If you’re like the Roadshow editorial team, you’ve got a pretty deep “bucket list” of automotive experiences you’re keen to check off. For most of people, it’s not possible to tick more than one or two boxes a year — if that — but you’ve got to start somewhere. Why not start with us?
Here’s our list of must-do car events that take place annually right here in the US. So if you can’t make it this year, maybe you can put one or more of your favorites on the map for a future one. Whether you’re a motorsports fan, a vintage car buff, a budding collector, an off-roader or just want more automotive experiences, this list has you covered from name-brand icons to The New Hotness.
Rolex 24 at Daytona: Jan. 26-27
Since it kicks off this weekend, we’ll start with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the granddaddy of American endurance races that started in 1962. This all-day, all-night spectacular takes place at the Daytona International Speedway on the facility’s full road course.
With four classes of racing, from Daytona Prototype International purpose-built race cars to production-based GT Le Mans (GTLM) cars, there’s something at the Rolex 24 for everyone. Even if you’re not a motorsports buff, there’s plenty to do and see, including the infield camping scene, which is not to be missed. Attend just once and you’ll realize that this isn’t just a race, it’s a cultural phenomenon.
Don’t miss: Ride the ferris wheel for a great view.
King of the Hammers: Feb. 8
Held in distant Johnson Valley, California, King of the Hammers has long billed itself as the “toughest one-day off-road race in the world.” In fact, KOH has grown to be a weeklong series of five races that combines desert racing and rock crawling.
Now in its 13th year, King of the Hammers draws tens of thousands of spectators to Hammertown, essentially a pop-up city in the middle of a dry lake bed in the High Desert (you can see a drone’s-eye view of this Burning Man for gearheads in the background photo above). In addition to various classes of off-road rigs including tube-frame buggies, SUVs, UTVs (side-by-sides) and motorcycles, this year’s event is adding unlimited desert truck racers, too, with celebrity off-road drivers such as Robby Gordon and Rob MacCachren at the wheel.
Over 400 racers are expected, with the namesake King of the Hammers race lasting some 200 miles. The course must be completed in under 14 hours, and there are no chase vehicles allowed. All repairs — and they’re hardly uncommon — must be carried out on course by the racers themselves, or in designated pit areas.
This race is tough, but spectating is demanding, too, as it involves camping in the desert in the middle of winter. You’ll need an RV or camper stocked with plenty of supplies, and you’ll also need to be OK with limited connectivity.
Don’t miss: On Saturday morning after the awards ceremony, you can join a guided drive along the race course with the KOH Experience 2019. Just make sure you’re a veteran off-roader and have a serious trail-ready rig (35-inch tires and locking differentials are all but mandatory).
Radwood Austin: Feb. 23
Radwood, the 1980s and ’90s-themed car show, only kicked off in 2017, but its popularity is mushrooming, and it’s easy to see why. Focused on automobiles produced from 1980-1999, Radwood doesn’t just celebrate rare and expensive cars that are starting to acquire neo-classic status. No, the show doesn’t take itself seriously enough for that. Instead, Radwood wholeheartedly embraces time warp examples of workaday iron as well as period custom cars and individually imported “forbidden fruit” from Japan and Europe. In other words, the weirder the better.
What started off as one show in the Bay Area in 2017 has quickly snowballed into a national calendar of shows, so chances are getting better that there’s a Radwood show headed to a city near you — we just.
Displaying your 1980-1999 car or truck at the show is inexpensive and general admission is reasonable, too. The next show is in Austin, Texas on Feb. 23, followed by Sonoma, California on March 9.
Don’t miss: Period-appropriate attire is encouraged, so this is your best excuse to dust off the Hypercolor t-shirt and Zubaz sweatpants you’ve been saving in that box in the basement.
