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
7) ALMS's other star turn is Petit Le Mans, held at Road Atlanta in October. Watching the speed the prototypes carry through that final turn is an exhilarating and unnerving experience. The surrounding area of Braselton, Ga., is photogenic – providing it isn't teeming with rain. If it is, watch from the braking zone at the final chicane. www.roadatlanta.com
8) Say what you want about the current breed of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars, but stick 'em on a banked half-miler on a hot night in Bristol, Tenn., and we defy anyone not to be captivated. Whether you're down in the front row, or way up in the nosebleeds, a capacity crowd at Bristol Motor Speedway's Night Race won't let you forget you're in an amphitheater without equal in the motorsports world. At the end of it, you'll stagger to your road car, stinking of Sunoco fumes and giant turkey legs, but with a head full of memories. www.bristolmotorspeedway.com/events/irwin_tools_night_race
9) Here's one where you really do have to be on the inside of the circuit to get the full drama: the Rolex 24 at Daytona has become a magnet for drivers from various motorsport disciplines to join forces with the regulars of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. Together they pound around two-thirds of the Daytona banking before looping around into the road course section. It's fun to watch the racing – and it's abnormally close for a day-and-night event – but the biggest dramas are in the pit work, be it routine or otherwise. www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com
10) You can't go wrong when it comes to watching the 8000hp fury of NHRA's nitro-fueled cars at Pomona. Whether you choose Round 1, the Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals in February or the season-closing Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, you can't fail to be moved by the sight and sound of John Force, Larry Dixon and Co. covering 1000ft in four seconds. The difference is that you're also in the heartland of the hot rod culture and, in 2011, it's the NHRA's 60th anniversary so expect some special sideshows. http://www.nhra.com/tickets
And for something a little different in the Lower 48, we suggest you tick off the following:
11) Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Starting at a lung-busting 9,390ft of altitude and finishing some 12.4 miles and 150-plus turns later at a head-pounding 14,115ft, the Fourth of July weekend “Race to the Clouds” up one of Colorado's most breathtaking roads has been a must-see since 1916 and retains its man vs. mountain mystique. See why. www.ppihc.com
12) Eldora Speedway for the World 100. The granddaddy of dirt late model races. “The Big E” is a half-mile of ornery clay that defines the short track experience. To be there on a warm Ohio night, with 20,000 fans packing the stands and cheering on their heroes, is to rediscover what racing, pure and simple, is all about. www.eldoraspeedway.com
13) Bonneville SpeedWeek isn't just about going fast; it's a true slice of Americana on Utah's vast, August-baked Bonneville Salt Flats. While no longer the venue for supersonic rocket cars chasing the outright Land Speed Record, the Salt Flats still attract a remarkable collection of mavericks and weekend warriors for whom speed is a consuming obsession. www.scta-bni.org
14) The Milwaukee Mile. Older than the Brickyard and proudly plain and simple, the Milwaukee Mile is a flat, blue-collar throwback to a bygone age, and one of the most challenging ovals in racing. Praise be, the IndyCars return to one of their spiritual homes in 2011. www.milwaukeemile.com
F1's Jewels in the Crown
Grand masters and the glorious five
Here's a bucket list within the bucket list – five more Formula 1 grands prix you need to visit, along with Monaco, of course.
15) The Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps. The physics-defying flick through Eau Rouge, the downhill sweep of Pouhon, raw velocity and courage, changeable weather, plus amazing frites and mayo, all set in the beautiful Ardennes.
16) The Italian GP at Monza. A cathedral of speed and home of the tifosi, the most passionate fans on the planet – especially when their beloved Ferraris are on cam. Historic, atmospheric – spooky, even. Despite the chicanes, Monza is still the essence of Formula 1.
17) The British GP at Silverstone. Why? Just go watch an F1 car's lightning-fast direction changes through the Becketts complex. No more explanation required.
18) The Brazilian GP at Interlagos. The track facilities are hardly cutting edge and everybody has a story about the darker side of life in Sao Paulo, but the racing is great, the crowd's passion and love of life is contagious and there's usually a World Championship going down to the wire when the F1 circus hits town. What's not to like?
19) The Japanese GP at Suzuka. An old school track, including what is arguably the finest sequence of corners in F1 – “S” into Dunlop into Degner. OK, 130R isn't what it was, but this is still an F1 race circuit as it should be. www.formula1.com/tickets_and_travel/ www.gptours.com
The Grand Tour
If you've taken our advice in point 16, then try and stay out there for at least 10 days, because Italy bleeds motorsport tradition like America, England and France. Here are just four ways to let it soak in.
