My six year old wants to go to a car race. Help!
March 27, 2007 5:10 PM   Subscribe

[BayAreaCarRacingFilter]: My son is six. He loves the movie Cars. He reallyreallyreally wants me to take him to a race -- he wants to see a big oval track spectacle, as glamorized in the movie. I want to be a good dad and oblige him, but we live in the Bay Area (specifically, San Mateo County), and as far as I can tell, my options are limited.

So he's all of six and not terribly discriminating, but it still seems as if my options for taking him to a race in this area are pretty limited. I know there's Infineon Raceway in Santa Rosa, but looking at their schedule for the rest of the year, I'm not seeing anything that sounds like the sort of race he'd like -- I see lots of club days and test days, but few actual races (and no NASCAR races, unless I'm blind). I know there are other smaller tracks (e.g., Altamont Motorsports Park), that do offer some lower rung NASCAR-series races, but I think he wants the excitement of seeing a big race, and I get the sense that the races at Altamont are much smaller affairs. But I could be 100% wrong, as I've never been to a race myself, much less a race at Altamont. and beyond those two tracks (and Laguna Seca in Monterey, which would be a long haul), I'm not sure what else this area has to offer to race fans. Any suggestions?
posted by mosk to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
if you can wait til the summer, there's the San Jose Grand Prix.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:22 PM on March 27, 2007

I was going to suggest Infinion. At 6 yrs of age how picky can he be? I'm pretty sure any race would thrill him to pieces! See what they have and make a day of it.

BTW, Infinion is in Sonoma at Hwy 116 & 37.

Have fun!!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 5:23 PM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: June 24, Sonoma, California.
posted by Frank Grimes at 5:27 PM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: Even a small race will be loud and awesome to him -- and probably to you, too.

I have a good friend who takes his kids to sprint car races all the time in California and to the occasional NASCAR race elsewhere, and the kids like the smaller track races more, because they seem quicker, less boring, and have more of what children consider to be action.

As long as there's a track full of loud racecars, your six year old will likely be satisfied. Then if he's really super into it, work your way up to NASCAR, which is much more of an endurance thing (for the spectator as much as for the race team).

It looks like there's a race scheduled for March 31, 2007 at the Antioch Speedway, with Dirt Modifieds, Wingless Sprints, Dwarf Cars, and Pure Stocks. That would probably fit the bill nicely.
posted by The World Famous at 5:33 PM on March 27, 2007

You're right, the big tracks are few and far between in most of California. The good news is that the medium-sized tracks, like Altamont, can provide puh-lenty of excitement for kids.

I grew up seeing low-ish rung stock-car races every Friday night in rural Western New York, and even that somewhat podunk track had the three primary ingredients for excitement: a) heroes; b) villains; and c) crashes.

Leave it to your son -- he'll find a way to assign the roles.

Although I've moved on to live in the big cities as an adult, some of my favorite memories of growing up are based on our visits to the track. I'd seriously consider giving Altamont a shot, as they allow many flavors of Nascar-sponsored racing. Good luck.

PS: FWIW, Grand Prix races don't allow you to watch all the action all the time; oval tracks give you the big-picture view of everything unfolding at once. My take, for what it's worth.
posted by diastematic at 5:34 PM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: My kids love "Cars" too. My daughter knows NASCAR drivers and their numbers. We've never have anything approaching a real race track in Honolulu, and recently lost the only hobby track.

But even that sad little track, lost in the dry plains of Ewa, made my kids' hearts go pitter patter. Sure, there were no gleaming rows of stock cars, just some kids tinkering with cars and motorcycles, but their brains filled in the rest. It was motorsports, regardless of scale, and they were just as happy to watch teens goof around on rice rockets as they were funnycar drag races.

Frankly, I think they just liked being out and doing something more than going to the park. That counts for a lot. So rather than waiting for a big race, I'd go ahead and find the nearest, soonest motorsports gathering. I really don't think your six your old son will be underwhelmed at all.
posted by pzarquon at 5:56 PM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: Since you are in the Bay Area, you could even take your son on a tour of the Pixar campus in Emeryville. Even though it's not the real thing, you son will likely appreciate the behind-the-scenes process of animation. There is a lot of cool original artwork from the movie on display and I'm sure that you would appreciate (though I'm not sure you would be able to access) the rendering farm.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 6:02 PM on March 27, 2007

Infineon isn't an oval anyways... it's a road course. That's probably why there aren't lower level NASCAR races.
posted by smackfu at 6:15 PM on March 27, 2007

Apropos of nothin', mosk, I like how you try to please your little boy.
Mine is a scant 7 months old, and some day he'll see "Cars' and I will think of you...
posted by Dizzy at 6:16 PM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: How about NHRA drag racing? It isn't circular track, but for a little kid it might be even more fun. It's big and loud and smokey and stinky and exciting, and the cars look really cool, and the motorcycles look even cooler, and there's a winner every few minutes. There's an NHRA race in Sonoma July 27-29. You can get tickets here. (Sorry, they ain't cheap.)

