Guest Post from NASCAR’s Stewart Haas Race Team member, Brian Murphy.
There are many benefits to working for an elite NASCAR Cup Series team, but one of my favorite aspects of the job is getting to travel each week while experiencing different places and new people.
People often ask me what my favorite track is, or where I like to go most, and although I honestly love each and every place for different reasons, here are the top-five NASCAR events I look forward to every year.
#5. Darlington Raceway
Let’s face it, Darlington’s throwback weekend concept is one of the best things to happen recently in NASCAR. The Southern 500 is a race at one of the series’ oldest and most demanding race tracks that takes place while celebrating the sport’s legendary past.
With a carnival-type atmosphere on Labor Day weekend, the sport pays homage to when it hosted NASCAR races from 1950 – 2003. In 2015, after an 11-year hiatus, the race returned to its traditional Labor Day weekend date.
There isn’t much outside the track, but you won’t need to leave the facility during the race weekend. This is a weekend to celebrate, a weekend to remember why you’re a NASCAR fan, and a weekend to show your pride for your favorite drivers of the past and present.
Sit back, enjoy a Busch Beer with a Smithfield hot dog, and share your favorite racing stories and memories with friends while drivers battle it out at one of the toughest tracks in the world.
Going to a race in Sonoma County, California can only be described as “Dreamlike”. An area known for producing some of the world’s best food and wine, a scrappy stock car race at Sonoma Raceway makes this destination even better and pushes it to #4 on my list.
Although there are three road courses on the schedule, Sonoma Raceway is unique in that it’s like a right handed short track. Requiring constant shifts and intricate footwork, this road course puts both driver and machine to the test with its technical and abusive nature.
The landscape provides ample opportunity for great locations to spectate the race from so you’ll constantly be on the lookout for the next, best view. Outside the raceway you won’t have any trouble finding a place to enjoy yourself.
The first stop after a long day at work for the drivers and crew is Ernie’s Tin Bar. An old Barn/Car Garage/Gas Station, this tavern is a gem hidden in the hills. Cheap drinks and endless conversation make it hard to leave.
For dinner, its difficult to pick from so many amazing options. One of Danica Patrick’s favorite places to eat in Sonoma is ‘Bottega of Napa Valley’. Bottega, which is Italian for “an artist’s workshop,” is one of Sonoma’s top Italian restaurants. It is inspired by Chef Chiarello, Emmy-Winning host of Food Network’s Easy Entertaining. The food is of course outstanding and the service is out of this world.
They provide a lively indoor or outdoor seating venue that makes anyone feel at home. The staff is friendly and guides you through what may be one of the best meals of your life.
Sonoma offers so much. Wine, Food, and some of the best golf you’ll ever play. However there is a lot outside of the county as well. As most will fly into San Francisco, that brings the possibility of catching a Giants game or exploring some of the city.
However, my favorite stop on the way to Sonoma is Battery Spencer, the best viewpoint of the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing this iconic landmark from its most famous viewpoint is something I’ll never forget, and the view at sunset makes it that much more remarkable.
Just north of Sonoma is one of my favorite trails I’ve ever hiked, the Dipsea Trail, a 10-mile trail through the Muir Woods and the famous redwoods to the stunningly beautiful sands of California’s Stinson Beach.
You are met with a small town full of friendly locals and incredible dining on a gorgeous beach before you head back through the woods to where you started. This trail is an experience I’ll never forget and has helped turn my hobby of hiking into an obsession.
A trip to NASCAR’s Sonoma race is a must.
#3. Watkins Glen International Speedway
Nestled in the hills of the Finger Lakes in central New York State sits one of the world’s most famous race tracks; Watkins Glen International. Most famously known as the home of the Formula One U.S Grand Prix, the little town of Watkins Glen has been hosting races since 1948. A trip to the Glen is a trip into motorsports history that everyone should experience.
Your first stop when arriving to Watkins Glen should be the original 6.6 mile circuit that runs through the unchanged village streets which sanctioned races until 1952. Being able to drive around this famous piece of road is a goose bump inducing experience.
A walk down North Franklin Street provides an enormous amount of shopping and dining options as well as a beautiful view of the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The race weekend atmosphere is outstanding and the friendly town folk are eager to make your Watkins Glen trip something to remember.
Just outside downtown sits Watkins Glen State Park and what a treat that is. The 2.5 mile Gorge Trail takes you right through the center of the park and offers a fantasy-like landscape that includes 19 waterfalls and other breathtaking views.
A trip to the Glen isn’t complete without a stop at the famous Seneca Lake Lodge where drivers and crew of all kinds have gone for a post-race drink for over 50 years.
The bar is covered with flags, stickers, and racing memorabilia that will keep you entertained for hours while enjoying conversation with fellow racing enthusiasts.
