COVID-19 Update: As in other sectors of public life, 2020 is proving to be a particularly challenging year for North America’s automotive events calendar due to the. This scourge has (understandably) resulted in the of essentially all major motorsports and car-related gatherings so far this spring. What’s more, it’s unclear what effect the new coronavirus may have on summertime events. Obviously, your safety comes first, so now may be a good time to think about planning for events late this year, if not penciling in a few experiences on your 2021 calendar.
If you’re like the Roadshow editorial team, you’ve got your own wish list of automotive experiences, races and car shows you’re keen to check off. Unfortunately, for most of us, it’s all but impossible to find the time to tick more than one or two boxes off that checklist per year. But you’ve got to start somewhere to figure it out, so why not start with us?
To help in your planning, allow us to present Roadshow’s list of what are usually must-see annual car events that take place right here in the US of A (so, no, you won’t see theor on this list). In other words, if one or more of your chosen events isn’t viable for this year, maybe you can put it or them on the map for next year. Whether you’re vintage car devotee, a motorsports buff, a budding collector, an off-road maven or someone who just wants more automotive experiences, our list has you covered from name-brand icons to some special events you may not have even heard of. Some of these are big-ticket items, while others are totally free. Simply put, there’s an event on Roadshow’s ultimate gearhead event list for every person and every budget.
Rolex 24 at Daytona: Jan. 25-26
We’ll start our wish list year with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the granddaddy of American endurance races. This all-day, all-night spectacular began in 1962, and takes place at the Daytona International Speedway on the track’s full road course.
With four classes of racing, from Daytona Prototype International (DPi) purpose-built race cars to production-based GT Daytona (GTD) 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 crazy infield camping scene, which is not to be missed. Attend just once and you’ll realize that Daytona isn’t just a race, it’s a cultural phenomenon.
Don’t miss: Ride the ferris wheel for a great view — even at night.
COVID-19 update: This event predated the acceleration of the coronavirus crisis in the US, and was held as scheduled. Early plans for the 2021 Rolex 24 remain unaffected.
Nitto King of the Hammers: Feb. 7
Held in the remote reaches of 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 series of five races that combines desert racing and rock crawling. This year’s event is actually stretching to nine days, with more entertainment and racing action than ever.
Now in its 14th 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’ll see all kinds of off-road rigs, from tube-frame buggies to SUVs, desert racing trucks, UTVs (side-by-sides) and motorcycles.
Hundreds of racers are expected for the weeklong event (which runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9), with the namesake main King of the Hammers race covering some 200 miles on Friday, Feb. 7. The race course must be completed in under 14 hours, and there are no chase vehicles allowed. All vehicular repairs — and in a race this brutal, they’re common — must be carried out on course by the racers themselves or in designated pit areas.
This race is tough, but even spectating takes grit, too, as it involves camping in the desert in the middle of winter. You’ll want an RV or camper stocked with plenty of supplies, and you’ll also need to be OK with limited connectivity. If your idea of roughing it is more along the lines of glamping, KoH might not be a good fit for you.
Don’t miss: After the awards ceremony, you can join a guided drive along the course with the KOH Experience 2020. Just make sure you’re a veteran off-roader and have a legitimately trail-ready rig (35-inch tires and locking differentials are all but mandatory).
COVID-19 update: This event predated the acceleration of the coronavirus in the US, and was held as scheduled. Early plans for the 2021 KoH remain unaffected.
Radwood, the 1980s and ’90s-themed car show, is still in its infancy. It was founded in 2017, but its popularity continues to mushroom, and it’s easy to see why. Focused on automobiles produced from 1980 to 1999, Radwood doesn’t just celebrate those rare and expensive cars that are starting to acquire classic status. No, this series of shows doesn’t take itself seriously enough for that. Instead, Radwood wholeheartedly embraces time-warp examples of humble workaday iron, as well as period custom cars and individually imported “forbidden fruit” from Japan and Europe. In other words, Radwood keeps it weird in the best way possible.
