One of the most popular sports in the United States is NASCAR, otherwise known as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. The sport is officially recognized by the International Motor Sports Association (IMS), which oversees motorsport events around the world. Every Sunday night during the football season, fans flock to their local TV to watch one of the top-rated NASCAR races, which is often enough to make the whole event worthwhile.
The most iconic race track in North America is Michigan Speedway in the heart of Michigan’s beautiful Thumb countryside. The track hosted its first official NASCAR race back in April 1939, and it has gone on to become one of the flagship tracks of the NASCAR calendar. Over the years, Michigan Speedway has been the site of some of the biggest moments in the history of the sport. The track is also known for its annual July 4th celebration, where thousands of people gather to watch the big-name drivers go head to head in a spectacular display of American patriotism.
If you’re a fan of NASCAR, you’ll want to make the trip to Michigan this coming summer to experience the action at one of the greatest sport venues in North America. Here’s everything you need to know about where to find Michigan Speedway and when to go there.
The History Of Michigan Speedway
While the origins of NASCAR can be traced back to the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the end of the Great Depression that the seeds of what would later become one of the most popular sports in America were finally planted. That’s when the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was founded, with Daytona Beach, Florida, as its first headquarters. It then moved to New York City before finally settling in Detroit, Michigan, in 1932.
One of the primary reasons why Detroit was chosen as the location of the new NASCAR headquarters was the city’s strong automotive industry, which was on the decline at the time. However, the city’s fortunes would soon change as a result of the automobile industry’s massive expansion during the Great Depression. One of the most iconic images of that era is General Motors’ infamous “Chevrolet Corral,” where carmakers gathered to show off their vehicles and mingle with potential customers. Seeing the potential for a new source of revenue during and after the World War II, many automakers moved their headquarters to the Motor City, contributing greatly to its industrial rebirth. As a result of that automotive boom, the population of Detroit nearly doubled between 1940 and 1950, reaching over 700,000 people.
It wasn’t just General Motors who saw the benefits of having a large automotive industry in Detroit. Facing competition from California and the rest of the country, Michigan’s automotive businesses formed a partnership to build a new racetrack specifically designed for NASCAR. Opened in April 1939, the 1.5-mile Michigan Speedway marked the beginning of a major sports era in Michigan. One of the most important figures in the creation of the track was Louis N. Erlbaum, a local dentist who also happened to be a passionate car enthusiast. It was mostly due to his efforts that the speedway was built, but even more importantly, it was his belief that a night of motorsport would be good for the city’s morale.
Arguably one of the most spectacular things about a trip to the racetrack is seeing it in real life. Whether you’re sitting in the stands, in the grandstands, or anywhere in between, you’re bound to see fans passionately cheering on their favorite drivers. Since the inception of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, the sport and its fans have been a prominent part of the Detroit community. The cars of today are far different than those first used at the track, but the essence of what made the original drivers so popular has not changed.
After years of using makeshift dirt tracks and fairgrounds, the construction of the first purpose-built NASCAR track in North America officially began in 1934. The track was designed by Touring Car Club of America (TCCA) members Frank Lockhart and George Cunningham, and it was constructed primarily using hand-mechanized labor. They wanted to build a track similar to those used for horse racing, where cars go around in circles and can only move forward.
The finished track was initially 3.9 miles long and had a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour. It was expanded in 1941 to its present-day size of 4.4 miles, with a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour. While there were no concrete walls at the time, there were certainly no shortage of willing participants when it came to racing on the dirt track. The most iconic image associated with the Michigan Speedway is most likely the one of the cars flying off the track due to excessive speeding. A group of men in suits and ties can be seen running toward the scene in a panicked effort to pull off the wrecked car. The driver of that vehicle was none other than Bill Wendell, who some say is the father of modern NASCAR. He went on to set a land-speed-record on the track shortly after its opening, reaching 135 miles per hour before crashing out of the 100-mile race.
Other famous drivers who competed at Michigan Speedway include Richard Petty, who in 1982 became the first driver to win back-to-back championships, and Dale Earnhardt, who between 1975 and 1978 set 12 track records at the speedway. It wasn’t just drivers who set marks on the track. The owners and managers of the competing vehicles were also quick to point out that the dirt and dust settled on the track after every race, making the surface even more suited for the following week’s racing.
With all this history behind it, it’s not hard to understand why NASCAR remains one of America’s most popular and iconic sports. The community associated with the sport is also quite vibrant, boasting over 400,000 followers on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing also works closely with the Motorcycle Club of America, and over 40,000 bikers showed up for the group’s highly organized annual ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which they call the “Grand Prix of America.” This past July 4th weekend alone, over 53,000 people attended the track’s annual patriotic celebration, which included a concert by Toby Keith and other big name musicians. It’s clear that if you’re a fan of motorsport, then Michigan is the place to be this coming summer.
Where To Stay
There are plenty of amazing places to stay near Michigan Speedway, making it the perfect place to be for a racing fan. One of the most luxurious options is the Hampton By Hilton Hotel, which is literally across the street from the speedway. The hotel has a direct line to the action, as well as many other popular attractions, including the Fox Theater and Campus Martius Park, where fans can catch a baseball game or a football game, respectively. If you want to stay and eat at a hotel that specializes in serving NASCAR fans, then look no further than the brand new and shiny NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is just a couple of minutes walk from the hotel’s entrance. Those in the hospitality industry will also appreciate the opportunity to work at the facility, which houses some of the biggest names in motorsport, due to its prime location. Just a few minutes from the hotel is another option, the Greektown Casino and Hotel. Known for its gigantic aquarium, the casino is also home to the Lake Erie Monsters, an unaffiliated NHL team that plays at the arena. This is the place to be if you want to catch a hockey game, as well. If none of those options suit you, the nearby Cobo Center and The Oakland-Arena, otherwise known as the Olympia Ice Arena, are also quite beautiful, and they’re both home to plenty of attractions and restaurants, as well as events and gatherings.
Since this is not a legal requirement and you’re traveling outside of North Carolina, you might have to make a few other accommodations as well. For example, if you’re visiting during the week, you’ll either need to find a place to stay with a roommate or partner, or you’ll have to stay at a hotel that offers discounted rates for weekend guests. Having a person to share a room with is one of the best ways to save money while you’re enjoying the spectacle that is a NASCAR race. Having a child with you is also another way to go, as many hotels will give you a discount if you’re traveling with children. On the other hand, if you want to save money and be near the action, then you might opt for the closest hotel to the speedway, regardless of whether it’s in Michigan or another state.