When you finally head up the hill to the track, you’ll find a party that rivals that of the famous Talladega Boulevard. The fans at Watkins Glen are some of the most passionate in NASCAR and they know how to have a good time.
The Cup Series event has been one of the most attended of recent years due to its action-packed races. It’s a track that offers everything, from high speeds, left and right turns, and a considerable amount of elevation change. I get asked the question “What’s the best seat at Watkins Glen?” and the answer is anywhere and everywhere.
There isn’t a bad seat around this 2.45-mile track! Sitting in Turn 1 and watching the cars come over the hill on the front stretch down into the 90 degrees right handler and accelerate up through “The Esses” is one of the best views in all of motorsport.
Although Watkins Glens’s rich history may not only be NASCAR, this race is a must for any motorsports fan, and that that’s why its #3 on my list.
#2. Daytona International Speedway
This is where it all started. This is the sports most hallowed grounds. From its first checkered flag in 1959 to the tracks closest finish between Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr in 2016, some of NASCARs biggest moments continue to happen at Daytona International Speedway.
Super speedway racing is something special, a must-see, and you can only find it in two places in the world, Daytona and Talladega.
The track underwent a $400 million facelift a few years ago and now offers fans with the most comfortable experience on the circuit. The wider seats, commonplace restrooms, endless concessions, social areas, and WiFi make you feel at home as you watch the race at the track!
Just across the street, Daytona International Speedway and ISM have created an incredible area surrounding the track. One Daytona includes premier retail, dining, entertainment and provides fans with quick and easy access to great fun and festivities post-race track activity.
The sands of Daytona’s beaches don’t just provide an ample supply of Florida sun and seafood, it holds much of NASCAR’s storied history. You can walk the original Daytona Beach Race Track which held its first race in 1938 and was instrumental in the formation of NASCAR.
Sitting at 140 S Atlantic Ave sits the famous Streamline Hotel where, in 1948, Bill France Sr and a group of drivers and promoters officially formed NASCAR.
It’s more than just a hotel. With beautiful rooms, dining, a rooftop bar, and live music, you’re able to relax and enjoy yourself like the celebrities, race car drivers, and moonshine gangsters of the 1940s.
A beautiful race track with the heart-pounding thrill of superspeedway racing, Daytona contains NASCAR history you can’t find anywhere else alongside great places to relax and enjoy the ocean. Daytona has it all, and that’s why its #2 on my list.
#1. Las Vegas Motor Speedway
This may be a surprise, but Las Vegas Motor Speedway is #1 on my list and it’s not even close. The Las Vegas area has so much to offer you won’t have time to fit everything in just one weekend.
Just outside of downtown Las Vegas lies Red Rock Canyon and Mount Charleston which provide fantastic views of unbelievably beautiful land loaded with hiking, biking, photography and outdoor opportunities. Turtle Head Peak, a 5.5-mile trail in Red Rock Canyon, provides a challenging climb of 2000 feet that rewards you with a view of Las Vegas that’s hard to imagine.
If you’re willing to take a drive, Valley of Fire State Park, which is only an hour north, and Zion National Park, which sits 2 and a half hours away, gifts breathtaking views you will remember for the rest of your life. Zion possesses trails of all difficulty including Angels Landing and the Temple of Aeolus, the latter of which is known as one of the most scenic and intense hikes in the country.
The Hoover Dam, which needs no introduction, is a quick 45-minute trip south east. Las Vegas is surrounded by outstanding opportunities for indulging in extreme sports. From 4WD dune buggies, ATVs to dirt bikes, if you can dream it, you can drive it.
Even just outside the track, there is an Exotics Racing track which allows one to drive supercars around a 1.2 mile road course!
Once you get into the race track, you’ll find an experience you won’t find anywhere else. The first to provide the fans with an infield experience of more than just a place to stand, they don’t just have the facilities, but they know how to use them.
Their famous Neon Garage offers fans an up-close and personal experience with not only autograph windows at every team’s stall, but an over the top viewing area which allows you to watch the teams work like nowhere else on the NASCAR circuit. There are concerts and shows that provide constant entertainment even during the downtime.
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway staff, which I believe to be the most friendly and helpful in NASCAR, will get you to where you need to be, all you have to do is ask!
From the bright lights of the strip, the red rocks in the Valley of Fire State Park, to the incredible fan-friendly facility of the speedway, the options in and outside of the race track are endless and that’s why Las Vegas Motor Speedway is #1 on my list of NASCAR destinations.
Brian Murphy is an outdoor enthusiast and when not on the trails, is a team member of Stewart Haas Racing. Brian’s traveling with Stewart Haas Racing has afforded him the opportunity to both travel to these destinations and explore their outdoor areas.