NASCAR has held races in almost all of the lower forty-eight states throughout its history. Some were flops, some were decent, but others have withstood the test of time and through the decades only the occasional repaving job has been done to these monolithic structures. Here's a top ten list of the great American racetracks worth traveling to see.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Luck and Glamour
Carl Edwards celebrates a win at the 2011 Las Vegas race — Photo courtesy of Maverick Helicopters
One of the newer tracks on the schedule, Las Vegas held its first race in 1998 and has since become a landmark event, being one of the first five races of the year. The banks are high at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the turns ruthlessly abrupt. Also, the infield features one of the most open garage areas in all of NASCAR: The Neon Garage. There, fans can walk above the crews and drivers to watch the mechanics/ mad scientists of NASCAR work on their 850-horsepower behemoths.
When: Early March
Getting There: The facility is located just a dozen miles north of downtown Las Vegas via Interstate 15.
Watkins Glen International: Tradition and Excellence
Dodge Charger passes through the final turn — Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Brandan W. Schulze
One of only two tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule that involve right turns, 'The Glen' is a fast and fluid road course track. It has hosted races for Formula One, Indycar, and several endurance series and is regarded by many across the world as one of the best road courses in North America.
Getting There: Watkins Glen is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and is far removed from the hustle and bustle of any big city. The nearest airport is Greater Rochester International, an hour and a half drive away. Watkins Glen specializes in campgrounds and has historically been one of the best tracks for RVing/ camping.
Michigan International Speedway: Speed and Power
Being so close to Canada, both the Canadian and US national anthems are played before race at Michigan — Photo courtesy of Martin Cathrae
This mainstay of the NASCAR schedule is located in the Irish Hills region of Michigan near Detroit, the headquarters of two of the three competing car manufacturers in NASCAR. With a wide surface and fresh new pavement, the track allowed Marcose Ambrose to set a track record with an average speed of over 200mph in 2012.
When: Early June, Mid August
Getting There: Detroit's Metropolitan Wayne County Airport is less than an hour drive from the track with the towns of Brooklyn and Jackson providing plenty of lodging not too far away. Campsites are also extensive and have excellent views.
Richmond International Raceway: Perfection and Pressure
A view of Richmond taken from a suite box seat overlooking the front stretch — Photo courtesy of Race Fan
Historic Richmond has what is often called 'the perfect race track' by drivers and fans alike. The three-quarter -mile track has a wide surface and enough grip for cars to run side by side, but not enough to pass. This creates dilemmas for the drivers, of when and where to pick battles, which leads to great on-track excitement. The September race date is held under the lights and is the cutoff point to make the NASCAR equivalent of the playoffs: The Chase.
When: Late April, Early September
Getting There: Richmond International has the benefit of a great location in Richmond, Virginia, so there's plenty to see and do in and around the track. Richmond International Airport is just five miles from the circuit and the lodging options are almost limitless.
Charlotte Motor Speedway: Home Field Bragging Rights
Fans taking pictures before the start of the Coca-Cola 600 — Photo courtesy of chayes_2014
A twenty minute drive from Charlotte, the one-and-a-half-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway was built in 1960 to provide a 'home game' of sorts for the racing teams, almost all of which are based within fifty miles. While the track looks simple enough, the devil's in the details. A bottle neck makes the first turn legendary, and the front and back stretch are slightly crooked, making the drivers constantly adjust. The most popular race at this track is held on Memorial Day weekend and is also the schedule's longest race: the Coca-Cola 600 runs from 6:00 pm until almost midnight.
When: Late May, Mid October
Getting There: Charlotte Douglas International Airport is twenty miles away, and uptown Charlotte is a mere fifteen minute drive from the racing facility. Charlotte Motor Speedway is less than two miles from I-85, making it easy to locate.
