NASCAR tailgating is nearly here as the Daytona 500 approaches this weekend. Diehard and casual fans alike are plotting out plans to visit some of the most legendary tracks in racing. Whether you’re new to NASCAR or a lifelong fan, we’ve got five stops you must make on your speedway bucket list.
Granted, this list is our very subjective take on a subject that’s downright personal to people, and we respect that there are going to be differences of opinion. When the choices got tough, we turned to an expert in the field for advice: Kenny Wallace, former NASCAR driver, former FOX broadcaster, current dirt cart driver and noted man of the people.
Read more: 5 Ways for NASCAR Fans to Tailgate at Home
When Wallace wasn’t behind the wheel of a car or in the broadcast booth, he was liable to show up at NASCAR tailgating events and mingle with fans. So we took his word on places like Bristol and Talladega, and we realize you can’t go wrong with Dover, Charlotte, Michigan and more, but for now, for us, here are our top five:
No. 5 Darlington Raceway
Because we’re traditionalists, and we grew up just 90 miles away from Darlington Raceway, the Bojangles Southern 500 is a must. It’s hard to beat.
Labor Day weekend in Darlington, where great racing meets old-school southern hospitality. Locals get in on the NASCAR tailgating, renting out their front lawns for camping space or doing some tailgating themselves.
The track “Too Tough to Tame” has been a fixture on the circuit since 1950 and offers a variety of planned events, whether it’s the pre-race concert, celebrity autograph sessions, the family-friendly Raceway Rascals Clubs, or a break from the heat with a meal in the air-conditioned T4 Zone. Plus there’s plenty of free parking for those who are tailgating just for the day.
No. 4 Sonoma Raceway
NASCAR in wine country? It’s the toast of road tracks, where fans get even closer to the action.
You can tailgate along just about any turn or set up on a hillside to catch a breeze and take in the larger view. The course features 12 turns and 160 feet of change in elevation, giving both the racing and the setting such a different feel.
Between the hilly vantage points, gorgeous weather, and bubbly to spare, Sonoma is such a unique venue in NASCAR. Fans are as likely to be eating gourmet meals and drinking wine at their tailgates as they are throwing back beers and burgers.
No. 3 Daytona International Raceway
Because it’s Daytona, the Super Bowl of NASCAR, and the most prestigious and storied race on the schedule. It’s also the first one of the season, which only adds to the excitement level.
The party atmosphere might be a little tamer than the old days, but the infield at Daytona—with new and improved views and Lake Lloyd on the backstretch—is still the place to be.
Family-friendly destinations nearby make Daytona an even bigger draw, giving you all the more reason to make the trek. Located within an hour’s drive of Daytona are Disney World, Sea World, and the Kennedy Space Center, not to mention all the beaches nearby
No. 2 Talladega Superspeedway
Not only is the racing some of the fastest you’ll see, but race weekend is also Mardi-Gras meets-NASCAR. Drivers ride floats and throw out colored beads during the “Big One on the Blvd” parade down Talladega Boulevard Friday night.
And that’s just the beginning of festivities that include barbecue sauce wrestling, Jell-O crawls, and a party that rages on until 7 a.m. the morning of the race.
Another perk of a 2.66-mile superspeedway is that all that wide open space means all the more room for RV tailgating, camping and ample free parking. There’s also “The Compound” an area designated exclusively for VIP tailgating. There’s a reason why race weekend in Talladega seems like its own holiday.
No. 1 Bristol Motor Speedway
This half-mile track built into the Blue Ridge Mountains of East Tennessee packs in 165,000 spectators, making it one of the loudest and most intense venues in NASCAR.
Given the short distance, speeds are lower, but with 40 cars packed in at the start, paint-swapping is inevitable. Blue Ridge Mountains of East Tennessee. The racing is some of the most intense in NASCAR, given the congestion, and given the setting, it’s also some of the loudest.
Wallace loves fanfest and the hauler parade, not to mention the intensity created by the varied loyalties of race fans there.