Indianapolis 500: May 26
Run since 1911, the Indianapolis 500 pretty much speaks for itself. Held annually over Memorial Day weekend, the 500-mile race is the only leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsport that’s held on US soil. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to Indianapolis Motor Speedway (better known as “The Brickyard”) for this open-wheel, open-cockpit IndyCar Series extravaganza. Names like Andretti, Foyt, Rahal and Unser became legends here, and today, the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing” still draws hundreds of thousands of attendees.
The 200-mile race is actually the capstone event of the weekend, there’s a brace of support races in the run-up that you won’t want to miss. Plus, qualifying for the Indy 500 is a phenomenon unto itself.
Don’t miss: Go ahead, belt out “(Back Home Again In) Indiana” before the race starts. Jim Nabors performed the song ahead of the race for some five decades, but following his passing, the tradition continues.
Monterey Car Week: Aug. 9-17
There’s no doubt about it: California’s Monterey Car Week is the nexus of America’s collector car universe. Composed of a large series of car shows, auctions, cruise-ins and vintage racing events, it’s a spectacle where you’ll see more blue-chip classics and exotics in the parking lots of many of these individual events than you will in other top-notch car shows.
This weeklong celebration of automotive beauty and noise culminates in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, held on the greens of Pebble Beach Golf Club. Having your car even invited to participate at Pebble is a sign that it’s among the very finest automobiles in the world, and winning a prize — let alone best in show — is a pursuit that well-heeled enthusiasts spend countless millions pursuing. Luxury automakers have glommed on to the event, as well, and Pebble has become routine for car companies to launch new concepts and production models at the show, where they have a built-in audience of well-heeled buyers.
But Monterey Car Week is about far more than just Pebble, and indeed, far more than the posh auctions from Bonham’s, Gooding and Company, Russo and Steel, and RM Sothebys.
Even if you can’t readily relate to the multi-million-dollar restorations lavished upon (already) multi-million-dollar cars, if you’re a car buff, you’re bound to fall in love with the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Held at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (one of the world’s most entertaining racetracks), the Rolex Reunion is your chance to see, hear and smell the greatest sports, touring and racing cars from the 1900s right on up to the 1990s. Formula One, Can Am, Trans Am, they’re all here, and it’s easy to see them driven in anger on the track or study them at rest in the pits.
Monterey Car Week is thick with celebrities and motorsports luminaries, too. Three-time F1-champ Jackie Stewart qualifies as both, and I had the rare honor of touring The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, with the Flying Scot in 2018. “While celebrating the rich history of the automobile, every year Monterey Car Week offers something new and exciting. Seeing these wonderful cars and hearing their unique stories always gives me a sense of nostalgia and allows me to reflect on my journey, especially this year as I celebrate 50 years with Rolex,” Stewart said.
Unlike the Pebble Beach Concours, The Quail is an unjudged assembly of fine vintage racing and street cars. Held in a garden-party-like setting of the Quail Lodge & Golf Club, it is unabashed automotive high society. As a result, tickets for events like The Quail are among the most exclusive and costly in all of autodom, but you needn’t be landed gentry to enjoy Monterey Car Week. You can take in the Kick Off Cruise-In in downtown Monterey, or Concours d’Lemons Monterey at Seaside City Hall, one in a series of national concours car shows designed to celebrate “the oddball, mundane and truly awful of the automotive world.”
Don’t miss: An unforgettable pit walk at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.
Bonneville Speed Week: Aug. 10-16
Step onto the salt, and you know you’re in for an automotive experience unlike any other. Set in northwest Utah on the vast salt flats that have played host to land speed record (LSR) attempts for over a century. As a 30,000-acre temple of speed, the Bonneville Salt Flats really picked up momentum in the 1930s. Today, anyone who is obsessed going fast knows that Bonneville Speed Week deserves a prime spot on their bucket list.
