On holiday in the Midwest – Speedway

Back in April I spent two weeks in the Midwest – Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. After a night in Chicago we headed up to Manistee National Forest for some hiking, before coming back down to South Bend for the weekend. James is teaching at the university there, Notre Dame, so of course our friends wanted to see where he lived and the university. South Bend was so pretty in the spring, blue skies and blossom all over.

I visited back in September and wrote this post with some ideas about what you can do in South Bend. This time round, we did much of the same, with one entirely new experience…


I had never heard of Speedway before – it is not a big thing in the UK (is it even a thing at all?!) It involves a 400m motor racing track and drivers in old, beat-up cars. Races start in the early evening and go on until after dark. But races do not just involve getting around the track as fast as possible…

We were nervous when we arrived, not sure what to expect and whether Speedway would actually be particularly fun. We felt slightly more scared when we paid our entry fee ($12 each) and walked in to realise that every single person there was white and weighed at least double what we did. I have never been anywhere where so many people were so fat. I am pretty sure we were the only people at that event that would not be classified medically overweight….!! But after our experiences at Walmart (where every item of food is supersized and filled with sugar) I suppose that’s not too surprising. 

And then the races began. Throughout the night was the demolition derby, where a bunch of cars were locked into the centre of the track, surrounded by tyres, and had to bash into each other until the last man standing – the last car running – would win. This was pretty brutal. In each round, red flags went up a number of times meaning that a driver was injured or a car was at risk of bursting into flames. At those points, the bashing into each other would stop while the driver was removed and the firemen checked what was going on. Then the flag would be lowered and it would all start again. We saw one driver actually get knocked unconscious and take a long time before he was able to climb out of the car and walk shakily over to a waiting ambulance to be checked.

Then there was the backwards race – which is exactly as it sounds. 10 or so cars racing laps around the track backwards, repeatedly skidding off the track and into each other. In another race, the entire track was sprayed with soap beforehand to make it extra slippy and difficult. And then my favourite race – the track absolutely filled with over 20 cars, and a pole placed in the middle of the track right in front of us. The cars had to drive a tight circle around the pole on every lap, including on the first lap. Of course this led to so many crashes! At one point a bit of burning rubber flew up from the track and reached us, standing right at the top of the grandstand looking down.

The whole atmosphere was fantastic, everyone having fun in the sun, drinking beers, eating HUGE bags of popcorn or (and) fries, cheering on their favourite drivers. There were 3 proposals announced from the commentary box, and the commentator clearly knew most of the attendees by name. In fact, most people there seemed to know each other and know at least one of the drivers.

If you are visiting Indiana and can get yourself along to a speedway event – I would definitely recommend it! A real slice of American culture for this urban Brit, and genuinely so much fun.




  1. Hi! I have never been to a demolition derby before but here in South Florida we have something call Mud Bog racing… which is exactly what it sounds like – big trucks and other vehicles on giant tires (one was called “Rolling Porch” because it was literally a porch on wheels) that race through pits filled with mud. I have also been to a dirt track race in Hendry County, FL, which is in the middle of the state. It was a great atmosphere, like the race you were at, because everyone seemed to know each other and were so nice! Have fun on your trip.

  2. Those events happen all over the country. Next time you’ll have to track down a Figure 8 race at a local fair (summertime and autumn). Figure 8’s make demolition derbies look tame.

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