Christmas Day when she was taken by her parents to a church service, close to the home of her grandparents Carole and Michael Middleton in the Berkshire village of Bucklebury.

She was pictured in the arms of the Duchess when the royal party arrived at St Mark’s Church in Englefield, with older brother Prince George holding the Duke’s hand as they walked in, and when they left the royal children were clutching candy canes.

The other notable outing for Charlotte was during the Duke and Duchess’ tour of Canada last autumn, when she was seen a number of times particularly at a children’s party in Victoria, British Colombia.

Charlotte’s first birthday was marked with the release of four official photographs by her parents, and royal fans will be hoping more will be issued for the second birthday.

The young royal was introduced to the public on the day of her birth and was photographed in Kate’s arms outside the private maternity wing of St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, central London where she was delivered.

She was named Charlotte Elizabeth Diana in tribute to her grandmother Diana, Princess of Wales and her great-grandmother the Queen.

The Cambridges will be spending more time at Kensington Palace in London when William leaves his air ambulance helicopter pilot job in the summer and devotes more time to royal duties.

George will be schooled at the private Thomas’s Battersea school in September and it is likely his sister will be sent to a nursery later this year.

Charlotte Atkinson: Swimmer hopes there is ‘more to come’ at World Championships

Isle of Man swimmer Charlotte Atkinson set three Manx records at the British championships

Double British champion Charlotte Atkinson is in the 29-strong British swimming team for July’s World Championships in Hungary.

The 19-year-old from the Isle of Man achieved the qualification standard when she won the 200m butterfly final at the British Championships.

The Loughborough swimmer said she was "over the moon" to be chosen.

Atkinson also won the 50m butterfly and came second in the 100m butterfly events in Sheffield.

She told BBC Sport: "I am over the moon with my results from last week and I am happy to be British champion for the first time!

The swimmer from Douglas is the fist ever Manx born British champion swimmer

"To set personal bests and medal in all my events was incredible, and hopefully this is just the start with a lot more to come in the summer.

"I am so proud to represent Great Britain at the World Championships and can’t wait to show what I can do there."

The strong team also involves Rio Olympic champion Adam Peaty.

The World Championships will take place between in Budapest between 14 and 30 July.

Men: Nick Grainger, Luke Greenbank, James Guy, Calum Jarvis, Daniel Jervis, Max Litchfield, Stephen Milne, Ross Murdoch, Adam Peaty, Ben Proud, Duncan Scott, Mark Szaranek, Chris Walker-Hebborn, James Wilby.

Women: Freya Anderson, Charlotte Atkinson, Jazz Carlin, Georgia Davies, Kathleen Dawson, Holly Hibbott, Hannah Miley, Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, Molly Renshaw, Rosie Rudin, Alys Thomas, Jocelyn Ulyett, Sarah Vasey, Aimee Willmott, Abbie Wood.

Reasons To Move To Charlottes

Charlotte is one of those cities that should be mentioned when it comes to being a vibrant location full of great people.

If you’re thinking about moving to another part of the nation, you will want to take a look at Charlotte as soon as you can because it’s the real deal.

1) Beautiful Setting

This is one of those cities that is going to capture your attention when you start to see some of the local attractions. They are a joy to behold, and you are going to adore them. There are so many things to do for all age groups, and that makes it a nice place to raise your family.

2) Great Weather

The weather is great in the area, and you will be able to relax knowing it is not going to snow. This is one of the best parts about residing in this part of the nation. You can relax and have a good time under the sun.

3) Excellent People

The people are great, and that always matters. People want to live in a safe place, and this is one of those locations that is as safe as it gets. It is a good city that doesn’t have a lot of dull moments when it comes to having fun.

4) Booming Economy

In the end, the one thing that will drag you to any city has to do with the economy. You are going to want to live in a place where there are many jobs, and it doesn’t get better than Charlotte at this point.

You are going to want to move here as soon as you can because Charlotte is one of those special places that is worth it. You are going to adore the city for all that it has to offer.

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Charlotte NC Is Home To Some Great Restaurants

While North Carolina is on the east coast and is home to the ocean, the mountains and many great cities, Charlotte is one of its finest. If you start exploring this rather large city in NC, you’re going to have so much fun. While you are out there with the family tagging as many attractions and things to do as you can, you’re going to get quite hungry. Continue reading “Charlotte NC Is Home To Some Great Restaurants”