Another possibility is dirt-track racing. Here's a list of tracks in the Bay area. Or there's motocross.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:29 PM on March 27, 2007

Wow, I must say that after becoming disillusioned with NASCAR these past few years, this thread actually brought a little of the wonder back to me.

Sonoma/Infineon is one of my favorite tracks to watch, but on TV. From what I understand, the views at road courses are extremely limited.

I'd take him to Altamont to satisfy his appetite then plan for a larger event later. There is a truck series race at Las Vegas in September. Las Vegas is a great track and is often described as a jewel out in the desert. Corny, but it definitely has a "Cars" feel to it. A little bit of a haul, yes, but if you plan ahead it may be worth it. There are more kid-friendly things to do in Vegas than one might think. There are also lots of chances to meet drivers and reasonably-priced places to stay (if you plan right).
posted by bristolcat at 6:29 PM on March 27, 2007

I loved the local bottom-tier stock car racing at our local middle-of-nowhere track as a kid. I think I'd have found NASCAR-style racing to be too polished and separated from the action; you left a Brighton race smelling of fumes, and there's a lot more drama when there's a crash and it's someone local and that was his only car to race.
posted by mendel at 6:34 PM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: I second the NHRA drag racing, also at Infineon. I think both you and your son will love it - just be sure to go with ear plugs. Make sure to roam around the pits. He will be able to meet and get the autographs of drivers, too. What could be cooler than that? The big race is July 27-29th. You might want to go on Friday if you can swing it. They qualify on Friday, and it's the only day of the weekend that they run at night. The flames from the 8000 (yes, 8000) horsepower motors is seriously intense. You just haven't lived life until you've seen one of these cars go 0-100 mph in 0.8 seconds and 0-335 in 4.5 seconds.

I'd also second the Antioch day someone mentioned above with Sprint cars, Dwarf cars, etc. I'd bet he'd love it.

You know, if you really want to thrill him, you could take him to a quarter midget race. These are cars that kids drive (from 5-16 years old). Of course, he might end up wanting one right away. I know I did, and I ended up driving for years. The track I drove it is still active in San Jose: It looks like there is a club in Livermore, too ( As far as injuries are concerned, the cars are very safe. The insurance is cheaper for these tracks than for little league. It ain't free, though, but you can do it for a reasonable amount of money if you don't plan to win everything. Race for the fun of it.

RE: NASCAR, you might have missed the poster above that pointed out that there is a NASCAR Cup race at Infineon this summer. Aside from Vegas, there is also a race in SoCal, in Fontana (east of LA). Unlike the Vegas race, you could couple this one with Disneyland (although the next one isn't until Sept.)

One other thought for you: autocrossing. This is a form of racing where people drive around a course of pilons in a large parking lot. There are often all sorts of beautiful and diverse cars that show up - it's almost as much car show as race. Check out the Bay Area Autocross Forum (

Other considerations: the NHRA and NASCAR race are bigger commitments. You'll likely spend at least $100 and getting in and out of the track can be horrendous, particularly for the NASCAR race. The local races will be much cheaper and easier, and I'd agree with the rest that your son will likely love it. Try a small race and a big race if you can. The easiest big one is the NHRA race on Friday, since it is less busy than race day and is cheaper. Have fun!
posted by SciGuy at 6:59 PM on March 27, 2007

Cool facts about Top Fuel dragsters:

One Top Fuel dragster's 500-cubic-inch Hemi engine makes more horsepower than the first four rows at the Daytona 500.

A stock Dodge Hemi V-8 engine cannot produce enough power to drive the dragster's supercharger.

With 3000 CFM of air being rammed in by the supercharger on overdrive, the fuel mixture is compressed into a near-solid form before ignition. Cylinders run on the verge of hydraulic lock at full throttle.

Nitromethane burns yellow. The spectacular white flame seen above the stacks at night is raw burning hydrogen, separated from atmospheric water vapor by the searing heat of the exhaust gases.

Spark plug electrodes can be totally consumed during a single pass. After half-distance, the engine is dieseling from compression plus the glow of exhaust valves at 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. The engine is shut down by cutting the fuel flow.

(and more...)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:23 PM on March 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd also recommend making a trip to Fontana for the California 500 -- Sunday, September 2, 2007. Infineon Raceway would be a road course for NASCAR, so where you sit makes all the difference. The Fontana track is a more traditional oval, just like the one from Cars, so it's easier to get a "good" seat.

