Top 10 Races To See Before You Die

Troy Siahaan
by Troy Siahaan

If you’re reading this, then you understand the excitement of motorcycle racing. The technology behind the equipment is bested only by the talent and dedication of those bold enough to pilot them. And we can’t get enough of either.

Sure, watching the races from the comfort of your couch, beer in hand, is nice. But nothing compares to the atmosphere of actually attending a race in person. In our experience, anyone who starts a sentence with, “I was there when Kenny Roberts…” generally has our full attention. In this week’s Top 10, we look at the races you absolutely must attend in person before you kick the bucket. Why should you see these events? Easy – because you’ll create memories that’ll stay with you forever.

10. Barber Vintage Festival

Where else in the U.S. can you see all of yesteryear’s iconic and historic racing motorcycles all in one place? The Barber Vintage Festival brings together many of these famous racers from decades gone by to re-live their former glory. And we’re not talking about parade laps, either — these bikes are routinely raced just as hard by their current owners as they were in their heyday.

On top of all the cool bikes on display both on track and in the pits, the track itself has much to offer. From the expansive swap meet, to the amazing museum, if you call yourself a motorcycle enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to visit the Barber Vintage Festival.

9. Las Vegas Endurocross

If you don’t already know what this is, the best way I can describe Endurocross is carnage on two wheels. Think Supercross, Trials, and demolition derby and you start to get an idea of what Endurocross is all about. The SX aspect pits motocross bikes in an arena, racing through, around, or over dirt, sand, water, giant tires, logs, and even boulders (that’s the Trials part). The demolition derby is a natural byproduct of 15-plus racers trying to squeeze into the same spot, facing the same obstacles, all while navigating the course as fast as possible. Throw in the spectacle that is Las Vegas, and you have the makings for an event you absolutely can’t miss.

8. NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Four-Wide Nationals, Charlotte, NC

The numbers: 350-plus horsepower, sub seven-second quarter mile times, four lanes. If you’ve never seen motorcycle drag racing, the exhibition of pure, unadulterated horsepower is a sight to behold. Suzuki long ruled the roost with GS-based engines, until Harley/Buell came along –helped by a favorable V-twin rules change that allowed them to build monster billet air pumps and race them as “Buells” and “Harleys”. In 2014, the rules change yet again to help bring some parity back to the Twin vs. four-banger wars.

Whatever the rules, watching these jockeys trying to wrestle a purpose-built rocket down the quarter-mile is awesome, and the pissed-off roar each engine makes at full song is something a Youtube video can’t quite convey. And of course, the only thing better than watching two dragsters roaring down the quarter…is four!

7. Goodwood Festival Of Speed

Granted, Goodwood is also a car fest, but is that such a bad thing? The Goodwood Festival of Speed combines a diverse collection of historical cars, motorcycles, and often even the heroes who originally piloted them all in one place. Unlike the Barber Vintage Festival, Goodwood is a hillclimb event, and the course is essentially the driveway to the Goodwood House. It’s more parade than competition, but being able to see and hear history on wheels coming to life one more time is something special. Oh, and don’t forget to bring period-correct clothing, too!

6. Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

If the Goodwood Festival of Speed is a taste of what hill-climb competition is about, then you need to visit the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Now that the 12-mile, 156-turn course is completely paved, records are falling, and new classes are being introduced to accommodate all kinds of motorcycles, including sportbikes and electrics. The race starts at 9000 feet, climbing to over 14,000 feet at the finish, with steep drops or mountain faces there to meet the competitors if they make a mistake. And with nothing separating the spectators from the course (just look at the picture above for proof), you can get as close to the action as you dare.

5. Daytona Bike Week

With the multitude of things to do at Daytona during bike week, of course it would be included in this list – and we’re not even talking about the cruiser stuff. There’s dirt action with Supercross, then road racing takes place on the high banks during the Daytona 200. Lastly, did you know about the motorcycle demolition derby?

You read that right, a demolition derby for motorcycles. In this crazy sport you only lose if: 1) Your bike is too damaged to continue or, 2) You are too damaged to continue. While the majority of participants choose the agility of a scooter to wage their wars, the near indestructibility of something like a Harley Sportster may be a better choice. Between these three events, it’s just one more reason to make the pilgrimage to Daytona a priority at least once in your life.

