Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. Here at the Movoto Real Estate Blog, we’ve been taking a look in recent months at some of the best cities across the U.S. for fans of collegiate football, basketball, and baseball. Today we’re putting the pedal to the metal and steering in a different direction with a ranking of the top places to be if you’re into one of the world’s most popular motorsports, NASCAR.
From a starting grid of 23 competitors—the cities and towns that serve as home for the Sprint Cup speedways—we narrowed the pack down to the 10 best. Pulling into the winner’s circle was Concord, NC, home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The full top 10 played out like this:
1. Concord, NC (Charlotte Motor Speedway)
2. Daytona Beach, FL (Daytona International Speedway)
2. Lincoln, AL (Talladega Speedway)
4. Ridgeway, VA (Martinsville Speedway)
5. Las Vegas, NV (Las Vegas Motor Speedway)
6. Bristol, TN (Bristol Motor Speedway)
6. Darlington, SC (Darlington Raceway)
8. Richmond, VA (Richmond International Speedway)
9. Sonoma, CA (Sonoma Raceway)
10. Indianapolis, IN (Indianapolis Motor Speedway)
In order to earn these rankings, all 23 cities had to compete not on a race course, but against each other based on criteria selected to highlight the best venues for NASCAR races. Keep reading to find out how we ranked them and for more on how each city ties into the sport, and why they’re especially good destinations for fans. Also, check the end of the post for the full ranking of all 23 cities.
How We Did ItLike all our Big Deal Lists, this one’s based on a set of criteria we could use to rank the cities (and tracks) using Saturday Night Science. To help us, we got our resident NASCAR expert involved. With his help, we developed our criteria and got some insight into what makes these cities such great venues for NASCAR.
Our base criteria included:
- A veteran NASCAR beat writer’s expert opinion, which included each track’s history, nearby entertainment and fan participation levels
- Number of Sprint Cup races run annually (Race Ranking: Either 1 or 2 races a year)
- Percentage of fan capacity filled during 2012 season
- Top speed recorded on the track
- Highest number of cautions during a single race
For starters, venues where the available seating is filled and there’s overflow into the grass and camping areas are going to be much more dynamic and filled with fan energy than one that’s only half filled. It’s the same as with any pro sport in this respect.
Speed and cautions also play into the excitement factor of races. There has been a decline in NASCAR attendance over the past few years partially attributable to a perceived lack of excitement in races as cautions become fewer and speeds are reduced. While fans may not like to admit it, they like the danger involved in these high-performance machines hurtling around the track at hundreds of miles per hour, mere inches from each other. Nothing exemplifies that more than spinouts, blown tires, or crashes where everyone walks away safe.
We looked at each track for the 2012 Sprint Cup Series based on these criteria and ranked them individually from 1 to 23, with lower numbers being better. We then got our expert’s personal ranking based on his years of covering the sport and averaged the scores across all criteria to arrive at our final ranking.
Of course, there’s more to these NASCAR towns than what takes place on the track. That’s why we looked deeper into what makes the top 10 venues so great for local and visiting fans alike.
1. Concord, NC — Charlotte Motor Speedway
Attendance: 95.89 percent, Speed Record: 160.306 mph, Most Cautions: 22, Expert Ranking: 1st
Located about half an hour from Charlotte, NC, the town of Concord isn’t just home to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, but also a NASCAR R&D facility. Several NASCAR teams, including Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports, are based here as well.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is located in nearby Charlotte, but those looking for things to do closer to the speedway itself can take tours provided by the local racing teams or get behind the wheel at the NASCAR Racing Experience. You can also talk shop with other fans at local hangouts like the VBGB Beer Hall or Jack Beagles.
2. Daytona Beach, FL — Daytona International Speedway
Attendance: 95.24 percent, Speed Record: 177.602 mph, Most Cautions: 12, Expert Ranking: 2nd
Home to NASCAR and the legendary Daytona 500, Daytona Beach, FL, is pretty much the national epicenter for NASCAR excitement each year. It’s host to the start of the Sprint Cup Series, and holds two races in addition to qualifiers and duels that comprise the Budweiser Speedweeks leading up to the Daytona 500. The first stock car race was held nearby in 1936.
In addition to numerous NASCAR themed attractions, Daytona Beach boasts a boardwalk with carnival attractions and the Daytona Lagoon waterpark. Given its proximity to the ocean, seafood is a big deal here at local favorites like Aunt Catfish’s (in Port Orange) and the Ocean Deck.
2. Lincoln, AL — Talladega Superspeedway
Attendance: 99.54 percent, Speed Record: 188.354 mph, Most Cautions: 11, Expert Ranking: 4th
The fastest track on our list, Talladega Superspeedway is probably best known to non-fans from Will Ferrell’s 2006 movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”.
The track is actually located in Lincoln, AL about 20 minutes north of Talladega proper. It’s a small town of just over 6,000 residents and while there’s not a whole lot to do in the town proper, fans living or staying in Talladega can spend a day at the Richard Petty Driving Experience followed by BBQ ribs at The Shack.