Darlington Raceway: Dangerous and Exciting
Darlington finish line — Photo courtesy of Jarrett Campbell
The first paved track over a mile in length used by NASCAR, Darlington goes by many names that hint at the track’s maliciousness: The Lady in Black, Too Tough to Tame, etc. The track appears wide, yet has only one practical lane of racing right along the wall. With absolutely no margin for error, drivers have to do battle under the lights for 500 miles with a track that is known to make even the best of the best take caution.
When: Mid April
Getting There: Located in the coastal flatlands of South Carolina, Darlington is much like Watkins Glen in its semi-isolation. Myrtle Beach International Airport is seventy-five miles away and Charlotte's Douglas International Airport is ninety. Nearby camping locations are extensive.
Talladega Super Speedway: Raucous and Immense
A rowdy fan at Talladega — Photo courtesy of o_dmentd_o
Talladega holds the dubious honors of being the hardest partying track in NASCAR, the largest track, and the most dangerous for the drivers with race speeds averaging well over 190mph. Legends persist that the land the track sits upon was used by Native Americans as burial grounds, and was subsequently cursed when they were driven out by settlers. Over the years, Talladega has been the site of many of the closest finishes in NASCAR history, and much of its most intense racing. Perhaps the legends were true. . .A panoramic shot showcases Talladega's immense size — Photo courtesy of Brian Cantoni
When: Early May, Mid October
Getting There: Birmingham International is the closest airport at fifty miles from the track. Talladega specializes in campsites and wild infield parties, so if you're not into the idea of partying until the wee hours of the morning, then you'll definitely want a hotel room.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Historic and Monolithic
Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the day of the Brickyard 400 — Photo courtesy of Christopher Page
Located in Indianapolis, 'The Brickyard' is the oldest track that NASCAR visits, and hosts the most prestigious event the sanctioning body conducts, second only to the Daytona 500. The two-and-a-half-mile-long facility is simply stunning in every respect. The front stretch is a canyon of grandstands on both sides, with the pagoda-style track headquarters presiding over its finish line. A track tour will be a memory you won’t soon forget.
When: Late July
Getting There: Indy is much like Richmond in how close it is to everything you need. A seven-mile drive lies between the speedway and Indianapolis International Airport, with plenty of lodging and camping options all around.
Bristol Motor Speedway: Dense and Intense
Bristol's shape mixed with the towering grandstands means there's not a bad seat in the house. — Photo courtesy of chayes_2014
A perfect example of NASCAR-style “bull ring” racing, Bristol is unlike any other track in the world. The half-mile concrete oval boasts thirty-degree banks and average lap times of about fifteen seconds. Bristol's fast and furious track is surrounded by grandstands so there's not a bad seat to be found. This increases your odds of seeing one of the infamous fights that tend to break out between drivers after a race at Bristol.
When: Mid-March, Early August
Getting There: The town of Bristol lies on the border of Tennessee and Virginia, with the raceway itself a few minutes south in Tennessee. Greenville-Spartanburg airport is three hours away by car; Knoxville is only two.
Daytona International Speedway: Prestigious and Legendary
Racers take the green flag during one of Daytona's summer races — Photo courtesy of Brian Marshall
It’s surely no surprise that the track hosting 'the Great American Race,' aka the Daytona 500, would make our list. This stretch of Atlantic coastline is where NASCAR began, with races on the sands of Daytona Beach. The Speedway hosts the Daytona 500 in February, and another contest the first weekend of July, to signal the halfway point of racing season. This location played host to one of the most memorable moments in NASCAR history when, on July 4th, 1984, President Ronald Reagan flew in on Air Force One during the race and greeted the race winner (and NASCAR legend) Richard Petty, who scored his 200th career victory that day.
When: Late February, Early July
Getting There: Daytona International Airport is actually located directly next to the track's back stretch. Thanks to the geography of the Florida coast, the Speedway is easy to spot: it's the largest and tallest structure for miles around. Important note: you'll want to book your hotel far in advance.