4. 8-Hours Of Suzuka Endurance Race

When it comes to motorcycle endurance racing, Suzuka is the one to see. Sure there are longer races, but the manufacturers pull out all the stops to win at Suzuka. Whether it’s drafting the best riders from World Superbikes or MotoGP for one-off appearances, or paying extra attention to bike preparation beforehand, winning at Suzuka holds significant value.

It’s not just the manufacturers and teams who hold the race in high regard — the fans do too. There’s a buzz around the track wherever you go as everyone, even little kids, are excited about the race. Maybe the youngin’s are just amped to ride the ferris wheel, but whatever it is, that energy is infectious and it’s hard not to get caught up in the spectacle.

3. Flat Track On A Mile, Any Mile

I’m breaking the rules slightly for this one, but for good reason. A flat track race on a mile course is such a sight to behold, it doesn’t really matter which venue you go to. Whether it’s Springfield, Sacramento, Indy, Virginia (which is actually 1.25 miles!), or Santa Rosa, watching the swarm of flat trackers flying past, sometimes sideways, engines howling at 140 mph will raise the hair on the back of your neck. The guys race close, bang bars, and lay it all out on the line every race. An added bonus comes from the fans, who are deeply passionate about the sport. Try and get as close as possible for the maximum awe factor.

2. Valencia MotoGP

Spanish racing fans are crazy (in a good way), and since the Valencia round is the last stop of the MotoGP calendar, it represents the last chance for rambunctious GP fans to throw a three-day long party. Raise the enthusiasm meter even more if the points chase (in any of the three classes) hasn’t been decided, and raise it higher still if a Spanish rider is in the hunt for a championship. The bar gets raised yet again if, as in 2013, Spaniards have a chance at clinching all three championships.

Historically, crowds get rather large on race day and certain celebrities like Michael Jordan, Brad Pitt, and Tom Cruise have been known to make a stop to catch the action. Throughout the spectator areas fireworks abound, and it’s not an unusual sight to see a random car engine propped onto wooden pallets, a giant megaphone welded to its exhaust manifold. It’s sole purpose in life to generate massive amounts of noise. It’s absurd. It makes no sense. And it’s absolutely glorious. If you want to see MotoGP fandom on another level, get yourself to Valencia.

1. Isle Of Man TT

While Valencia MotoGP is a three-day long party, when it’s TT time at the Isle of Man, the party doesn’t stop for two weeks. In the rare chance you’ve read this far and haven’t heard of the race, check out the video below and then get lost down a rabbit hole of others from this legendary race.

Perhaps the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world, the most powerful bikes in the Senior TT are hitting 200 mph in certain areas, flying within inches of stone walls, curbs, homes, and pubs. Meanwhile, you, the spectator, are virtually in the thick of the action as many viewing locations are mere feet from the course. The entire island is nuts about the race, and while many of the big-name racers typically stick to their motorhomes, sometimes you’ll find the odd one hanging with the masses in the pubs or around town during their downtime.

Troy Siahaan
Troy Siahaan

Troy's been riding motorcycles and writing about them since 2006, getting his start at Rider Magazine. From there, he moved to Sport Rider Magazine before finally landing at in 2011. A lifelong gearhead who didn't fully immerse himself in motorcycles until his teenage years, Troy's interests have always been in technology, performance, and going fast. Naturally, racing was the perfect avenue to combine all three. Troy has been racing nearly as long as he's been riding and has competed at the AMA national level. He's also won multiple club races throughout the country, culminating in a Utah Sport Bike Association championship in 2011. He has been invited as a guest instructor for the Yamaha Champions Riding School, and when he's not out riding, he's either wrenching on bikes or watching MotoGP.

More by Troy Siahaan

Join the conversation
4 of 7 comments
  • Mahatma Mahatma on Feb 13, 2014

    If they were still doing Spa franchorchamps on motoGP,I'd still place it second to IoM.But it would have been a great second:)

    Great list

    Edit:Should be needless to say,but check out TT3D:closer to the edge.It's documovie from IoM which comes also not 3D :D

  • Wilbur Wilbur on Feb 21, 2014

    I was hoping #1 would be the Isle of Man! I'm going to make it over soon and bring a bike. They say you can ride the course. The Videos are Unreal!

    • See 1 previous
    • Mahatma Mahatma on Feb 27, 2014

      If you go there,I would recommend riding around the track very early in the morning (around 5am) rather than mad sunday.Do mad sunday,but be careful then as there are alot of nutters there then.