From the grandeur and spectacle of the Monaco Grand Prix, to getting your own butt in a racecar, to hanging a signed picture of your racing hero on your living room wall, here's our take on the 50 experiences – both near and far –and possessions that would enrich any motorsports fan.
The chances of doing everything we've suggested on this bucket list? Slim to zero, probably. But isn't that the whole point of bucket lists? It's what you want to do, not what you think you'll do.
Let's start with three events that are totally obvious, but no less essential because of that.
Racing's holy trinity
For their history and heritage, the unbelievable atmosphere one experiences at each of them, the on-track spectacle and the fact that they still carry so much prestige and relevance, these three events truly are racing's holy trinity. For racing bucket-listers, seeing is believing.
1) So, let's get started with the Indianapolis 500, a race that in its sheer enormity and sense of occasion effortlessly transcends the ups and many downs suffered by U.S. open-wheel racing in recent years. Nothing comes close to race day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with its myriad traditions, 225mph action and 300,000 fans in the grandstands.
In 2011, the venerable track celebrates the centenary of the first Indy 500 and, given the recent announcements of new manufacturers heading to the Brickyard in 2012 – the return of innovation – it should be around for a long time yet. www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com
2) Racing a Formula 1 car around the streets of Monte Carlo has been likened to riding a motorcycle around your living room. But it's way more difficult than that.
The Monaco Grand Prix isn't just an anachronism, it's an absurdity – and that's what makes it so incredibly special. First run in 1929, the track that winds its way through this tiny, Mediterranean principality has evolved over the years, but retains its essential characteristics: it's narrow, tight and punishes the tiniest mistake. To see a modern F1 car blurring through Casino Square, or twitching and flicking past the Swimming Pool, its screams reverberating around Monte Carlo's high-rise hillsides, is to lose all sense of reality. Formula 1 cars outgrew the place decades ago, of course, so the mere fact that we can still see them in action there is both a privilege and a mystery. Long may it continue. www.formula1.com/tickets_and_travel/
3) Like the Grand Canyon, the reality of the Le Mans 24 Hours exceeds the hyperbole. It was designed to be the ultimate test of endurance and, nearly 90 years later, it remains exactly that.
For one week in June, starting with the pleasingly chaotic tech inspection in the shadow of
Le Mans' ancient cathedral and finishing with the spectacle of thousands of fans streaming onto the start/finish straight for the podium ceremony, a corner of northern France is the most important place in the racing world.
Whatever the era and whatever the latest in sports-prototype technology, at the heart of the
Le Mans 24 Hours is an unforgiving, unrelenting battle against the clock and the brooding, unforgiving Circuit de la Sarthe, with its nearly eight-and-a-half miles of public roads and hugely quick, purpose-built sections. There are a hundred things you should do when you go there…so go there. www.lemans.org
Before you embark on a pilgrimage to Europe, these must-see events are (kinda) on your doorstep.
4) NASCAR is unusual in putting its premier event at the start of its season and there's nothing like the Daytona 500. If a three-month timeout means you've forgotten how loud 43 Sprint Cup cars sound, Daytona's combination of power, atmosphere and drama will shake off those winter blues. The fact that the 500 carries at least as much cachet as the Sprint Cup itself just heightens the tension. Plus, get there early and you'll have the Gatorade Duels as tasty appetizers to the main dish. www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com
5) While Formula 1's Monaco Grand Prix is surely the world's most famous street race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has become America's, and in less than half the time.
Since 1984, it's been run for Indy cars, and it's the template for all street races on the IZOD IndyCar Series calendar. Watch the cars fly past at 180mph on the straights, or within inches of the walls in the turns and you'll be amazed.
However, make sure you also soak in the party atmosphere that pervades the city from Friday through Sunday night. And recently, there's been the bonus of the American Le Mans Series race on the Saturday evening. www.gplb.com
6) An old runway in Nowheresville shouldn't be so appealing, but those who like their racecars fast, diverse and competing on a course steeped in history should be all over the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. It's one of the American Le Mans Series' premier events, although you may not think that the morning after, as you survey the collection of abandoned sofas and trash while nursing the hangover from hell. We suggest absorbing the race, not the beer. www.sebringraceway.com