Nobody knows when their last lap around the sun is coming. We can guess, sure, but odds are we’re all betting we’ve got more time on the board than we actually do. At some point, the big crew chief in the sky is going to call us in for what we might think will be a routine pit stop, and the race ends there. In this vale of tears, every driver ends with a DNF.
But take heart! Instead of moping about elapsed time, decide to make the most of the tread left on your tires and the fuel still in the tank. There’s never a better time than right now: here are fifteen things to check off your automotive bucket list.
The Indy 500
It’s a mistake to think oval racing is an acquired taste. If you’ve watched an Indy race before on television and found yourself unable to really get to grips with it, don’t discount the butterflies you get in the pit of your stomach when you walk into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grounds for the first time and feel the weight of history around you.
This place is an ancient battlefield, draped in the traditions of speed. The access you get for your ticket price is incredible, including the ability to walk on the track with the cars staged to race, and lay your hands on the strip of bricks that gives the Brickyard its name.
And then there’s the race itself, which is far more exciting than you’d think. There’s passing aplenty, the infectious enthusiasm of the crowd, and always a couple of Canadian drivers to root for. You’ve got to hit the bricks at least once in your life.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans
Conversely, the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race isn’t something you should attend just the once. The stories are simply too big and too numerous to digest in a single sitting. With multiple classes brawling in an all-out sprint for twenty-four hours, anything can happen, and there are an endless number of vantage points to watch from.
Top tip: get all your sleeping done before the race kicks off. Many spectators will catnap through the night, hoping to catch up when dawn breaks. They’re missing out – part of the unique thrill of Le Mans is watching the cars scream past in the dark, taillights streaking into contrails.
No matter the money spent, there’s no guarantee who will win at Le Mans, so keep on the edge of your seat. And don’t forget to take in all the circus that surrounds the race itself, from the drivers’ parade to the historic sprint races that take place before the main event.
F1 Race – Monaco/Montreal
Despite the grumbling over a lack of variety in the field, Formula 1 is still the pinnacle of motorsport. Watching a race on-screen gives you little sense of just how fast these machines are, nor the skill that’s required to keep them on the road.
In person, the cars are banshees. More than that, there’s the festival atmosphere at an F1 event. It’s a roving global party.
If you can hit just one race, Monaco is the obvious choice: it’s the sport of kings in the playground of the ultra-rich. However, I have it on good authority that most of the battered old longtime F1 fans prefer the Canadian Grand Prix, held in Montreal. It’s more grassroots and approachable than European flights of fancy, and the French-Canadian fans are even more raucous. Then there’s Montreal’s nightlife, which is pretty legendary before the F1 circus shows up. Maybe book off a couple of days to recover.
Pikes Peak International Hillclimb
One of the oldest hillclimb events in the world, the sprint up the 156 turns in Colorado is a century-old tradition. Over time, more and more of the road has been paved, and the cars have become faster and faster.
Frankly, the idea of tearing up the hill in one of the unrestricted classes is terrifying. There aren’t really barriers at Pikes Peak, just a long drop for you to consider as you roll back down the mountain after missing a turn.
As a spectator, the main difficulty is in rising early and staking out your spot. With seemingly all of Colorado spread out before you, and the first cars coming screaming up the hairpin corners, it’s a sight you’ll remember forever.
Monterey Car Week
The argument can easily be made that Monterey Car Week is one of the worst places in the world to actually own a car. Traffic is horrendous as thousands descend upon the tiny seaside town in northern California, and it’s a real pain to get from your hotel to the various venues.
However, there really is no place else like this. Whether it’s the concours at Pebble Beach (pay extra and hit up the early-morning Dawn Patrol), or watching priceless metal go fender to fender at Laguna Seca for the Historics races, Monterey car week has something for everyone.
If it’s your first time, make sure to hit the main events: Pebble Beach, the Quail, and the Historics. If you’ve been before, ferreting out all the little quirky shows is a bucket list item in and of itself. Don’t forget to find the tongue-in-cheek Concours d’Lemons for a bit of a bondo palate-cleanser.
Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival
Championed by a British Peer, the return of motorsport to the Goodwood grounds is the sort of thing that feels ephemeral. The level of danger here is immense, and there’s always that sense that we’re just one bad crash away from the whole thing being cancelled.
In the meantime, the Festival of Speed and the Revival are two amazing events on the automotive calendar, and each is worth attending. The former is a hillclimb sprint up Lord March’s driveway, with participants ranging from demonstration runs to an all-out competition for bragging rights. Also on the grounds is a rally stage and off-road course.
The Revival is even nuttier. Attendees are encouraged to dress in period costume, there are Spitfire fly-overs, and the racing is cutthroat. If you’ve never seen a couple of Edwardian-era racing machines drift across slippery tarmac before, then you’ve come to the right place. Get your ticket before it’s too late.
