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A hot rod fan’s guide to Gainesville
By Joe Kukura
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines for this year’s NHRA Gatornationals—one of drag racing’s biggest annual traditions for almost 50 years running. The Gatornationals are always held at the legendary Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville in March and are the first East Coast event on the National Hot Rod Association race calendar. The raceway at Gainesville is steeped in history and tradition, as the home of the first-ever 260 mph run, the first 270 mph run and the first 300 mph run. And the track hosts races nearly every weekend all year, not just for hot rods and funny cars, but also for dragsters, stock cars and motorcycles.
If you need tickets to this year’s Gatornationals, we’ll have to leave that to the folks at the ticket office. But if you need tips on places to stay, where to eat and things to do in Gainesville, here’s some advice to keep you in the fast lane when visiting the home of the Gatornationals.
Where to stay
Race fans will find no shortage of lodging in Gainesville, no matter how many of you there are or what size your travel budget. There’s a long list of hotels in Gainesville, though reservations are recommended the weekend of Gatornationals. The romantic route is available for those looking for bed-and-breakfasts. And if you’re traveling to north-central Florida in an RV or camper, the RV parks and campgrounds in Gainesville are always an outstanding option in the Sunshine State.
Where to eat
Whatever you’re hungry for, Gainesville is serving it! Check out these popular options for burgers, Italian food, pizza and seafood in Gainesville. And for the early birds, there’s also breakfast.
If you’d like a cocktail with that, there are a number of bars serving food that have a great atmosphere. Or if the “sauce” you prefer is barbecue sauce, barbecue fans can always find some good BBQ in Gainesville.
Activities for race fans
Got the need for speed? Gainesville has plenty of hot spots right up your alley. Skate Station Funworks is the only go-kart track in the county, and also has batting cages, rock climbing, mini golf and an arcade. You can also take in Florida Gators football at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium or Gator basketball (plus other sports) at the O’Connell Center.
For the true-blue racing fan, nothing beats a half-day class at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School. The Dragster Adventure allows you to actually drive a real hot rod and race on the Gainesville Raceway track! Check the Frank Hawley website for class dates and availability.

Gatornationals are an important pilgrimage that every stock car fan just has to make at least once. There is nothing like watching a big race like the Gatornationals alongside 30,000 other enthusiastic race fans. When you see those hot rods go around the quarter-mile at Gainesville, you’re in the “lap” of luxury.

PICTURED: Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville
Photo Courtesy of Visit Gainesville
PICTURED: Gatornationals
Photo Courtesy of Visit Gainesville
PICTURED: Gatornationals at the AutoPlus Raceway