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A racing fan's ultimate vacation

By MIKE STEPHENSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002

Summer's around the corner and the kids are out of school.

It's time to race out for some fun.

If you like auto racing, leave the summer plans to us. Choose among eight trips, all with a racing theme.

They're not the only places that cater to a racing crowd, but they offer everything from hands-on experience to long-past history.

Short on cash? No problem. Some of our trips can be done in a day.

Want to indulge? No problem. Some of our trips can entertain as long as you want to stay.

No matter your racing preference, we think you'll find a trip -- or more -- for you.

Daytona USA

1801 W International Speedway Blvd.

Daytona Beach, FL 32114

WHAT'S THERE: A 50,000 square foot interactive attraction that allows visitors to imitate a television announcer calling a race finish, design and test drive a stock car through a computer simulator and participate in a simulated pit stop. The exhibit includes authentic race vehicles, historic photos and a full-scale replica of the Daytona Beach gas station that "Big Bill" France owned when he arrived in Daytona Beach in the 1930s.

WHEN TO GO: Any day between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. The attraction is quite crowded during the week of a major race such as the Pepsi 400 when hours are extended.

COST: $20 for adults, $17 for seniors 60 and over, $14 for children 6-12 and free for children under 6 with an adult.

HOW TO GET THERE: Follow Interstate 4 east to the I-95 North exit on the left toward Jacksonville. Merge onto the I-95 North exit and follow to the U.S. Highway 92 exit (No. 87) toward DeLand/Daytona Beach. Merge onto U.S. 92 East until you see the speedway.

ON THE CHEAP: Drive over and spend a day at the attraction and drive home. It's about two to three hours from most of Tampa Bay each way.

GOING FIRST CLASS: Make it a weekend and be pampered at a nice hotel like the Adams Mark, (386) 254-8200, where rates range from about $139 to $180 a night for two adults.

PHONE: (386) 947-6800.

WEB SITE: www.daytonausa.com.

Race shops

Various locations

around Charlotte, N.C.

WHAT'S THERE: Almost all race shops welcome visitors. Few offer full-scale tours, but most sell memorabilia and many offer a window looking into the shop where the cars are prepared.

WHEN TO GO: Shops generally are open business hours during the week.

COST: Generally free.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take Interstate 75 North to State Road 121 (exit No. 74). Keep left at the fork in the ramp and follow 121 to state road 331 North, which later becomes S.R. 24. Turn onto U.S. 301 North and follow to I-10 East. Pick up I-95 North near Jacksonville and travel more than 200 miles to I-26 West. Exit onto I-77 N and travel about 125 miles to U.S. 21 North and then North Carolina 150. Follow onto W McLelland St/North Carolina 152. Directions to various shops should be accessible in Mooresville or through www.raceshops.com

ON THE CHEAP: It'll take about 11 hours to drive to Mooresville, but if you're on a budget, you can make it a scenic tour of the Carolinas. There are many affordable hotels in the area.

GOING FIRST CLASS: Fly to Charlotte and rent a car. Stay at the Spring Run Bed & Breakfast, (704) 664-6686, which is on Lake Norman, where many drivers fish, near the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Mooresville. Make sure to eat one night at Lancaster's barbecue in Mooresville, which features loads of memorabilia and a race car angled so it appears to be taking a banked curve. Look for the "Stock Car Capitol of the World" sign.

PHONES/ADDRESSES: Race shop phone numbers and addresses generally are available through driver Web sites or www.raceshops.com, but here are some of the more popular in North Carolina: Dale Earnhardt Inc., 1675 Coddle Creek Hwy., Mooresville, call (704) 662-8000; Joe Gibbs Racing, 13415 Reese Blvd. W, Huntersville, call (704) 944-5000; Petty Enterprises, 311 Branson Mill Rd., Randleman, call (336) 495-1143; Roush Racing, 122 Knob Hill Rd., Mooresville, call (704) 664-3800; Hendrick Motorsports, 4414 Papa Joe Hendrick Blvd., Harrisburg, (704) 455-3400.

WEB SITES: Sites for popular shops:

www.daleearnhardt.net;

www.joegibbsracing.com;

www.roushracing.com;

www.hendrickmotorsports.com.

Richard Petty Driving Experience

Walt Disney World Speedway

Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

AND

Daytona International Speedway

1801 W International Speedway Blvd.

Daytona Beach, FL 32114

WHAT'S THERE: A chance to drive, or at least ride, in a Winston Cup-style car on a major track. To ride you must be 16 years old with a parent present, and to drive, you must be 18 with a valid license and the ability to drive a standard transmission.

