Athlon Sports has dissected the 2013 racing calendar and picked the top 10 must-see events of the year. Races from the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series, Truck Series, IndyCar Series and Formula-1 were considered and events must take place within the lower 48 states. So gas up the RV and stock the coolers, because Athlon’s motorsports road trip is getting started this weekend:
1. Indianapolis 500 (97th)
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Where: Indianapolis, Ind.
When: May 26
Defending Champ: Dario Franchitti
Beginning in 1911, the Indy 500 is called the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for a reason. The releasing of the balloons, the singing of "Back Home Again In Indiana" by Jim Nabors, the drinking of the championship milk and the most famous words in motor sports will send chills down the spine of any racing fan. Drivers, crew chiefs and owners come from all over the world to compete at the world’s greatest track — a 2.5-mile oval complete with its own gold course — many of which will only compete in one race all season long. When an open-wheel rocket ship flies past Gasoline Alley or Tower Terrace down the front stretch and into the nastiest turn in racing at 230 miles per hour, the 300,000 spectators can’t help but smile. Many racing purists believe that the turns at IMS are the ultimate test for a driver. For many drivers, nothing in life will equal the Borg-Warner Trophy. And the Mardi Gras-esque party the night before is worth checking out (at your own risk, of course) too.
2. Daytona 500 (55th)
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Where: Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: Feb. 24
Defending Champ: Matt Kenseth
The Daytona 500 is to stock car racing as the Indy 500 is to open-wheel competition. The 500-mile Sprint Cup race stands alone as NASCAR’s most prestigious and most important race of the season each year. And as the sport’s “kickoff classic,” the build-up is nearly as entertaining as the event itself. Speedweek provides fans with ample opportunity to enjoy the Rolex 24, ARCA Series, Nationwide Series, Bud Shootout and qualifying throughout the weeklong festivities. The Great American Race, due in large part to restrictor plates, puts roughly 40 cars at full throttle inches from each other at over 200 miles per hour. It is the ultimate test of wills with the payoff being as high as there is in any sport.
Get Athlon Sports' complete Daytona 500 coverage
3. Mudsummer Classic (1st)
Track: Eldora Speedway
Where: Rossburg, Ohio
When: July 24
Defending Champ: N/A
While the Indy and Daytona 500s are steeped in unmatchable history, tradition and lore, the inaugural Mudsummer Classic offers something totally different to fans this year. For the first time, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will race on dirt at famed Eldora Speedway in Ohio. The legendary half-mile oval track was built in 1954 and has been owned by Tony Stewart since 2004. The prospects of running a major series truck race on dirt smack-dab in the middle of the season has everyone excited about the late July trip to Rossburg. It will be the first NASCAR-sanctioned National Tour event held on dirt since September 1970. You don’t want to miss this one.
4. Irwin Tools Night Race (52nd)
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Where: Bristol, Tenn.
When: Aug. 24
Defending Champ: Denny Hamlin
The first time Bristol Motor Speedway hosted a night race under the lights was the Volunteer 500 in 1978. It has been one of the hottest and most entertaining NASCAR tickets ever since. The half-mile track is the fourth largest sports venue in America (165,000) and is nestled in “Thunder Valley” deep in the hills of East Tennessee. The track has long hosted two weekends, and both are excellent experiences, but the August race is clearly the one to go to if you can only pick one. Not only is racing under the lights more entertaining (and more comfortable for fans) but the late August date has become a key cog in NASCAR’s playoff structure. The driving is intense and physical and every seat in the house is perfect. There is a reason the Bristol night race is one of the hottest tickets in sports every year.
5. Formula-1 United States Grand Prix (2nd)
Track: Circuit of the Americas
Where: Austin, Texas
When: Nov. 17
Defending Champ: Lewis Hamilton
Technically, the F-1’s U.S. Grand Prix has been running on and off since 1908. Watkins Glen, Indianapolis and Phoenix have all hosted the event, but Austin’s brand new Circuit of the Americas appears to be its new home. The late November trip to Texas will be the series’ only visit to the United States in 2013, and for F-1 fans, will be a circled date on the calendar. The 3.4-mile track features 20 turns and will once again be the penultimate race of the F-1 season. Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural event a year ago over eventual points champion Sebastian Vettell by a mere six tenths of a second.
