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  • Action on race day at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina
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    First Pit Stop: Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Fayetteville Street in Raleigh at dusk
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    Capital Culture in Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Winding along the Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway to Big Walker Lookout and Monster Rock in Wytheville, Virginia
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    Small-Town Revelry in Wytheville, Virginia

  • Visiting Heartwood Artisans Center for local crafts, music, food and culture in Abingdon, Virginia
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    Abingdon, Virginia: Tapestry of Cars, Music and Visual Arts

  • Aerial view of Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee
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    Bristol, Tennessee: Home of the Fastest Half-Mile

  • Unparalleled view of the Great Smoky Mountains, where one of the gateways is Knoxville, Tennessee
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    Mixing History and Fun in Knoxville, Tennessee

  • Awaiting bottling, barrels full of Troy & Sons’ moonshine, or “white whiskey,” at Asheville Distilling Co. in Asheville, North Carolina
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    Asheville, North Carolina: The Finish Line

Tending to the still at Appalachian Mountain Spirits, halfway between Abingdon and Wytheville, Virginia
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Distilling in the Hills and Racing

  • Route distance:
    1059.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    6 days

Where Moonshine History and NASCAR Come Together

Even before the American Revolution, people were making unaged corn whiskey in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia using a recipe distilled from their European roots, abundant corn crop and spring water running from the Appalachian Mountains. During Prohibition, as the law hunted stills, the stills crept further into the mountains. Moonshine runners turbo-charged car engines, removed seats and modified rear suspensions to bear heavy loads. For fun, runners often raced each other, eventually leading to the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) in 1948. Today, stock cars, drag racers, trucks and other vehicles compete on certified tracks. Follow this itinerary to team shops, halls of fame and fabled routes run by the bootleggers. Between speedways, stop at distilleries, restaurants and bars that honor the craft.

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Action on race day at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina
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First Pit Stop: Charlotte, North Carolina

Fly into the cosmopolitan and friendly city of Charlotte via Charlotte Douglas International Airport to plunge straight into the capital of racing, with its events, team shops and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Devote at least half a day to the Hall in uptown Charlotte, where you can pump a jack, change a tire, fuel a race car against the clock in the pit stop simulator and peek at Junior Johnson’s moonshine still. Time your visit to catch a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway just north of Charlotte in Concord. The big ones are the Coca-Cola 600 in late May and the Bank of America 500 in early October. Main events are rivaled by pre- and post-race festivities like the 600 Festival. Try the NASCAR Racing Experience that puts you on the track and in the driver’s seat of a real race car. A kilometer-and-a-half away from the track, drop by Hendrick Motorsports, where you can see cars being prepped for race day before heading northeast to Raleigh.

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269 km
3 hours by car
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Fayetteville Street in Raleigh at dusk
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Capital Culture in Raleigh, North Carolina

A trip to modern-meets-historic Raleigh is well worth the slight detour to enjoy its booming music and beverage scenes. This energetic destination, innovation center and capital of North Carolina is also home to more than 25 breweries. Get your fill at the Raleigh Beer Garden, known as the world’s largest and perfect for sampling a more modern addition to the Southeast’s beverage-production heritage (though, small-batch distilleries can be found here as well). Bluegrass and rock are just two of the live music genres that can be enjoyed nightly in Raleigh, which touts itself as having “the most music in North Carolina.” Before getting back on track to Virginia, round out your trip with a stop in a local restaurant or coffee shop. Don’t be afraid to ask a friendly local for a recommendation. Raleigh may be a growing metropolis, but it’s still full of small-town charm.

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309 km
4 hours by car
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Winding along the Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway to Big Walker Lookout and Monster Rock in Wytheville, Virginia
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Small-Town Revelry in Wytheville, Virginia

With your need for speed and spirits satisfied (at least momentarily), slow down in Wytheville. This historic mountain town at the crossroads of two major interstates is an ideal hub for exploring. Wind along Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway to Big Walker Lookout, a 30-meter tower surveying farms and forests. Hike Monster Rock – the name refers to the craggy outcrop’s killer view, not its level of difficulty – then linger at BW Country Store for ice cream or fudge, souvenirs by local artisans and live music on the porch on weekends during warmer months. Rev up the night at Wythe Raceway. There’s live action on this dirt track most Saturday nights; arrive by 5 p.m. to claim a seat in the wooden grandstand or a hillside spot for your lawn chair. Qualifying laps begin around 7 p.m. for 8 p.m. races, but there’s plenty to do while you wait: Hit the concession for fried bologna, send children to the arcade and revel in the small-town Saturday night. “The same 2,000 or 3,000 people every week pack the place,” reports driver Caleb Holman, who got his start here. Enjoy the immersion in local culture and the mountain views; there’s even more of it to come at your next stop.

