NASCAR is one of the country's most viewed professional sports and holds 17 of the top 20 attended single-day sporting events. Take a turn around NASCAR's most infamous race tracks.
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Located on 870 acres of land, the Atlanta Motor Speedway is just 30 minutes south of its namesake city. It was built in 1959 and 1960, and held its first race - the Dixie 200 - on July 31, 1960. It was purchased by new ownership in 1990, and a series of major renovations have changed the speedway into a modern, multipurpose venue. It hosts two NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races every year. These are the largest sporting events in the state of Georgia.
Bristol Motor Speedway
Almost a perfect half-mile, Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the shortest tracks in NASCAR. It was built in 1960 on what was once an old dairy farm. The idea behind the abbreviated layout was to lend the track a more intimate feel than conventional speedways. The track's turns are banked at 36°, the steepest angles in official stock car racing. In 1992, it became the first track on the circuit to be surfaced entirely in concrete. Today, it has the capacity to hold more than 160,000 spectators, up from 18,000 when it first opened.
Darlington, South Carolina
With its distinctive egg-shaped design, Darlington Raceway is considered the toughest track in NASCAR. It was built in 1949, at the dawn of the sport, on an old peanut farm in rural South Carolina. Though Darlington was originally designed as an oval-shaped track, the west end was narrowed during construction so as not to interfere with a nearby minnow pond. The first Southern 500 was held at the track on Labor Day 1950. It was a roaring success, drawing crowds more than twice as large as expected. Today, both the track and the race are among the NASCAR elite.
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida
The Daytona 500 is one of the most well-known sporting events in the world. It has been held at the Daytona International Speedway since the track first opened in 1959. The speedway replaced the old beach and road courses of the 1940s and 1950s, on which professional stock car racing first got started. More racing events are held at Daytona than any other track in the United States. A recently added tourist facility called Daytona USA offers visitors a chance to learn about NASCAR and "The World's Greatest Race."
Often called the most beautiful sports facility in America, Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of the youngest tracks on the NASCAR circuit. It was built in 1993 and 1994 to help revitalize the region south of Miami in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. The facility, with its lively Art Deco architecture, opened in November 1995 to a sellout crowd of 60,000 racing fans. Originally a quad-oval design with short chutes between the turns, the track was recently converted into a true oval with continuous turns, a design that encourages more competitive racing.
Lowe's Motor Speedway
Concord, North Carolina
Located on 2,000-plus acres in Concord, NC, Lowe's Motor Speedway is the largest sports facility in the Southeast. It can accommodate over 215,000 spectators, and even has year-round living accommodations (52 condominiums) above Turn One. It was designed and built in 1959 and held its first race -- the World 600 -- the following year. In 1992, with the addition of a 1,200-fixture permanent lighting system, the speedway became the first track to host night racing.
Michigan International Speedway
The largest sports arena in the state, Michigan International Speedway is one of the premier tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Its wide, high-banking turns allow drivers to race three and four abreast around the 2-mile track. It was designed and built in 1967 by Charles Moneypenny, the same man who designed the Daytona International Speedway. In 1995, the track was resurfaced with a polymer-enhanced asphalt specifically formulated for high-banked racing and to withstand long, cold Michigan winters.
New Hampshire International Speedway
Loudon, New Hampshire
Opened in 1990, the New Hampshire International Speedway hosts the two largest spectator sporting events in New England. Over 101,000 guests attend the New England 300 and the Sylvania 300, both part of the NASCAR Nextel Cup series, each year. People travel from Boston, which is an hour away, and Portland, Maine, and Providence, R.I., which are both two hours away, to watch stock car racing. Even Canadians come down to watch the excitement of this uniquely American sport.
North Carolina Speedway
Rockingham, North Carolina
Located in the very heart of stock car country, North Carolina Speedway is an important stop on the NASCAR circuit. A joint venture between Darlington Raceway builder Harold Brasington and landowner Bill Land, the track first opened to the public on Oct. 31, 1965. Originally the speedway was a perfect mile, but with flat turns, which slowed down the racing. In 1969, the track was extended by 90 feet and the turns were banked, allowing racers to reach higher speeds.
The undisputed king of stock car tracks, Talladega Superspeedway was designed to be the largest, fastest and most competitive motor sports facility in the world. It holds the fastest qualifying mark in NASCAR history -- 212.809 mph, set by Bill Elliott in April 1987. It also holds the record for the fastest 500-mile Winston Cup race, set in May 1997 by Mark Martin in 2 hours, 39 minutes and 18 seconds. The facility opened in September 1969, cost over $4 million to build and seats 143,000 spectators.