From the Rolex 24 at Daytona to Overland Expo and the Indy 500, these are America's must-see automotive events this year.
Chris PaukertFormer executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015.
Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
If you're like Roadshow's editorial team, you've got a bucket list of automotive experiences, car shows and races you're keen to check off. Unfortunately, for most of us, it's all but impossible to find the time and resources to tick more than one or two boxes off that checklist per year. But you've got to start somewhere, so why not start with us?
To help you plan, allow us to present Roadshow's list of must-see annual car events that take place right here in the US of A (sorry, no Goodwood Festival of Speed or Revival here). In other words, if one or more of your chosen events isn't doable for 2022, put the rough dates in your calendar for next year. Whether you're a motorsports diehard, a vintage car fanatic, a budding collector, an off-road maven or someone who just wants more cool car and motorcycle experiences in your life, our list has you covered, from name-brand icons to some events you probably haven't heard mentioned before. A number of these events are big-ticket, once-in-a-lifetime splurges, 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. 29-30
We begin our wish-list year with the event that happens first on the calendar, 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 multiple classes of racing, from purpose-built Daytona Prototype International (DPi) 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 fan, 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.
King of the Hammers: Feb. 5
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 races that combines desert racing and rock crawling. This year's event is actually stretching to 10 days, packing in more entertainment and racing action than ever.
Now solidly in its teenage years, Ultra4's King of the Hammers draws tens of thousands of spectators to Hammertown, a pop-up city in the middle of a dry lake bed in California's 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 event. For 2022, Hammertown opens Jan. 27 and closes Feb. 5, with the namesake main King of the Hammers race covering hundreds of miles on Saturday, Feb. 5. 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, those are common -- must be carried out on course by the racers themselves or in designated pit areas.
This race is tough, but even spectating takes genuine 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 -- you can't join 35,000 fans to the middle of nowhere and expect to have unfettered service. In general, if your idea of roughing it is more along the lines of glamping, KoH probably isn't a good fit for you.
Don't miss: Make sure to check out Friday's 4WP Every Man Challenge. If you can't relate to the big-dollar rigs of the race on Saturday, the Every Man Challenge, with its focus on stock and lightly modified vehicles, might just be for you.
Radwood: Various dates
Radwood, the 1980s and '90s-themed car show, is still in its infancy. Founded in 2017, its popularity continues to mushroom, and it's easy to appreciate why. Focused on automobiles produced from 1980 to 1999, Radwood doesn't just celebrate those rare and expensive models 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. Said another way, Radwood keeps it weird in the best way possible.
What started off as a one-off show in California's 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 in 2022. This year's calendar is still coalescing (likely due to evolving pandemic concerns), but the first event on the slate is going to be Feb. 26 in Austin, Texas, a rescheduling of an event originally scheduled for Oct. 9, 2021.
We at Roadshow have attended numerous Radwood events, including a particularly memorable Radwood LA in 2019, when we entered an ultra-low-mileage 1993 Prelude from Honda's personal collection and an ex-Jerry-Seinfeld 1993 Renntech E60 Mercedes-Benz. That said, the folks behind Radwood are open to all kinds of rides in all kinds of conditions and with all kinds of values. Displaying your 1980-1999 car or truck at the show is inexpensive and general admission is reasonable, too. Keep an eye on the traveling show's official website for future dates.
Don't miss: Period-appropriate attire and car-display accessories is absolutely encouraged. Radwood is your best excuse to seek out a pair of vintage Zubaz, or maybe splurge on a Lasonic double-cassette boombox to display in the trunk of your Nissan Pulsar NX.
Overlanding was already growing by leaps and bounds prior to COVID, but if anything, this vehicle-based adventure travel pastime has been turbocharged by the pandemic. Perhaps that should come as no surprise, because with its inherent emphasis on off-the-beaten-path exploration, camping and self reliance, overlanding is all but tailor-made for these socially distanced times.
Whether you're just looking to dip your hiking boot into this activity for the first time or you're or a seasoned pro with a dedicated off-road rig or an RV with piles of gear, there are few better places to learn more about this outdoor hobby and buy gear to support it than Overland Expo. This series of family-friendly events travels across the country from Arizona to Virginia between May and October, and naturally, there's plenty of camping space for attendees.