20) Pescara, on the east coast of Italy, was the setting for the longest circuit in Formula 1 World Championship history, and is almost intact because it was a temporary road course. As you climb and plunge through picture-perfect villages around its 16.032 miles, you can reflect on Juan Manuel Fangio's pole position speed of 98.726mph…
21) The Alpine Rally featured the legendary Stelvio Pass which remains one of the greatest driving roads in the world. Take it easy and enjoy the breathtaking scenery or if you want to press on a little, make sure your car has good brakes and quick-rack steering…
22) A trip to Maranello is going to be worthwhile anyway, if only to eat at the famous Il Cavallino restaurant, but get on a Ferrari factory tour, too, and immerse yourself in the history of the place. Should you succumb to the temptation of purchasing one of their current models, you'll also be allowed to test drive it on the company's private Fiorano track.
23) If you've gone all the way to Italy, how about hopping across to Sicily and taking in the Targa Florio course? There were several versions of it, so it's worth doing your research carefully to get the most from the experience. But as you're passing through the little villages, it will be hard not to get goosebumps at the thought of Porsche 908s and Ferrari 512s whipping past at high speed within a few feet of the bravest and/or least imaginative spectators.
With all those air miles you've stacked up from the various U.S. trips (and an F1 race or two, perhaps), get out of your U.S./European comfort zone with these two bad boys:
24) The Bathurst 1000 is the essence of all things Australian. For most of the year, the Mount Panorama circuit is a sedate, but scenic drive in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Then, for the week of the Bathurst 1000, it's the spectacular stage for big-banger V8 sedans from Ford and Holden (GM), driven by no-nonsense local heroes doing battle in front of their rabidly partisan fans. Watching the action at the top of the spectacular Mountain section, with several thousand beer-fueled Aussies for company, will be life changing. bathurst.v8supercars.com.au
25) Macau is a former Portuguese colony on the Chinese coast that makes its living from casinos and tourism and is pretty much left to its own capitalist devices by the communist government – a situation that benefits both sides. For a week in November, the Macau Grand Prix hosts Formula 3, the World Touring Car Championship, and even motorcycle racing on a fast, tight and, quite frankly, frightening street circuit called the Guia. To try to describe it is to do it a huge injustice – it's best that you go there. www.macau.grandprix.gov.mo
Off the Beaten Track
For many, it's all about getting down and dirty
26) Head south of the border for the granddaddy of all off-road races, the Baja 1000. The Trophy Trucks and Class 1 buggies redefine spectacular, the atmosphere borders on the insane and, despite the dreadful things going on in the border regions, chances are you'll come back not only alive but also desperate to return. www.score-international.com
27) Head even farther south, to Argentina and Chile, for the Dakar Rally, where Europe's best off-road racers (plus the evergreen Robby Gordon) face the ultimate test of endurance on some of the planet's most spectacular stages. Proving the naysayers wrong, moving the event from North Africa to South America has given it a new lease on life. www.dakar.com
28) Watch the fastest machines on dirt at Rally Finland, the most intense event in the World Rally Championship. Not for nothing is it nicknamed The Finnish Grand Prix. The pace, precision and commitment of the local heroes, as well as WRC megastars such as Sebastien Loeb and Petter Solberg, over the yump-filled, tree-lined roads has to be seen to be believed. www.nesteoilrallyfinland.fi/en/
29) Switch to two wheels and catch a MotoGP race – preferably with the soccer-stadium atmosphere of a Spanish round. Despite the factories feeling the economic squeeze, with just 18-bike grids at present, it's a golden era for motorcycle racing's pinnacle series. Nicknamed “The Aliens” for their out-of-this-world skills, messrs Lorenzo, Rossi, Stoner and Pedrosa are taking the racing to new levels, and American rising star Ben Spies is poised to join their lofty ranks. www.motogp.com/en/Race+Tickets
30) Take a race school. All pro racers took a racing school before launching their careers, and you can do the same – at the same schools and with the same sanctioning bodies.
Many pro racers started out in SCCA (www.scca.com) or NASA (www.nasaproracing.com), so try one of their sanctioned race schools on for size.
31) Then enter a race. It sure would be a shame to let that racing school knowledge go to waste – so enter a real race. SCCA and NASA both sanction races you can compete in with your newly acquired race license. Don't own a racecar? You can always rent one for the weekend. There is no excuse not to race at least once in your life.
