Florida’s love for the automobile extends far beyond hosting the “Great American Race
Home to arguably the most important and prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar, as well as the company’s headquarters, Daytona Beach is a must-visit near the top of any racing fan’s bucket list. A visit to the Sunshine State wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging its immense lore and love for the automobile. The glittering shores of the Gulf of Mexico annually transform into the French Riviera, while a number of hotspots dedicated to the car –pocket the peninsula, giving every gearhead or grease monkey something to see. If you love classic cars, riveting racing, good eats and automotive memorabilia, keep these attractions in mind the next time you visit Florida.
Daytona Beach’s Cruisin Cafe
Located across from the Daytona Beach Pier, each table inside the Cruisin Café is a memorial to a different Daytona 500 winner. Ask to be seated at your favorite driver’s table while you enjoy a memorable meal for lunch or dinner. While the café has a diverse menu featuring many healthy options, Cruisin is known for its burgers.
Guests can attempt the Cruisin Cup Challenge by ordering the Cruisin Cup Burger, which features two pounds of all-beef patties, American, Swiss, Provolone and Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and a pound of French fries. Participants who successfully eat the entire burger are rewarded with a t-shirt and are commemorated into immortality both on the café’s website and with the named etched into the Cup Burger Trophy.
Daytona International Speedway
With nicknames like the “Birthplace of Speed” and the “World Center of Racing,” Daytona International Speedway is the most prestigious stop on the NASCAR circuit, as well as an epicenter for racing activity within the U.S. Thousands of fans flock to the oval course throughout the race season to catch world-class stock car, motorcycle, sports car and go-kart action. The speedway hosts major events through NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Gander Outdoors Truck Series, as well as events through IMSA, ARCA and AMA in a bevy of formats. Fans can also enjoy the thrills of the track for themselves by hopping into a real NASCAR race car at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, which lets you take the wheel yourself or ride along with a trainer. A personal spotter gives you direction over a 2-way radio system installed in the car, giving you the closest thing to the real deal possible.
Disney’s “Cars” Characters at Walt Disney World
The all-new Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy debuted in March of 2019 at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, where guests become rookie racers on the chase to become champions like McQueen. Disney World is full of opportunities to meet up with Lightning, Tow Mater, Cruz Ramirez and the rest of the gang with attractions, photo opportunities and more. Hollywood Studios, Epcot and a Cars themed wing of the Art and Animation Resort are all devoted to Lightning and his gang, while the Test Track ride at Epcot will also fuel the need for speed among car enthusiasts.
The fastest drivers in the world flock to the Gainesville Raceway, home to the NHRA GatorNationals. As one of the fastest tracks in the world, it was here in which drag racers clocked the first reported 260, 270 and 300 mph Top Fuel runs. The raceway is home to many events during the season from April to December and is also used for teaching and testing, with a full slate of law enforcement and emergency vehicle driver training sessions.
Ocala’s Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
Considered the patriarch of drag racing, the iconic Don Garlits won 144 national events during his heyday in the sport. Today, Garlits’ classic car collection and drag racing memorabilia is on full display at his Museum of Drag Racing just south of Ocala. Tours of the museum usually last between two to three hours, where visitors can view nearly 300 cars and check out the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Keep your eyes peeled for the epochal cars of Dean Moon, the Mooneyes gas dragster and the Moonbeam sports car.
Old Palm Harbor Car Show
All makes and models are open at the Palm Harbor Car Show, located just south of Pasco County. The 2019 event was held in late October, with proceeds benefitting Joshua House in Tampa and CS4C Giving Tree. Traditionally the event gives back to the community and benefits breast cancer research, treatment and awareness.
Orlando’s Central Florida International Auto Show
Explore the future of the automobile when you check out the cars of tomorrow—as well as the latest releases—at the Central Florida International Auto Show. The 2020 event will take place from September 25-27 at the Orange County Convention Center, with more than 400 new models on display. The event will feature fun options for the whole family, including a balloon artist, face painting and kids test drives.
Palm Beach International Raceway
As one of six tracks in the U.S. built completely from concrete, Palm Beach International Raceway features a quarter-mile drag strip, 2-mile road course, a kart track and mud racing tracks. The facility hosted the Super Chevy Show in May of 2019, with drag racing competitions across four levels and a parade of nostalgia cars from the Southern Slingshots and Earth Shaking Entertainment.
Sarasota’s Classic Car Museum
Experience the pinnacle of the European luxury vehicle with a walk back in time at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum. Recognized as the second oldest continuously operating antique car museum in the country, the museum features one-of-a-kind classics European, antique and exotic cars, including options from Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Cadillac, Edsel and Ferrari. The gift shop offers rare collectibles and automotive books and is open seven days per week.
St.Petersburg’s Corvettes at The Pier
St. Petersburg hosts the Corvettes at the Pier event annually, holding its 25th edition of the event in 2019 with the Suncoast Corvette Association. Held at the scenic North Straub Park on the St. Petersburg waterfront, the show usually features more than 200 Corvettes from around the country, ranging from stock and modified classes to full custom and race prepared.
St.Petersburg’s Firestone Grand Prix
Travel to St. Petersburg in March and you’ll wonder if you’ve wandered into the middle of Monaco. The city hosts the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg annually, with featured races in both the IndyCar Series and the American Le Mans Series. The city’s streets transform into a 1.8-mile course along the bayfront, while racing simulators, face painting and rock climbing offer fun for the whole family as you wait for the engines to come roaring around the corner.