Fontana is a remarkably shitty place to visit, so I'd double the recommendation to make it a big vacation with Disneyland, etc.
posted by frogan at 8:52 PM on March 27, 2007

Not quite the same thing, but my pops took me and my brother to a slot car track when we were around that age. Not as loud, but big fun controlling the cars.
posted by Marky at 9:09 PM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: Laguna Seca isn't much of a 'long haul'. From San Mateo, it's about 90-100 minutes south compared to 60-70 minutes to head north to Infineon. There's some annual race a Laguna around mid-July that's apparently is very popular. The town is packed that week with racing fans.

Between that and the Aquarium, Monterey is a great weekend destination to thrill a young kid.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:16 PM on March 27, 2007

I grew up around my dad engineered and built NASCAR engines ...and I would say that you'd probably enjoy your local Friday night stock car races *more* than a NASCAR event with a 6 year old.

NASCAR isn't what it used to be. It's a huge, huge, huge license to print money. Everything there is insanely expensive. Tickets, refreshments, programs, it's like going to the circus...but with no cotton candy. Don't get me wrong, I still go to the track when I get tix and pit passes, but there's almost no chance I'd drop half a grand to take my son in such a way that he would be safe.

Whereas your local track...oh man...that's where the real racing happens. Folks that build and drive their own cars. Dust flying, engines roaring, fans's absolute heaven for racing fans. I love, love, love the local tracks.

Your son would get a chance to talk to race car drivers, see the engines, maybe even sit in the driver's seat of one of those heavenly growling beasts.

Really. Local stock car races. That's where the love is these days.

A note: Get earplugs or sound barrier earphones for your son. He'll be exposed to noise levels equal to a jet plane taking off...for hours. I lost a good part of my hearing range as a kid because I spent so much time around tracks. (The subsequent punk rock and heavy metal years didn't help either...but the loss definitely started in the garages.)
posted by dejah420 at 10:47 PM on March 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nthing the recommendations to find a small track. Thirty years ago, my dad used to take me to dirt track sprint car races (screaming loud, mud flying into the stands, cars rolling 200 feet from where you're sitting) at Big H near Houston, and I still remember the experience -- even though I've never really been able to get "into" racing. Part of each Friday's schedule was a demolition derby, which I can pretty much guarantee your son would get a kick out of.

Another fun option (not as an alternative to a stock car race, but just a suggestion of something else he might also enjoy) would be motocross.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:41 AM on March 28, 2007

Two things to consider:

* given the size of a 6 year old vs. a car, even a small track will be huge compared to him
* the smaller the track, the more often cars will pass or will be near to where you are sitting, ergo: more excitement!

And, seconding dejah420's tip: use earplugs!
posted by lodev at 4:59 AM on March 28, 2007

Seconding nakedcodemonkey. Take him down to Monterey to Laguna Seca Raceway(arguably the best racetrack in the U.S.) to see the U.S. Sports Car Invitational in May. It'll be loud, fast and incredibly fun, and children under 12 get in free!
posted by saladin at 6:48 AM on March 28, 2007

There's another fun, wild event you can take him to that'll have a LOT of action, and you have an entire weekend to go see it: the 24 Hours of LEMONS! Wrecks, beating on cars with sledgehammers, collisions, amateurs, dummies on the track, steel chickens welded to the roof, and so much more. This is at Altamont, a small course, and will be in July, iirc.
posted by wzcx at 10:08 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all so much -- so many excellent answers! It's funny, I've worked on my own cars since high school, and am a fairly adept shade tree mechanic, but I never got into the racing scene myself -- too many other interests, I guess, So it's fun seeing my son come at this with so much enthusiasm, because it almost feels like a guilty pleasure for me. Anyway, I greatly appreciate the time and consideration that went into your suggestions, and I look forward to brining our son to a number of different racing events this summer -- we'll try to take in some dirt track races, some ovals at Altamont, and maybe a NASCAR-series or NHRA drag race. Looks like Aaron and I are going to have a fun summer. :-)

(And thanks to those that suggest ear plugs -- also a great idea!)
posted by mosk at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: Er..."bringing". We'll save the brining for the Thanksgiving turkey...
posted by mosk at 10:56 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: Update/resolution:

Well, we never actually made it to a race as fans last year, but we did manage to do some go-kart racing while on vacation, and then again when we got home, and that really gave my son what he wanted. In each case, he was able to ride with me while I drove, and he was really, really happy. The first place we raced at (at a miniature golf/kart racing place along the California Central Coast) had actual side-by-side racing, and we got to maneuver through a field of other karts and drivers, and really do some racing. This was easily the best experience, and the one he still remembers as the most fun. Subsequently, we did a little racing closer to home, but the local facility has you race against the clock, which isn't nearly as much fun to a six year old (or to a 44 year old, for that matter).

Anyway, I'm going to try to get him to a dirt track race some time this year; he's much more mature at seven than he was at six, and the things that I was worried about last year, like the noise, don't seem likely to be issues now.

Thanks again for the excellent suggestions within this thread.
posted by mosk at 8:16 PM on February 4, 2008

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