32) Drive a Formula 1 car. Yes, you can! OK, it's not a 2010-spec machine, but gunning a 700hp-plus, carbon-braked Arrows A18 around the Monticello Motor Club track in New York State is still an experience like no other. Short of stowing away on the Space Shuttle, it's got to be the ultimate thrill ride for mere mortals. www.worldclassdriving.com
33) Unbelievable, but true: For just 22 euros (30 bucks at current exchange rates), you can take your own car, as fast as you dare, for a lap around the 13 miles and 70-plus turns of Germany's anachronistic, but totally awesome and epic Nurburgring-Nordschleife. For a couple hundred of those euros, you can take a lap with a pro in a BMW “Race Taxi” or Nissan GT-R. You. Must. Go. www.nuerburgring.de
34) Be amazed by the Goodwood Festival of Speed, an annual garden party for racing's past and present hosted by Lord March in the grounds of Goodwood House, his stately pile in southern England. As eclectic as it is breathtaking, the event brings together hundreds of era-defining racecars and generations of top drivers – then sends them up his Lordship's driveway in a blur of revs and tire smoke. www.goodwood.co.uk/festival-of-speed
35) And be equally amazed by the Goodwood Revival, an exquisitely staged recreation of racing in the 1950s and '60s on the Goodwood race circuit. The crowd and competitors come dressed for the period, the machinery is immaculate…and the racing? Hardcore. www.goodwood.co.uk/revival
36) The USA has its own unmissable retro race festival. The Monterey Motorsports Reunion is a celebration of American muscle and European ingenuity at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca's annual jamboree. In attitude and execution, it's a little more laidback than Goodwood, but it's all about the on-track action, and that is always top shelf. www.mazdaraceway.com
37) No track celebrates its heritage like the Brickyard, so for its huge range of racecars alone, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum is unmissable. Add in the “500” artifacts and the possibility of meeting Indy oracle Donald Davidson and it's an essential trip.
38) With the Ayrton Senna Collection as its stunning centerpiece, the Donington Collection is an unmatched array of Formula 1 cars, started by the late Tom Wheatcroft and housed at the Donington Park track in England. www.donington-park.co.uk/pages/motorsport-museum.html
39) While in the UK, head to Scotland and drop in on the Jim Clark Room at Duns in the Scottish Borders. Small and understated, it's all the more poignant and memorable because of it. A fine tribute to a driving great and a true gentleman. www.duns.bordernet.co.uk/local/clark.html
40) Phoenix, Ariz., should be your destination for the Penske Racing Museum, a compact, but concise tribute to the past and present of America's greatest team owner, Roger Penske. The cars on display are a gorgeous reminder of how much the Captain and his organization have dominated the American racing landscape for four decades. www.penskeracingmuseum.com
41) Now that the paint's dry, check out the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.. Sure, it has its moments of theme-park excess, but overall it's a fine and evocative tribute to the good ol' boys who turned a regional distraction into a national powerhouse. www.nascarhall.com
If you're going to Le Mans anyway, give yourself a treat and leave early. From Paris, head east to the superfast Reims
track where many prestigious races – including the French F1 Grand Prix – were held between 1925 and '69. Then travel northwest to Rouen
, a classic four-mile public road course, where Dan Gurney won the French GP in 1962 and '64. From Paris to Le Mans via Reims and Rouen is less than seven hours.
43) Go west and pay silent tribute to the Ontario Motor Speedway. For a few short years, it was California's answer to Indy. Now, it's buried under San Bernardino County's urban sprawl, with only the street names providing any clues. Ditto, Riverside Raceway itself.
44) Walk a defunct downtown street course. There are many. At one extreme, you could revel in the quaintness of Watkins Glen, raced on before they built the permanent course. At the other, piece together more recent efforts, like Sacramento, Phoenix, Dallas, Detroit or Des Moines, and imagine the grandeur of an F1 or Indy car pointing and squirting out of yet another 90-degree turn.
45) Hang part of a racecar on your living room wall – the bigger and more roadworn, the better. F1 or Indy car wings and endplates are cool enough. But something more substantial, like the whole nose section from a Porsche 962, would be even tastier.
46) Gather together a fearsome collection of classic race DVDs. Your call on what constitutes classic, but it must at least contain Grand Prix, Le Mans, Speed Merchants and Winning. By contrast, Driven is most definitely banned.
47) Frame and hang something signed by Mario, Moss or Gurney (or hero of your choice). Tank tops and bill caps not included.
48) Make a donation to the Team USA Scholarship program and maybe, just maybe, play a part in getting an American driver into Formula 1. www.teamusascholarship.org
49) Probably goes without saying, but take out an auto-renewal subscription to RACER magazine. www.racer.com/subscribe
50) We're leaving this one to you. Thing is, setting the limit at just 50, there are literally hundreds more we've either forgotten or been forced to leave out, and that's where you come in. What's on your personal racing bucket list? What life-affirming experiences have we been misguided enough to miss? Send in your additions, thoughts and admonishments to firstname.lastname@example.org or to the Editor.