NASCAR Hall of Fame
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Best under-the-radar experiences at tracks (or around tracks)

Going to a NASCAR race is like partaking of a meal in a fancy restaurant: you’re there for the main course, but it’s the a la carte add-ons and appetizers that help enhance the overall experience.

With NASCAR, the main course is, of course, the race. But it’s the extras that add increased value to your enjoyment.

Those extras can come in the manner of at-track events or activities at nearby locations. We like to call them “under-the-radar” experiences.

RELATED: Buy tickets to a NASCAR race

As part of NASCAR’s Summer Family Fun initiative, here are 10 categories that if you haven’t already done so, check them out the next time you head to your favorite track.

1) “Hands-on” pedal to the metal: If you can’t be a race car driver in real life, you can pretend to be one for at least a few laps – under the watchful eyes of trained and safety-conscious instructors, of course. Among some of the best NASCAR-themed racing schools that operate around the country, including many NASCAR tracks (search for them in your favorite online browser) are the Richard Petty Driving Experience, the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience, Seat Time Racing School, Radford Racing School, and even the Mario Andretti Racing Experience for those of you who feel the need for speed Indy car-style.

2) Channel your inner Michael Waltrip: One of the things Michael Waltrip has become best known for on NASCAR on FOX telecasts is his pre-race “grid walk,” where he talks to drivers on pit road. You can have your own version of the grid walk, as many tracks have pre-race track walks and track tours (some operate almost every day of the year, in-season or out-of-season, but check because during the COVID-19 pandemic their schedules/tour policies may have changed). Among key tracks: Daytona International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

3) Racing museums have a different kind of “art collection”: Many race tracks play host to museums – either on the actual grounds of the track or nearby – that focus on various forms of racing, most notably NASCAR. Among some of the best: NASCAR Hall of Fame (Charlotte, N.C.), International Motorsports Hall of Fame (Talladega, Ala.), Richard Childress Racing Museum (Welcome, N.C.), Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum and the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame (Darlington, S.C.), Wood Brothers Racing Museum and the Virginia Motorsports Hall of Fame (Stuart, Va.), Petty Museum (Randleman, N.C.), Penske Racing Museum (Phoenix, Az.), Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (Daytona Beach, Fla.), North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame (Mooresville, N.C.) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum (Speedway, Ind.).

4) It’s not sacrilegious to pay homage to other sports (and even Rock & Roll): If you’re looking for something else in addition to attending a NASCAR race, you won’t upset the racing gods if you tie in activities associated with other sports. For example, if you go to Michigan International Speedway for a NASCAR race, you can visit nearby locations like the Henry Ford Museum (Dearborn, Mich.), the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Canton, Ohio) and even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland, Ohio). If you find yourself at Watkins Glen International, you would also have a great time at the Baseball Hall of Fame in legendary Cooperstown, N.Y. If you go to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, head over to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Your choice of racing “add-ons” is only limited by your imagination.

Luke Combs
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

5) Play me a tune, will you? For nearly its entire existence, NASCAR has practically been joined at the hip by the world of music. Regardless of the genre, be it country or rock or pop, soul or hip-hop, NASCAR fans love ‘em some tunes. Over the years, numerous NASCAR tracks have played host to some of the biggest names in the music business, often times offering a value-added pre-race concert that is part of your ticket price. And many continue that practice today. Among some of the best that have played the NASCAR circuit over the years: REO Speedwagon, Def Leppard, Sammy Hagar (formerly of Van Halen), Loverboy, Pitbull, Blake Shelton, Luke Combs (pictured), Zac Brown Band, Alabama, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Kansas and many others.

6) What comes after racin’ and music? Food, of course! Fans aren’t just hungry for racing, they’re also hungry for food, with many of those same race fans having acquired some favorite places to visit to indulge their tummies at all points in-between from Loudon to Los Angeles. One of the most notable places is In-N-Out Burger, which has locations in many states including California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas and Colorado. In fact, it’s a NASCAR tradition for hundreds of NASCAR team members, drivers and officials to immediately go from landing at the airport to the nearest In-N-Out location for famous Double-Double burgers, fries and the like. Other places that highlight race fans’ palates include Indianapolis (St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse), Loudon (the Weathervane seafood restaurant), Talladega (Sonny’s BBQ), and many more.

7) Don’t forget your swimsuit: When you’re tired from a long day at the track and want to cool off or work on your tan, one of the nice things about NASCAR is how many tracks are close to beaches, oceans and/or lakes. Among the more notable: Daytona Beach, Miami Beach (near Homestead-Miami Speedway); Venice Beach in Los Angeles; beaches along the eastern shore in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts; the Atlantic Ocean near Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, and, of course, the home to many drivers and teams: Lake Norman, north of Charlotte.

8) Let’s play – err, let’s race – two (or more) today: Baseball Hall of Famer, the late Ernie Banks, had one of the greatest sayings in baseball. “Let’s play two today,” Banks enthusiastically uttered hundreds of times during his career, essentially calling for a doubleheader so fans could see twice the amount of baseball in a day for the price of just one ticket. NASCAR racing has something similar to that: a number of tracks like to hold additional events on NASCAR race weekends. Places like Charlotte Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, in particular, oftentimes host undercard race events on Cup weekends that feature sprint cars, late models and modifieds at the short tracks adjacent to the parent facilities. But there’s other racing to be had, as well: visit some of the nearly one-thousand grassroots tracks around the country where many of NASCAR’s greatest drivers got their racing career starts. It’s rare that you can’t find an open short track within an hour or so from a NASCAR track.

RELATED: Get to know the grassroots scene at NASCAR Roots

9) A “shop-ing” we will go: One of the best parts of attending NASCAR races at Charlotte Motor Speedway are the literally dozens of race shops (across the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series), souvenir stores and racing-related businesses that call the Charlotte area home and also where you can take tours and shop for souvenirs. At present, most shops are closed for tours to the public as a precaution from COVID-19, but some team stores are open. One big tip: shops are typically less crowded around the October ROVAL race at CMS than the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend.

10) Last but not least: Two other bits of extracurricular activities that have grown significantly in recent years are gambling/betting and visits to wineries. With more states legalizing sports gambling, fans can get even closer to all the race action by betting on their favorite drivers to beat the odds. And some tracks are particularly close to casinos including Michigan, Dover, New Hampshire, Kansas, Las Vegas and Indianapolis. And if you’re thirsty, there are several wineries within close proximity to a number of tracks, including places like Richard Childress’ Vineyards near Lexington, N.C., as well as “wine country” near Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, and other grapes of race (not wrath) in states that host NASCAR events.

RELATED: NASCAR BetCenter offers a betting guide to races

Follow Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski and also follow his podcast, @TheRacingBeat.