A Racing Fan's Bucket List
For motorsport fans, there are certain venues and events that seemingly call to them. Here are the top five on my bucket list.
Growing up in the American south, my scope of racing was rather minimal. Down here, the name Earnhardt often rivals that of some religious figures. For a while, I knew only of ovals, the two road courses NASCAR went to, and various drag strips around the nation. As I grew though, I began to pick up on other motorsports like Indycar and Formula One, as they would usually air either before or after the NHRA on ESPN or show highlights on Speed. Since then, my interest in racing has shifted heavily away from my roots, as I rarely watch NASCAR or the NHRA today. The majority of my racing diet consists of Indycar and, to a smaller extent, Formula One. Ten years ago, I had no idea some of these venues even existed. However, now, I can happily say that these are my top five tracks/events on my personal racing bucket list. Let's begin!
#5: Mount Panorama/Bathurst 1000
Cameron Waters leads the pack up the mountain for the formation lap at the 2019 Bathurst 1000. Photo from Supercars.
Who likes V8s just as much or possibly more than Americans? The Aussies, of course! Their premier auto racing event, the Bathurst 1000, is a celebration of one of the last fully V8-powered series left in the world: Supercars. Even though the series has seen better days, the racing at Mount Panorama is something that is unlike anything else in the world. The mix of the circuit, the cars, and the ballsy drivers makes for a racing product that can only be found at Bathurst. Unfortunately, this series does not get the worldwide exposure that it really should, so the race remains fairly unknown to the casual motorsport fan. However, with drivers like Scott McLaughlin making the jump from Supercars to Indycar, which is exploding in popularity, we could see more attention being brought to the struggling series. Cross-promotion in today's age of motorsport is what is truly needed. Do a NASCAR/Supercars double-header when both next-gen cars come out in the coming years, that would (hopefully) bring more attention to both series!
#4: Daytona International Speedway
Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates an emotional victory at the 2001 Pepsi 400, at the same track where he lost his father just months prior. Photo from the New York Times.
The site of triumph and tragedy, of victory and defeat, Daytona is the worldwide capital of turning left, in stock cars at least. The venue, built in 1959, has witnessed the height of NASCAR's popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as well as its rapid decline starting in the 2010s. The track, as with many historic racing venues, has had its fair share of fatalities both on and off track. As of 2021, a total of 23 car drivers, twelve motorcyclists, three go-kart drivers, one powerboat racer, and one track worker have all lost their lives at the speedway. The most famous being that of Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. However, the track has also seen some of the biggest moments in racing history, including that of Dale Earnhardt Jr's emotional win just months after his father was killed at Daytona. The 24hrs of Daytona also provides great racing every year and acts as a bucket list item for many racing drivers. Even as NASCAR continues its seemingly endless decline, Daytona still stands as one of the most important racing facilities in North America.
#3: Circuit de la Sarthe/The 24hrs of Le Mans
The lineup for the 2020 24hrs of Le Mans. Photo from Motorsport.com
Home to the most legendary endurance race in the world, the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France attracts drivers and fans from all over the world. For nearly a century, hundreds of teams have fought for eternal glory on the asphalt racing circuit, as well as the public roads that surround it. Over a quarter of a million fans turn out annually to watch this spectacle of auto racing in the Northwest of France. The race tests not only the physical strength of the cars and the drivers but also their mental strength, as 24hrs of non-stop racing takes its toll. With the new Hypercar class making its debut at the circuit in late August, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the circuit and the World Endurance Championship as a whole. No matter the outcome of this new class, Le Mans will remain a staple of the motorsport world for decades to come.
#2: Road America
Josef Newgarden leads Jack Harvey in turn 2 at Road America during the 2021 Indycar race. Photo from RACER.com
Probably not what a lot of people were expecting, but hear me out. Where I'm from, the closest road course is over 5 hours away. All that surrounds most race fans in North America is asphalt/dirt oval racing. When I started following F1 and Indycar, my mind was opened to the wonders of road courses. At the top of my American bucket list is this iconic racecourse in Wisconsin, Road America. Being one of the longest permanent road courses in the country, Road America has held nearly every conceivable type of racing series imaginable. The most prominent today is the ever-growing Indycar Series, which always provides great racing every time they visit the track. Talks within the motorsports community have put the idea out of Formula One possibly going to the track in the future. I would honestly hate to see that, personally. COTA sucks, don't get me wrong, but ruining a classic American track like Road America to get it approved by the FIA won't fly with many fans. The most iconic part of the tracks, the Kink, would most likely be turned into a terrible chicane or bus stop. Who on earth would want to see that? Ranting aside, I'd love to visit this track, preferably during the Indycar Grand Prix weekend.
Honorable Mention: Barber Motorsports Park
Pato 'O Ward leads the field to green at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo from Racing News.
Heavily biased pick, since it is the only proper race track I have ever been to. A GP weekend at Barber is amazing. The track itself is nestled in a quaint valley just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, which provides for a great atmosphere during the weekend. I like to call Barber the "American Brands Hatch" because it is incredibly unique among its peers. Even though it is under two decades old, the track was designed like it was built in the 1960s. The builders let the terrain dictate the track, not the other way around. All the way around the track, its elevation changes galore! Off-track, there are tons of little easter eggs to find whilst exploring the park. There are dozens of unique sculptures hidden all around the venue, including metal spiders, ants, a frog coming out of a drainage pipe, a unicorn, a worship service for a motorcycle, the list goes on. Everyone is super friendly, and the grounds are immaculate. One of the best parts of the weekend is the car show that takes place on the Southside of the park. If you are a racing fan who wants to go to a track that has a classic racing feel, then Barber Motorsports Park is for you!
#1: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Simon Pagenaud leads the 2019 Indianapolis 500, on his way to victory. Photo from the Indystar
The home of the Indy 500, the Brickyard 400, and formerly the United States Grand Prix, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the mecha of American auto racing. The site of Danny Sullivan's spin and win, Dan Wheldon's final victory, and Fernando Alonso's car self-destructing, the 112-year-old venue has played host to some of the most emotional and most historic events in motorsports history. Now under the ownership of the racing godfather Roger Penske, the speedway has received a ton of updates and renovations. Whilst 2020 was a rough year for Indianapolis, and the world as a whole, the track continues to thrive to this very day. Some events, like the Brickyard 400, are unfortunately ghosts of their former selves, barely attracting a crowd at a venue that can contain 400,000+ during a sold-out Indy 500. The future seems increasingly bright for Indy, as the titular Indycar Series continues to grow in popularity. I hope, one day, I can visit the track myself and experience history in the making.
Thank you all so much for reading! What is your motorsport bucket list? Let me know down in the comment section below! As always, I will see you... down the road. Bye-bye!