4. Martinsville, VA — Martinsville Speedway
Attendance: 114.55 percent, Speed Record: 82.223 mph, Most Cautions: 19, Expert Ranking: 8th
Home to the oldest short course in the Sprint Cup Series, Martinsville, VA is a quaint town founded in the wake of the Revolutionary War. Fans who flock to Martinsville Speedway are treated to a rustic experience that’s almost like a trip back in time—apart from the cutting-edge cars, that is.
Fishing on Philpott Lake is a big draw, as are outdoor activities in general at places like the Smith River Trail System. At the end of the day, locals like to gather for BBQ at the cheekily named Pigs R Us and drinks at Wild Magnolia.
5. Las Vegas, NV — Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Attendance: 114.50 percent, Speed Record: 146.554 mph, Most Cautions: 14, Expert Ranking: 7th
This venue’s city really needs no introduction. Well, maybe it does. Opened in 1971 and upgraded to a superspeedway in 1996, Las Vegas Motor Speedway is actually located in North Las Vegas, NV, technically a separate city from Ol’ Sinful itself. Still, its proximity to Las Vegas proper makes the city and track a favorite destination for NASCAR teams and fans alike due to the sheer amount of things to do outside of the Sprint Cup Series race held here each year.
Racing fans have several options for getting onto the track themselves, including Exotics Racing, the Richard Petty Driving Experience, and the Dream Racing Experience. While in Las Vegas, you can get in some family time at the Pole Position Raceway, an indoor kart racing facility. For something really different, the Pinball Hall of Fame boasts several racing-themed tables, including Stern’s “NASCAR” from 2006.
6. Bristol, TN — Bristol Motor Speedway
Attendance: 91.77 percent, Speed Record: 101.075 mph, Most Cautions: 20, Expert Ranking: 3rd
NASCAR may draw fans to Bristol, TN twice a year for a pair of Sprint Cup races, but this city of 26,675 offers up some reasons to explore beyond the track. First and foremost, Bristol is officially credited (by the U.S. Congress, no less) as being the birthplace of country music, something you can learn about at the Bristol Historical Association and the forthcoming Birthplace of Country Music Museum opening in August 2014.
Bristol’s main drag, State Street, literally divides two states: Tennessee and Virginia. It’s where you’ll find places like 620 State, an Asian fusion restaurant with an extensive sushi menu and live music. Live tunes are also part of the ambiance at Machiavelli’s, a pizzeria known for its homemade style pizza pies.
6. Darlington, SC — Darlington Raceway
Attendance: 105 percent, Speed Record: 140.35 mph, Most Cautions: 17, Expert Ranking: 6th
Located about two hours south of Charlotte, NC, Darlington may be small—its population is only about 6,000—but it’s home to a lot of NASCAR history. In fact, this “Fenway Park” of NASCAR has its own museum, in addition to the National Motorsports Press Association hall of fame.
Outside of the track, Darlington’s home to five historic districts which are good for soaking in local charm before grabbing a drink at a local watering hole like Katy’s Lounge.
8. Richmond, VA — Richmond International Raceway
Attendance: 97.80 percent, Speed Record: 109.047 mph, Most Cautions: 15, Expert Ranking: 5th
Historic Richmond, VA, one of the launching points for the American Revolution—Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech was given here—is a NASCAR hotspot thanks to the RIR (Richmond International Raceway) and its intense short-course races. Outside of the raceway complex there are countless landmarks to see, from Ford’s Theater (Byrd Theater) to the State Capitol Building to the Richmond National Battlefield Park.
Race fans also like to hit the sprawling Kings Domain theme park, the botanical gardens, the Science Museum of Virginia, and even kookier places like Edgar Alan Poe’s home. As far as food goes, locals love Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue, Kuba Kuba, and Bottom’s Up Pizza, to name just a couple.
9. Sonoma, CA — Sonoma Raceway
Attendance: 193.62 percent, Speed Record: 83.624 mph, Most Cautions: 9, Expert Ranking: 10th
NASCAR fans living in and visiting Sonoma are in for a different experience—at and away from the track. One of the Sprint Cup Series’ road courses, Sonoma isn’t about top speeds, but rather battling around the turns. Fans don’t have to battle for things to do in the town, as the heart of Wine Country is packed with attractions of a more high-falutin’ variety (we’re talking wineries, folks).
There are lots of great, top-shelf places to eat, like The Girl & The Fig, Sunflower Caffe, and El Dorado Kitchen. After hours, HopMonk Tavern and Murphy’s Irish Pub are hopping.
10. Indianapolis, IN — Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Attendance: 48.58 percent, Speed Record: 127.172 mph, Most Cautions: 13, Expert Ranking: 9th
This famed racing town is best known for IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500, but NASCAR holds one Sprint Cup race here a year, too. The city is steeped not only in racing history, but sports history in general, housing attractions such as the NCAA Hall of Champions and the National Art Museum of Sport.
Famous dining spans the city, from Shapiro’s Deli to Maxine’s Chicken & Waffles and St. Elmo’s Steakhouse. For working up an appetite you’ve got the Indianapolis Zoo, the Canal Walk, and much more to do outside. Days are capped off with plenty of nightlife and some unusual places like Howl at the Moon, a bar with dueling pianists.
Get in the Race
What are some of your favorite NASCAR venues? Where do you like to go when you visit the ones on our list? Let us—and your fellow race fans—know about ‘em in the comments below, and we’ll see you in the final stretch.