This week-long event is perhaps best well-known for playing host to vast, purpose-built needle-like jet cars and slipstream belly-tank lakesters made from repurposed World War II airplane fuel cells. That said, there are classes for just about every type of vehicle and motive power, from modern and vintage street cars to semi trucks, motorcycles and even pedal-powered bicycles. In fact, Roadshow’s ownin a modified 2019 Volkswagen Jetta. Because there are so many land speed record classes, Bonneville is one of the few places where a rank amateur can show up and seriously contest for a land-speed record of their very own.
Unfortunately, despite preservation efforts, deteriorating salt conditions have led to the cancelation of this event more than once in recent years, so you might want to bump Bonneville to the top of your personal bucket list — it’s not clear how long this century-long tradition will continue.
Don’t miss: Bonneville is very much a family thing, both for spectators and participants, and you won’t find any velvet ropes here. There are many multi-generational families who form the cornerstone of this unusual form of racing, and most are excellent ambassadors of the sport, so make a point of meeting a few.
Woodward Dream Cruise: Aug. 17
Held on the third Saturday of every August, the Woodward Dream Cruise isn’t just the world’s biggest cruise-in, it claims to be the world’s largest one-day automotive event, full stop. Running up and down Woodward Avenue, the first paved road in America, this metropolitan Detroit event has more classic muscle cars and pickups than you can possibly imagine. That said, this open-to-the-public event isn’t just about vintage Americana. You’ll see Italian supercars, newer Japanese customs, and just about every type of car or motorcycle mixing it up in live traffic from Ferndale to Pontiac.
What started off as a fundraising cruise-in to help pay for a soccer field nearly 25 years ago quickly morphed into a mega event. These days, the Woodward Dream Cruise attracts somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 classic and exotic cars. Around 1.5 million attendants line the road for this impromptu parade. Automakers and car clubs now have their own stands set up along the road, too.
Don’t miss: Sliders at Birmingham’s Hunter House Hamburgers, a pillbox diner established in 1952.
The Race of Gentlemen: Oct. 4-6
If there’s an event on this list that you might not have heard of, The Race of Gentlemen — “TROG” for short — may just be it. But if you’re the type of person who thinks they should’ve been born in the wrong era, you’re going to want to listen up. Started in 2008 by a bunch of reformed motorcycle club members, this Wildwood, New Jersey happening celebrates pre- and post-war car and motorcycle racing. Bracket-style drag racing takes place on the sand from morning until sundown, provided the tide cooperates. And despite the event’s name, both men and women participate in all manner of racing.
If it you didn’t notice the cell phones and modern cameras among spectators, you might think you stepped into a time warp. Cars that race on the beach are pre-1936 and motorcycles are pre-1947. Vehicle modifications are plentiful, but they have to feature period-correct speed parts (including tires), and most participants rock era-appropriate hot-rodder clothing, too.
Even if you’re not into racing, you can stroll through he reserved parking for pre-1965 cars right on the beach, plus there are a bunch of supporting events with food vendors, live music and so on. There’s even a bonfire beach party.
Finally, if you’re on the other side of the country, TROG is also unleashing the Santa Barbara Drags in California, March 8-9.
Don’t miss: Customs by the Sea — this hot rod and classic car show is open to pre-1952 automobiles modified in period fashion.
Hershey National Fall Meet: Oct. 9-12
Known simply as “Hershey” to regulars, the Eastern Division Antique Automobile Club of America’s National Fall Meet takes place annually during the first full week of October. What started in 1955 has grown into what organizers say is the largest classic car show in the world.
Perhaps just as importantly, Hershey’s legendary flea market has the most antique car parts for sale in one place in the world, plus all the petroliana and vintage car gear to outfit your dream garage. There are nearly 10,000 vendors. Need a taillight for your 1952 DeSoto Firedome? How about a brass handle for your vintage visible gas pump? If you can’t find it here, you won’t find it anywhere. If you need a new project or a turn-key cruiser, there’s even a huge Car Corral with 25-years-or-older vehicles for sale.
Don’t miss: Old-tyme movies shown free in the Music Box Theater.
How many of these events are on your own personal automotive must-do bucket list? What else should we add? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.