What started off as a one-off show in the Bay Area has quickly snowballed into a national calendar of events, so chances are getting better that there’s a Radwood show headed to a city near you — at least as soon as the coronavirus pandemic safely passes.
We at Roadshowin December, driving an ultralow-mileage 1993 Prelude from Honda’s personal collection and an ex-Jerry-Seinfeld 1993 Renntech E60 Mercedes-Benz, but the folks behind Radwood are open to all kinds of rides.
Displaying your 1980-1999 car or truck at the show is inexpensive and general admission is reasonable, too.
Don’t miss: Period-appropriate attire is absolutely encouraged. Radwood is your best excuse to seek out a period Benetton polo from your local thrift shop and splurge on those Zubaz sweatpants you’ve had bookmarked on eBay. Don’t forget those sweatbands!
COVID-19 update: For now, all shows are suspended until the pandemic is under control, but you can keep tabs on Radwood’s website to see when dates start to get rescheduled.
Indianapolis 500: May 24
A motorsports institution since 1911, the Indianapolis 500 pretty much speaks for itself. Held annually over Memorial Day weekend, this 500-mile race is the only leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsport held on US soil. Hundreds of thousands flock to Indianapolis Motor Speedway (better known as “The Brickyard”) for this open-wheel, open-cockpit IndyCar Series spectacular. Names like Andretti, Mears, Sullivan and Unser became legends here, and today, the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing” still draws hundreds of thousands of spectators.
The 200-mile race is actually the capstone event of the weekend. There’s a brace of don’t-miss support races in the run-up that make this a weekend-long spectacular. Plus, qualifying for the Indy 500 is a very watchable phenomenon unto itself.
Don’t miss: Make sure to get to your seat early, so you can belt out “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” before the green flag drops. Actor/singer Jim Nabors performed the song ahead of the race for some five decades, but following his passing, the tradition continues.
COVID-19 update: As of March 24, series authorities have cancelled the first four races of the 2020 IndyCar schedule due to COVID-19, but according to a recent report, those same authorities are optimistically moving forward with 2020 Indy 500 race plans — at least for now.
Monterey Car Week: Aug. 7-16
California’s Monterey Car Week is the nexus of America’s collector car universe. This weeklong series of car shows, auctions, cruise-ins and vintage racing happenings is a spectacle where you’ll see more blue-chip classics and exotics in the parking lots of many of these events than you’ll see entered in other top-notch car shows.
This epic celebration of automotive beauty, speed and noise culminates in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, held on the posh greens of the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Having your car even invited to participate at Pebble is a sign that it’s among the very finest automobiles in the world. Winning a prize — let alone Best In Show — is an obsession that well-heeled enthusiasts spend countless millions pursuing. Luxury automakers have glommed on to the event, as well, and Pebble has become a favorite spot for car companies to launch new concepts and luxury production models, since at the show they have a built-in audience of monied buyers.
Of course, Monterey Car Week is about far more than just Pebble, and indeed, far more than the big-dollar auctions from outfits like Bonham’s, Gooding and Company, Russo and Steel, and RM Sothebys.
Even if you can’t readily relate to the multimillion-dollar restorations lavished upon (already) multimillion-dollar cars, if you’re a motorsports 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 world’s best sports, touring and racing cars from the 1900s right on up to the 1990s. Formula One, Can Am, Indy Car, Trans Am — they’re all here, and thanks to the track’s hilly topography and layout, it’s easy to see all the cars 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 Formula One World Champion 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,” Stewart said.
Unlike the Pebble Beach Concours, The Quail is a nonjudged assembly of fine vintage racing and street cars. Held in the garden-party-like setting of the Quail Lodge & Golf Club, this is unabashed automotive high society. As a result, tickets for events like The Quail are among the most exclusive and costly in all of car culture, but you needn’t be landed gentry to enjoy Monterey Car Week. You can take in the Pebble Beach Tour D’Elegance Presented by Rolex on Aug. 13. An annual driving event that traces sections of the original 17 Mile Drive, including a noontime display on Ocean Avenue. Still too high-end for you? How about Concours d’Lemons Monterey at Seaside City Hall on Aug. 15, one in a series of madcap national concours car shows designed to celebrate “the oddball, mundane and truly awful of the automotive world.”
