Updated: Jan 14, 2020
If you're taking a trip to Tennessee to see the Smoky Mountains, it only makes sense that you completely engulf yourself in the culture of the southern locals. After trekking through Gatlinburg, spotting bears in Cades Cove, and visiting old cabins that symbolize the Appalachian times, there's nothing like heading to a dirt track race to gain a more current, yet authentic image of what living down south means to many people.
Smoky Mountain Speedway is a fantastic home for racing near the Smoky Mountains. It is nestled in beautiful Maryville, Tennessee, about an hour away from Pigeon Forge. Racers and fans of the sport travel far and wide, from nearby states to the likes of Japan, to catch Tennessee's Special Events Track do what it does best. For those who don't know, dirt track racing takes place on a circle track packed with red clay mud. Smoky Mountain runs Dirt Late Model cars most often, but if you're in town at the right time, you might catch a motorcycle or Sprint Car race.
Several visitors of the track have a long-standing appreciation of dirt racing, either because they are local and visit Smoky Mountain often, or they have their own racetrack back home that they frequent. Whether you travel all over the world to various racetracks but have never been to Smoky Mountain, or you have never been to a race in general and want to see what the fuss is about, the following tips will help you plan your trip to Smoky Mountain Speedway.
1. What to Wear
Dirt racing events happen all throughout the year, so the answer to this question can constantly change. Typically, Smoky Mountain's schedule runs from March to September, so I'm going to answer this question in a way that satisfies the majority of the racing season.
Tennessee gets hot during the day, so shorts and a T-shirt is the best bet for keeping yourself cool. It's also important to drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen while in the sun all day to assure you don't get dehydrated. When you visit the racetrack, you will be outdoors for several hours, with no option to go inside. Keep this in mind while getting dressed in the morning. On the other hand, it gets pretty chilly when the sun goes down. The wind whipping off the race cars as they fly around the track accompanied by the sun's disappearance will leave you surprisingly cold after a day of sweating. Make sure to bring a light jacket to prepare for this inevitability.
Dirt can be unpredictable. If it has rained recently, it will likely be muddy in some parts of the venue. Luckily, track owners have recently added a lot more gravel to combat this problem. Still, I wouldn't suggest wearing flip-flops to the dirt track. The gravel will hurt the bottom of your feet and you may step in mud. Boots or stable tennis shoes are the best thing to wear, as long as you don't mind getting them a little dirty. I also suggest bringing earplugs for children or those sensitive to loud noises.
2. Where to Stay
Those who frequently attend dirt track races can tell you that they are an all-night adventure. Typically, races end around the curfew time of midnight, and after sitting in event traffic for quite some time, you'll want to find accommodations nearby. Even if your vacation is based out of Pigeon Forge, you'll likely want somewhere a bit closer to crash for the night.
The closest hotel to Smoky Mountain Speedway is the Hilton Knoxville Airport hotel. In fact, if you book using this link and enter the corporate number 3129469, you will receive a special rate of $99 or $119 per night plus tax depending on what room you choose. These rooms normally cost $124 per night and up.
This hotel is perfect because it is connected to McGhee Tyson Airport, it is located only 15 minutes away from Smoky Mountain Speedway, and you'll receive discounts on your stay if you plan to visit the track.
Great, but why should I visit this track specifically?
Smoky Mountain Speedway has been newly remodeled for the 2019 season, but it hasn't lost its historical roots. The track is more than 40 years old and used to be paved. It has been raced on by NASCAR legends such as Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and David Pearson, among others. A lot has changed about "The Mountain" since then, but the roots remain strong and deep. The dirt track now hosts world famous series such as Lucas Oil, Schaeffer's Oil, Southern All Star, and more.
The track owners and event organizers are genuinely good people. When you support Smoky Mountain Speedway, you can breathe easy knowing you are supporting a local, small business and not a corporation somewhere. The owner Roger Sellers is a self-made businessman who worked hard for his success, but remains as humble as when he began. The event organizers, Casey Moses and Dustin Dunlap, are some of the hardest working people that the sport of dirt racing has ever seen.
The concession stand offers meals that easily rival the best to be found in the Smoky Mountains area. I know, that can be pretty hard to believe, but you'll have to take my word for it. Most concession stands at public events have generic foods that leave you feeling unsatisfied, but with barbecue sandwiches, mozzarella cheesesticks, chicken tenders, nachos and cheese, and a large variety of classics, you'll be standing in line all night wanting more.
The track serves alcohol. Need I say more? Whether you're enjoying a prolonged vacation or a simple night out, nothing pairs better with racing than beer does.
Pro tip: Currently, the track doesn't have a card reader, so I recommend bringing plenty of cash if you want to buy souvenirs or food.
If this article piqued your interest, the 2020 season will kick off before you know it. Check out this event schedule and tell me about your experience!
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