Overland Expo isn't just rows of hundreds of vendors and off-road builds of every shape, description and value, although that's a big part of its attraction. (You could probably roll into an OE Expo on a Friday with a bone-stock SUV, van or camper and roll out with the gear, contacts and skill to build a fully accoutered rig by the end of the weekend.) The secret sauce that makes Overland Expo both useful and inspiring are the related activities, which includes hundreds of hours of instructional classes on everything from excursion planning to off-road driving and riding techniques to how to cook in the wilderness and first-aid. There's even live music and food and beer tents offering pretty decent grub, as well as a film festival.
I attended Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, Arizona in late September 2021, and it was an almost overwhelming indoctrination into the hobby. I've been enjoying off-roading for over 15 years, and after attending, it's clear I've just scratched the surface when it comes to overlanding. If anything, the sheer scope of one of these events can be a little daunting, so bring a friend -- maybe even a four-legged one. (I've never seen so many dogs at any car-related event.)
Don't miss: Class time. Seriously, where else can you learn so much about wheeling, camping and self-sufficiency from experts in one place?
Indianapolis 500: May 29
A global 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 in the US. Hundreds of thousands flock to Indianapolis Motor Speedway (aka "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-lap 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 traditionally performed the song ahead of the race for some five decades, but following his passing, the tradition continues with other notable singers.
Blink and you'll miss the record-breaking Volkswagen Bonneville Jetta
Stare at the salt, and you can't help but know 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. If you're a casual automotive fan and need things like adjacent rock concerts and midways and swag to have a good time, this might not be the event for you. That said, anyone who is obsessed with going fast and with automotive history 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, back in 2018. Roadshow's own Emme Hall went 208 mph at Bonneville in 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.
Sadly, Bonneville Speed Week authorities are no strangers to cancellations, even before the pandemic. Despite extensive preservation efforts, deteriorating salt conditions have led to the nixing of their land-speed record attempts more than once in recent years. The 2022 proceedings have just been set for Aug. 6-12, so you might want to bump it to the top of your list because it's not clear how long this century-long tradition will be able to continue.
Don't miss: Bonneville Speed Week is very much 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.
Monterey Car Week: Aug. 12-21
Monterey Car Week is nothing less than the nexus of America's collector-car universe. This 10-day-long 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 untold millions pursuing. Luxury automakers and lifestyle companies 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 & Company, Russo and Steele, and RM Sotheby's.
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 chock-a-block with car-culture 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 back 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, A Motorsports Gathering, is an unjudged assembly of world-class vintage racing and street cars. Held in the garden-party-like setting of the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel, 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. 18. 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. 14, 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: Touring the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion pit area. The sights, sounds and yes, even the smells are not to be missed. Plus, you never know who you might bump into.
Woodward Dream Cruise: Aug. 20
Held every year on the third Saturday of August, Motown's Woodward Dream Cruise isn't just the world's largest cruise-in, it lays claim to being the world's biggest single-day car event, period. Running up and down Woodward Avenue, America's first paved street, 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 just limited 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 in the Motor City. These days, the Woodward Dream Cruise attracts somewhere around 40,000 to 50,000 classic and exotic cars. A big part of the allure is that 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: Taking a break for the onion-heavy sliders at Hunter House Hamburgers, a 1952 pillbox diner along Woodward in Birmingham.
The Race of Gentlemen: TBD
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 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. This year is the event's 10th anniversary.
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.
Dates for TROG 2022 have not yet been announced, but in past years, the event has been in the fall, typically in the late September to early October timeframe. Keep an eye on the event's official website for details, as well as any of TROG's other offshoot events.
Don't miss: Customs by the Sea -- this hot rod and classic car show is open to pre-1952 automobiles modified in period fashion.
Hershey National Fall Meet: Oct. 4-7
Known simply as "Hershey" to its legion of 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 very likely 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 anywhere, plus all the neat 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 gratis in the Music Box Theater.
24 Hours of Lemons: Various dates
If you have yet to get into auto racing because it's too costly or you think people just take motorsports too seriously, the 24 Hour of Lemons is for you. This is low-dollar, crap-can racing with a heaping helping of theatrics, hilarity and good ol' Yankee ingenuity. The racing isn't bad, either.
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 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."
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."
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.