Don’t miss: Strolling the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion pit area. The sights, sounds and even the smells are not to be missed.
COVID-19 update: Given that MCW isn’t until later in the summer, it’s unsurprising that the authorities behind the week’s various events haven’t made much noise about 2020 plans being affected by COVID-19. At least for now, it looks like they intend to carry on as scheduled. Stay tuned.
Bonneville Speed Week: Aug. 8-14
Gaze out at the salt, and you can’t help but comprehend that you’re in for an automotive experience unlike any other. Set on the vast salt flats of northwest Utah, Bonneville Speed Week has 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 with going fast knows that Bonneville Speed Week deserves a top spot on their bucket list.
This weeklong event is perhaps best known for playing host to vast, purpose-built, dartlike jet cars, or perhaps slipstream belly-tank Lakesters made from repurposed World War II airplane fuel cells. That said, there are record classes for just about every type of vehicle and method of power, from modern and vintage street cars to commercial semi trucks, motorcycles and even pedal-powered bikes. 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 rank amateurs can show up and go home with a record of their very own.
Don’t miss: Bonneville Speed Week is 100% a family thing for spectators and participants. You won’t find any velvet ropes here. Many multigenerational families form the cornerstone of this unusual form of racing, and most are excellent ambassadors for the sport, so make a point of chatting up a few.
COVID-19 update: There’s no word on whether BSW authorities are considering changing or cancelling plans for this year’s event owing to the coronavirus. Given that Speed Week typically involves much smaller groups of people in a wide-open space, it seems more likely that this event could continue to be held even with mild crowd-size restrictions. (Of course, if coronavirus is still a factor in August, it won’t be a particularly good idea to attend this year’s event even if it is held.)
Sadly, Bonneville Speed Week authorities are no strangers to cancellations. Despite extensive preservation efforts, deteriorating salt conditions have led to the nixing of their land-speed record attempts more than once in recent years. In any case, if nothing else, you might want to bump this event to the top of your personal wish list for 2021 — it’s not clear how long this century-long tradition will continue.
Woodward Dream Cruise: Aug. 15
Held annually on the third Saturday of August, Motown’s Woodward Dream Cruise isn’t just the world’s biggest cruise-in, it lays claim to being the world’s largest single-day car event, period. Running up and down the first paved road in America, Woodward Avenue, this metropolitan Detroit event has more classic muscle cars and trucks than you can possibly imagine. And this open-to-the-public event isn’t confined to vintage American iron. You’ll see supercars, wild Japanese customs, lifted 4x4s and just about every type of car or motorcycle mixing it up in live traffic.
What started off as a fundraising cruise-in to help pay for a soccer field nearly a quarter-century ago quickly morphed into a mega event. These days, the Woodward Dream Cruise attracts around 40,000 and 50,000 classic and exotic cars — there’s no cost or barrier to admission, you just show up in your ride, cruise around and enjoy. It’s estimated that 1.5 million Cruise-goers line the road for this massive sheet-metal parade. Automakers and car clubs often have their own stands set up along the road, too.
Don’t miss: Sliders at Hunter House Hamburgers, a pillbox diner along Woodward established in Birmingham that first opened in 1952.
COVID-19 update: Given that the Woodward Dream Cruise isn’t until mid-August, it’s not surprising that the organizers haven’t made public statements about the event’s 2020 plans being impacted by the coronavirus yet. For the moment, this massive, free gathering appears to be going forward as scheduled. Stay tuned.