WHEN TO GO: Sessions run daily at Disney World through Oct. 16. At Daytona, the track is open about five days a week most of the summer, except around the July 6 Pepsi 400. Sessions also are available at Homestead-Miami Speedway and 23 other tracks around the country.

COST: At Walt Disney World, you can ride along with an experienced driver for $89. You can drive eight laps for $349 plus tax. An 18-lap program costs $699 and 30 laps are $1,199. At Daytona, you can with an experienced driver for $99 or drive 14 laps for $1,199 or 24 laps for $1,999.

HOW TO GET THERE: To Walt Disney World Speedway -- Take Interstate 4 east and bear left onto Highway 535 and follow about 3 miles to Disney's sports complex. The track is just inside the gate near the entrance for Disney World. To Daytona International Speedway -- Follow I-4 east to the I-95 North exit on the left toward Jacksonville. Merge onto the I-95 North exit and follow to the U.S. Highway 92 exit (No. 87) toward DeLand/Daytona Beach. Merge onto U.S. 92 East until you see the speedway.

ON THE CHEAP: Drive to Lake Buena Vista and ride around the Walt Disney World Speedway and return home without a hotel bill.

GOING FIRST CLASS: For the ultimate experience at Daytona, you'll have to complete a Richard Petty Driving Experience Driving Program first. Then, register for the Racing Experience. Your day will begin with a private viewing of a Daytona 500 movie. You'll get a private lesson that will include driving 24 laps, consisting of three eight-lap sessions. Then you'll tour Daytona USA with a guest. Pick out a swank hotel on the beach and have a good time.

PHONE: 1-800-237-3889.

WEB SITE: www.1800bepetty.com.

Pepsi 400

Daytona International Speedway

1801 W International Speedway Blvd.

Daytona Beach, FL 32114

WHAT'S THERE: Unlike the Daytona 500, which routinely sells out, the Pepsi provides a chance to catch a Winston Cup race at the most famous track on the circuit. For the first time, there's also a summer Busch Grand National race at Daytona.

WHEN TO GO: July 6 for the Pepsi. To catch qualifying, you'll need to be there July 4. The Busch race has qualifying July 3 and the race is July 5.

COST: Tickets for the Pepsi range from from $45-$130.

HOW TO GET THERE: Follow Interstate 4 east to the I-95 North exit on the left toward Jacksonville. Merge onto the I-95 North exit and follow to the U.S. Highway 92 exit (No. 87) toward DeLand/Daytona Beach. Merge onto U.S. 92 East until you see the speedway.

ON THE CHEAP: If you just want to see the track and watch the Winston Cup cars buzz by, just go for pole day qualifying July 4. You can get a ticket for $15. You'll also need to pay for parking. You can drive over that day. Most hotels will require several nights stay, so you'll probably need to camp out or drive half the night home because qualifying, like the race, is at night.

GOING FIRST CLASS: The speedway offers a "Fantasy" package through its Web site, including three night's lodging at the Adam's Mark Hotel on Daytona Beach, race tickets in the Petty Tower for the weekend's races, qualifying sessions and practices, admission to Daytona USA, a program and souvenir. Cost is $1,199 for one, $759 per person for two, $609 for three or $549 for four.

PHONE: (386) 253-7223.

WEB SITE: www.daytonaintlspeedway.com.

Brickyard Crossing

4400 W. 16th Street

Indianapolis, IN 46222

WHAT'S THERE: A full 18-hole golf course, partially in the infield and partially adjacent to the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Included is a pro shop, full-service hotel and restaurant. It's open to the public except during special events.

WHEN TO GO: The course is busy all summer and it's extremely difficult to get tee times shortly before and after race events. Hours are 11 a.m. to dusk on Mondays and 7:30 a.m. to dusk the rest of the week. Tee time reservations can be made up to 14 days in advance.

COST: $90 greens fees, including a cart.

HOW TO GET THERE: By car, follow Interstate 75 North, take I-475 around Atlanta and continue on I-75 until you get to I-24 West (Exit 2) toward Chattanooga/Nashville. Follow I-24 West about 140 miles and pick up I-65 North toward Louisville. After about 280 miles on I-65, take the Pennsylvania Street exit (13) toward U.S. 31/Meridian Street. Merge onto East 12th Street and then right onto North Meridian Street. Turn left onto West 16th Street and travel about 4 miles to the speedway complex. By air, fly into Indianapolis, rent a car and take I-465 North. Take Exit 16A, Crawfordsville Road, and go east (right) about 11/2 miles to the speedway.

ON THE CHEAP: A drive to Indianapolis is about 1,000 miles and probably will take two days, but you can find reasonable hotel rates in the vicinity of the speedway, depending on when you travel.