6. Camping World RV Sales 500 (45th)
Track: Talladega Superspeedway
Where: Talladega, Ala.
When: Oct. 20
Defending Champ: Matt Kenseth
Since its inception in 1969, the race has been held in either September, August or July, and now resides in October, where it has been following a schedule change in 1997. It has become the wild-card event in the NASCAR Chase for the Championship with massive wrecks, bizarre racing strategies and unpredictable finishes. Many fans believe that restrictor-plate racing is the most entertaining in the sport and, much like the Daytona 500, wide-open engines inches from each other for 188 laps around the 2.66-mile tri-oval is one of the marquee dates on the racing calendar each season.
7. Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200
Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Where: Lexington, Ohio
When: Aug. 17
Defending Champ: N/A
While the truck series debuts on dirt in The Buckeye State, the Nationwide series will make its debut at a new track in Ohio as well. The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was opened in 1962 and has hosted GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, IndyCar, AMA Pro Racing, Le Mans and motorcycle events throughout the years. However, the Nationwide Series will bring a new audience to the 15-turn, 2.4-mile road course. And with the recent success and entertainment value of road races in all NASCAR circuits, this one should be filled with fireworks.
8. NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (29th)
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Where: Concord, N.C.
When: May 18
Defending Champ: Jimmie Johnson
Four 20-lap segments followed by a no-holds barred, every-man-for-themselves, rubbing is racing, 10-lap showdown for $1 million makes the NASCAR All-Star event one of the most intriguing and entertaining all-star events in all of American professional sports. Team orders and points championships mean nothing when roughly 20 drivers are thrown into a blender in NASCAR’s home town of Charlotte. The only drivers allowed to compete are winners from the previous and current seasons, the last ten All-Star winners and former points champions. It is a straight cash grab — except it’s done by the world’s best drivers using 900-horsepower performance machines.
9. Federated Auto Parts 400 (55th)
Track: Richmond International Raceway
Where: Richmond, Va.
When: Sept. 7
Defending Champ: Clint Bowyer
Famed Richmond International has hosted a late-season NASCAR event since 1958 when Speedy Thompson won the 100-mile event. It has gone by dozens of names over the years, but in 2004 the race at the asphalt 0.75-mile oval took on new meaning. It is the final race of NASCAR’s regular season and, with the newly implemented wild card points system, every lap at Richmond provides edge-of-your-seat action. Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch battled feverishly on every lap at RIR last season in an attempt to secure a spot in the Chase for the Championship.
10. Goody’s Fast Relief 500 (64th)
Track: Martinsville Speedway
Where: Ridgeway, Va.
When: Oct. 27
Defending Champ: Jimmie Johnson
Few races combine the importance of the moment, the tradition of the location and the excitement of elite racing like Martinsville. Additionally, positioned with just four races to go in the NASCAR season, few races will play as big a role in the Sprint Cup Championship like The Paperclip as well. Martinsville Speedway also is the longest active location in the series as at least one race has been run here every year since 1949 and the fall race has been running every year since 1950. Its unique slender shape and sharp turns help the 0.526-mile half-asphalt, half-concrete course produce some of the best on-track action of any venue on the circuit.
Best of the Rest:
“The Brickyard” (Sprint Cup)
July 28, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Southern 500 (Sprint Cup)
May 11, Darlington Raceway
DuPont Pioneer 250, U.S. Cellular 250 (Nationwide)
June 8 and Aug. 3, Iowa Speedway
Coke Zero 400 (Sprint Cup)
July 6, Daytona International Speedway
Aaron’s 499 (Sprint Cup)
May 5, Talladega Superspeedway
Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 (IndyCar)
May 5, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Road America 200 (Nationwide)
June 22, Road America
Food City 500 (Sprint Cup)
Mar 17, Bristol Motor Speedway
Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (Sprint Cup)
Aug. 11, Watkins Glen International
Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (IndyCar)
Mar. 24, St. Petersburg, Fla.