The Race of Gentlemen: Sept. 30-Oct. 4
If there’s an event on this list that you might not have heard of, The Race of Gentlemen — “TROG” for short — is probably it. But if you’re the type of person who thinks you were born in the wrong era, you’re going to want to listen up. Dreamed up in 2008 by a cadre 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 a sandy beach from morning until sundown (provided the tide cooperates). Despite the event’s title, both men and women participate in all manner of racing.
If you didn’t notice the cell phones and modern cameras in spectators’ hands when you happened upon TROG, you might think you’d stepped into a time warp. Cars racing on the beach are pre-1936 and motorcycles are pre-1947. Modifications are plentiful, but participating vehicles have to feature period-correct speed parts (including reproduction tires), and most participants rock era-appropriate hot-rodder clothing and helmets, too.
Even if racing isn’t really your scene, you can stroll through the reserved parking for pre-1965 cars right on the beach, plus there are supporting events with food purveyors, tchotchke vendors, live music and other attractions. There’s even a bonfire beach party.
Finally, if you’re on the other side of the country, TROG will also be unleashing the Santa Barbara Drags in California, March 8 to 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.
COVID-19 update: Organizers haven’t yet issued a statement about whether the event’s 2020 plans will be affected by the coronavirus. At least for the moment, this event appears to be on schedule.
Hershey National Fall Meet: Oct. 7-10
Known simply as “Hershey” to regulars, the Eastern Division Antique Automobile Club of America’s National Fall Meet is held annually during the first full week of October in Hershey, Pennsylvania. What started in 1955 has grown into what is arguably the largest classic car show in the world.
Just as importantly, Hershey’s legendary flea market has the most antique car parts for sale in one place on the globe, plus all the petroliana and period-correct car gear to outfit your dream garage. There are nearly 10,000 vendors. Need a taillight for your 1949 Packard Super 8? How about a glass cylinder for your 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 massive Car Corral with 25-years-or-older vehicles for sale.
Don’t miss: Old-time movies shown free in the Music Box Theater.
COVID-19 update: According to an update on the Hershey Region Antique Automobile Club of America’s website, Hershey Region Operations have been temporarily suspended until further notice. It’s not immediately clear if this means that the 2020 National Fall Meet will be cancelled, or if preparatory activities are simply on hiatus for the moment.
24 Hours of Lemons: Various dates
If you haven’t gotten into auto racing because it’s too costly or you think people just take motorsports too seriously, the 24 Hour of Lemons series is for you. Basically, this is low-dollar, crap-can racing with a heaping helping of theatrics and good ol’ Yankee ingenuity.
This endurance-racing series features cars bought and track-prepped for under $500, and you don’t even need a racing license to participate. Can that be safe? Yes — safety-critical components like brakes, wheels and tires don’t factor into that budget, nor do required features like a racing seat and belts, fire suppression, engine kill switch and so on.
Some participants build serious stripped-down race cars, while others go for novelties and curiosities. Some manage both at the same time. Ever seen a 1983 Porsche 944 fused with a ’70s Chevy Stepside pickup? You can at Lemons. Heck, back in 2013, someone dropped an abandoned 1956 Cessna 310 airplane shell atop a Toyota minivan, dubbing it “Spirit of LeMons.”
It doesn’t get much weirder or spectacular then a Lemons race. The community spirit and good humor are everywhere, and the racing isn’t too bad, either. At the moment, there are no fewer than 24 races on the calendar for 2020, so there’s probably one in your area.
Don’t miss: If you can’t get enough of 24 Hours of Lemons, you might also want to check out Concours d’Lemons, a series of car shows “celebrating the oddball, mundane and truly awful of the automotive world.”
COVID-19 update: The 24 Hours of Lemons series website does not offer any guidance about whether any races or events have been canceled due to the pandemic. Roadshow has contacted series organizers for information and will update this story if we hear back.
Did we miss any?
How many of our must-see events are on your own personal automotive wish list? What other events should we add? Let us know by leaving us a comment.
Originally published Jan. 25 and updated as new developments occur.