GOING FIRST CLASS: Fly to Indianapolis and stay at the Brickyard Crossing Golf Resort & Inn, (317) 241-2500. Rates range from $65 to $80, depending on what's happening when you want to stay. Play the course (greens fees are $70 if you stay at the Inn), tour the track, visit the museum and gift shop.

PHONE: (317) 484-6572.

WEB SITE: www.brickyardcrossing.com.

International Motor Sports

Hall of Fame

3198 Speedway Blvd.

Talladega, AL 35160

WHAT'S THERE: Founded by Bill France Sr., who started NASCAR, the Hall of Fame features the history of motorsports worldwide and honors those who have contributed to and succeeded in the sport. It includes more than 125 vehicles, memorabilia, a research library and biographical information on the nearly 100 inductees.

WHEN TO GO: Between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily with extended hours on race weeks.

COST: Adults are $8, children from 7-17 are $7 and 6-and-under are free.

HOW TO GET THERE: By car, take Interstate 75 North to I-475 North around Atlanta. Exit onto I-20 West and travel nearly 100 miles, then take exit 173 and follow the signs to the hall of fame and speedway complex. By air, fly to Birmingham and drive about 45 minutes to Talladega.

ON THE CHEAP: It's a long drive, but that's the low cost way to go. Plenty of hotels have reasonable rates when the races aren't in town. There plenty of hotel choices off I-20 at exit 168 from Birmingham or exit 185 from Atlanta.

GOING FIRST CLASS: Fly into Birmingham, rent a nice car and have a fine time. Among the newer hotels is the Wingate Inn, (256) 831-1921, at exit 188. Regular rates are $69 on weekends and $84 during the week.

PHONE: (256) 362-5002.

WEB SITE: www.motorsportshalloffame.com.

NASCAR Cafe

6000 Universal Blvd.

Suite 743

Orlando, FL 32819

WHAT'S THERE: One of five themed restaurants run by NASCAR, it includes a retail shop, virtual reality simulator and arcade games in addition to food. Similar cafes are in Greensboro, N.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Las Vegas and in the Smoky Mountains town of Sevierville, Tenn.

WHEN TO GO: The race shop opens daily at 10 a.m. and the cafe begins serving lunch at 11. The cafe closes at 10 p.m., but the bar and games are available until 11.

COST: Fare includes appetizers (such as "Dipstick Fried Cheese"), sandwiches ("Pit Pig sandwich"), steaks ("Rockingham Ribeye"), fish ("Fishtail'n sandwich") and chicken ("Talladega Tenders"). Entres run about $6 to $19.

HOW TO GET THERE: Follow Interstate 4 toward Universal Studios. Take exit 30B onto Kirkman Road to Major Boulevard. Turn left on Major and left again at Universal Boulevard. Follow signs to Universal Studios City Walk and parking. Parking is available in several garages on Universal Boulevard. When parked, follow the people mover and signs to City Walk. The cafe is next to the Cineplex Movie Theater and across from the Hard Rock Cafe.

ON THE CHEAP: Drive over in the morning, have lunch in the cafe and enjoy the games and then drive back in the evening.

GOING FIRST CLASS: The Portofino Bay Hotel, (800) 711-0080, is on the Universal Studios property. Rates vary, but rooms are available in the summer beginning at $249 and ranging up to the Presidential Suite at $1,600. Visit the cafe and spend a day or two at the park.

PHONE: (407) 224-7223.

WEB SITE: www.nascarcafe.com.

Big Daddy Don Garlits

Museum of Drag Racing

13700 SW 16th Ave.

Ocala, FL 34473

WHAT'S THERE: Vintage dragsters, collectible cars and displays covering drag racing history, from home-built hot rods to the rear engine Top Fuel dragster. Garlits' Swamp Rat cars are featured. Tours last about two hours.

WHEN TO GO: Any day between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

COST: Adults are $12, senior citizens and students are $10, children under 12 are $3 and under 5 are free.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take Interstate 75 to the County Road 484 exit for Belleview/Dunnellon (No. 67). Merge onto 484 and take a quick right onto Southwest 16th Avenue. Travel about 1 mile to the museum.

ON THE CHEAP: Make it a day trip. Pack a picnic lunch, drive up, visit the museum and return home.

GOING FIRST CLASS: Drive up and stay at the Seven Sisters Inn (1-800-250-3496) in the historic district. Sunday-Thursday rates are $99 to $239 per night, and Friday and Saturday rates are $119 to $269 per night. Both include breakfast and afternoon tea. Visit the museum and enjoy the town.

PHONE: 1-877-271-3278.

WEB SITE: www.garlits.com.

-- Illustrations by Brandon Jeffords

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