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90 km
1 hour by car
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Visiting Heartwood Artisans Center for local crafts, music, food and culture in Abingdon, Virginia
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Abingdon, Virginia: Tapestry of Cars, Music and Visual Arts

Head about an hour southwest to Abington, a lively small town surrounded by the wilderness of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Caleb Holman is now based here as a driver with Henderson Motorsports. “If the gate’s open, come on in,” he says. If Holman’s not out racing, chances are you’ll find him onsite, along with his boss’ collection of vintage Corvettes, Thunderbirds and the like, set against a faux 1950s-style diner. Abingdon is a gateway to Southwest Virginia’s cultural tapestry of visual art and American roots music. Visit Heartwood to shop local artisans’ wares or hear live music, and to pick up a brochure to help you discover The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail. Running past wayside exhibits and music venues, the Trail meanders through Franklin County, where a history of moonshining lives on.

27 km
1 hour by car
05
Aerial view of Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee
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Bristol, Tennessee: Home of the Fastest Half-Mile

After your cultural tour, discover a place where peaceful mountains, rolling hills and tranquil lakes converge. In Bristol, hear the soft strains of music history at the new Birthplace of Country Music or the hard-driving sounds of one of the country’s most popular NASCAR venues, Bristol Motor Speedway. Legendary and known as the “world’s fastest half-mile,” the speedway is one of the largest sporting venues in the world with seating for 160,000. Tours include a lap around the track and a trip down Thunder Valley, the .40-kilometer dragstrip. Make time to tour the magnificent Bristol Caverns and walk along the banks of the ancient Underground River that carved these vaulted chambers millions of years ago. Explore downtown Bristol, whose State Street is actually the state line between Tennessee and Virginia. Pop in and out of boutiques and antique shops. Hike or paddle boat year round at the beautiful 890-hectare Steele Creek Park. Bonus: About half-an-hour west of Bristol – en route to your next destination, Knoxville – Kingsport Speedway hosts near-weekly races from late March through late September.

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183 km
2 hours by car
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Unparalleled view of the Great Smoky Mountains, where one of the gateways is Knoxville, Tennessee
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Mixing History and Fun in Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville is often called the capital of Appalachia. Its quirky blend of art and music, nature, sports and history creates a vibrant city. In and around Knoxville, the White Lightning Trail (one of the state's 16 culturally inspired touring trails) connects bootlegging and racing via interpretive and historic stops. You might take a break at Calhoun’s Bearden Hill along the original Thunder Road, the legendary bootlegger run that inspired a ballad and film in the late 1950s. Order the Thunder Road pilsner micro-brewed onsite, then tiptoe through Old Gray Cemetery in search of the hollowed-out monument that served as a moonshine drop-off point. As you follow the trail, explore the historic Old City district northeast of downtown. This turn-of-the-20th-century formerly raucous area of town is now a mix of retail, restaurants, bars and events retrofitted into yesteryear architecture. Enjoy music, food and shopping at Market Square, Krutch Park, Gay Street’s shops and bars and rest a bit before returning back east to North Carolina.

187 km
2 hours by car
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Awaiting bottling, barrels full of Troy & Sons’ moonshine, or “white whiskey,” at Asheville Distilling Co. in Asheville, North Carolina
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Asheville, North Carolina: The Finish Line

Finish strong in Asheville, known for its vibrant arts scene, independent restaurants, myriad breweries, and the famed estate of George Vanderbilt, The Biltmore. Plan a scenic drive from the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. Maneuvering the Parkway’s twists and turns as you eye its forested, mountainous scenery, it’s easy to imagine when bootleggers lived here. In an ode to that craft, two distilleries operate in and near the city today: Troy & Sons and Howling Moon. Troy & Sons tours are complimentary, brief and followed by tastings. Depending on what’s available, the tasting might feature their Oak Reserve, a moonshine-style whiskey mellowed in bourbon barrels for a golden color and caramel notes. Once you’ve taken it all in, Asheville Regional Airport is just 14 kilometers south of the city, or drive two hours back to Charlotte to catch an international flight.