By Suzanne Corbett, STLSportsPage.com Travel / Food Editor
Last week, NASCAR was able to roll out its 2020 season. Fans could not have been happier, who tuned in and watched the action. Needless to say, they did miss not being trackside where they could hear the roar of the engines and the smell of rubber burning down the track. But all took solace, knowing the day will come when fans will again fill the stands.
Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway, a five minute drive from downtown St. Louis, is revving up for its race season, which includes the 2020 Bommarito Automotive Group 500– a must for Indy fans. They had been closed due to the virus and when they opened up they were hampered by rain this week.
There’s nothing like watching the race live, which explains why NASCAR is considered the largest spectator sport in the U.S.
Granted, football is the most watched sport on TV, however, before Covid-19 shut out the fans in the stands, more people attended NASCAR races that any other sport. Don’t believe me? Just do the math. The largest NASCAR arena holds 190,000 spectators while the largest NFL stadium holds between 60,000 to 80,000. In terms of television viewers, NASCAR falls just behind the NFL as the most-watched televised sporting event.
With such stats it’s no wonder countless NASCAR fans dream of being a professional driver. Or dream to have the chance to race down the track just once, even if it’s just a lap or two. It’s a dream that can come true, beginning with learning how to handle a car on a track.
WWT Raceway at Gateway is the closest of the area NASCAR tracks for St. Louis fans to visit and enage in the thrill of racing with the Rusty Wallace Driving Experience (racewithrusty.com). Tool around the 1.25 mile oval track solo – just you, the car and the payment. No pace car to follow, no instructor in the car.
The raceway is permitted, under the guidance of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, to host private, limited-participant testing events. Their website updated this week says, “As an outdoor recreation provider, we can allow drivers/riders to practice provided we can space them out under the restrictions provided (no gatherings of more than 10 people).” For more information:CLICK HERE
Racing fans might also want to try theBMW Performance Driving Centers , located in Thermal, California and South Greer South Carolina also offer excitement for those who feel the need for speed.
Anyone can buckle up and hit the BMW driving course for a crash course – no pun intended. An opportunity I had last year at the South Carolina BMW M School. The “M” stands for more horsepower, more performance and more finesse. A day designed to give the chance to speed down the raceway and hone one’s driving skills, sharpen reflexes and push personal performance to a level you never knew existed. Skills way beyond the basics of braking and downshifting.
Offered as one or two day sessions, the day begins with a little desk time. Reviewing safety and the fine points a driver needs to master before starting the engine and hitting the track. Driving techniques such as maneuvering an obstacle course, speeding down a wet track, to taking timed laps to short track rat racing in high performance BMWs.
If you happen to be a motorcyclist, there’s the BMW U.S. Rider Academy. Training takes place on BMW cycles under the guidance of professional instructors who focus on balance, control and recovery on both off-road and on road scenarios.
To get a taste of an official NASCAR track, consider a NASCAR experience that are held at suctioned tracks throughout the year. The Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Kansas Speedway in KC, Kansas are two nearby tracks offering exceptional racing experiences within an easy drive from Cardinal Nation.
The Atlanta Motor Speedway, located about 20 miles outside of Atlanta in Henry County, has hosted NASCAR Cup Series since its inauguration in 1960. Fans have the opportunity to drive or ride the legendary 1.54 mile quad oval track in a real NASCAR race car via its NASCAR Driving Experience that provides participants 5 to up to 48 minutes of track time. Those preferring to leave the driving to the pros, consider the NASCAR Ride Along with a professional racing instructor for a spin around the track at top speeds. Indy fans may also want to consider the Mario Andretti Racing Experience – a ride in a full size, open wheel, Indy-style race car. It’s the ultimate racing rush.
Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas is planning on welcoming fans for the fall race season. Until then, the Kansas Speedway offers a variety of track tours, events and driving experiences as its Richard Petty Driving Experience. To drive like Petty, you’ll be assigned a coach and crew before you slide behind the wheel and hit the track for timed racing sessions. Not interested in driving but still wanting to feel the racing rush? Then to sit back and ride shotgun with a professional driver for a few turns around the speedway for one of the best white knuckle experience in sports.
To get the latest updates on NASCAR calendar check their website, nascar.com.