Bonneville Speed Week
Pack your sunscreen. In fact, consider packing only your sunscreen. The white, barren salt flats of Bonneville provide no place to hide from the sun’s rays, and in fact they reflect them right back at you. People have blistered the underside of their noses.
It’s worth it – and well worth the $20/day admission – to see streamliners and stock cars alike aim to speed their way into the history books. This is old school record-setting at its best, like Burning Man with extra horsepower and without the silly hipsters.
Running a vehicle yourself is a bit trickier, but spectating is pretty wide open. Just, you know, buy a barrel of SPF 100 and a really big hat.
It’s not too difficult to spectate at this event, and what better way to rub elbows with some of the friendliest people on earth: Maritimers. However, Canada’s best Targa event offers multiple ways to participate, some of them low-risk and quite reasonable.
Getting to the Rock isn’t the easiest, but that’s what makes it special. Every day offers new thrills, every evening is a tribute to the hospitality of East Coasters. Every Canadian gearhead should go at least once. [Or, go to the one that started it all: Targa Tasmania - Ed]
All the way on Canada’s other coasts is perhaps the best hot-rod show in North America. Held every three years, Deuce Days sees the sleepy provincial capital of Victoria, BC, transformed by the influx of literally thousands of ’32 Fords.
The Deuce, as the ’32 Ford is commonly called, is a fixture of popular culture from the Beachboys’ Little Deuce Coupe to Manfred Mann’s Blinded by the Light. At Deuce Days, you can see every possible interpretation of what a ’32 can be, from candy-coated perfection, to gristly rat-rod, to cobwebby barn finds, to period-correct restorations.
Supporting the show of wild Deuces is a host of other hot-rods, and together the cars fill the entire ring of Victoria’s harbour. The next Deuce Days is set for July 18–21 of 2019 – don’t miss it.
Isle of Man TT
The lone motorcycle event on this list, please note that watching the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy doesn’t require a bike licence. Instead, you probably need eyedrops, as your eyes are going to bug out of your head when you see what these nutters are up to.
Held on a road course that threads between narrow stone walls, the TT course is infamous for its danger. Dozens of riders have been killed over the years, but it’s not the death-defying rides that stick in your head, it’s the scarcely believable bike control.
You’d have to be a bit mental to want to ride the course yourself, so it’s better to watch. Like the Goodwood Revival, this one feels like it won’t last forever.
The premiere venue for Australian motorsport, Mount Panorama circuit is where legends were made. While tourists may be slightly disappointed to discover that the Aussie racers don’t hang little corks around their helmets, pretty much every other Straya stereotype can be found here in abundance: beer, sausage (snag) barbies, beer, sunburns, beer, and beer. Also beer.
Basically upside-down NASCAR, the current V8 Supercar event features close racing, epic passes, and lots of beer in the stands. Steep yourself in the history of the long-running Ford vs Holden rivalry, and watch out for drop-bears.
Drive the Nürburgring
For endurance racing fans, the 24-hour race held at the Nürburgring is one big party. It’s like the 24 Hours of Le Mans mixed with the atmosphere at Bathurst, just that the beer is German.
Skip the party scene, and visit the ’Ring during the off-season, when you can have a chance to drive it yourself. There are any number of ways to do so, from pootling around in some tiny-engined rented Peugeot, to grabbing a ride with a pro-driver in a Ring Taxi, to renting your own hot hatch, or signing up with a tour group that’ll help you work on your lines and shave the seconds off.
King of the Hammers
Welcome to Hammertown. For nine days each year, some 400 teams and 30,000 spectators descend on the Utah desert in a rock-crushing rampage that’s straight out of Mad Max. Combining desert running and rock-crawling, King of the Hammers is a tougher version of the Baja 1000. Stuff breaks. A lot.
As a spectator, getting ringside seats to the destruction requires little more than a bit of hiking. Seated on the rocks of some natural amphitheatre, you can watch machinery smash itself to pieces against granite and sand. Many teams enter, only one can be crowned king.
Woodward Dream Cruise
Setting aside the fury and violence for a moment, let’s instead take a cruise as a bit of a breather. Held around the same time as Monterey Car Week, the Woodward Dream Cruise is a celebration of muscle cars and street rods.
Now the largest single-day classic car event in the world, the Dream Cruise started out with the humble goal of raising funds for a local kids’ soccer field. It maintains that grassroots feel, despite having grown to some million spectators. If you’re more about classic Americana rather than the exotics, this is the place to see them.
Attend a Rally – WRC/CRC
If your budget can stretch to it, seeing cars fly around a stage of the World Rally Challenge is life-altering. Not only is the driving superhuman, but the pit crew can patch an incredible amount of damage back together with only minimal tools.
However, the best part about either the World or Canadian rally series is the access to the racing, and the people. Where other races have you separated from the action by barriers and fences, rally is still right up close. Plus you’re hanging out in the wilderness with a thousand like-minded lunatics.
What better way to check something off your bucket list than by surrounding yourself with a bunch of new friends? Dodge the gravel; preserve the memories.