As you race to make plans to visit North Carolina, you’ll find there’s so much to experience both on and off the track. Build a full itinerary thanks to the new Moonshine and Motorsports Trail developed by the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Begin and end the trail in North Wilkesboro to form your own speedway oval (and download the PDF of that itinerary here), or extend your route to the coast – whatever shape your trail takes, you can load it up with NC flavor.
Of all the places in North Carolina's moonshine and motorsports story, Wilkes County earns a giant “X” on the map (and the illustrious title of “Moonshine Capital of the World”). In the 1950s and ‘60s, moonshine hauler and local NASCAR legend Junior Johnson steered North Wilkesboro Speedway to fame, and today this original NASCAR track is gearing up to host the 2023 All-Star Race on May 21.
In the NC foothills, whiskey makers co-opted steam engine technology from the railroads to build stills that produced exceptional moonshine. They delivered their premium hooch in cars re-engineered for speed and nimbleness to outrun federal agents – and NASCAR was born.
For motorsports: North Wilkesboro Speedway, a trail site that opened in 1948, returned to action in 2022 with a grassroots Racetrack Revival championed by NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the event’s wild success prompted the All-Star Race decision as part of the association’s 75th anniversary. Wilkesboro Dragway, NC’s oldest dragstrip, is another option for action in the area.
For moonshine: Start with Copper Barrel Distillery and Call Family Distillers, owned by the son of the late Willie Clay “The Uncatchable” Call, a bootlegger friend of Junior Johnson. Both distilleries serve elevated cocktails and straight-from-the-bottle pours.
For a different glimpse of moonshine history, head to Stone Mountain State Park. Known for its 600-foot granite dome, this trail stop was once a choice location for the moonshine trade. Pro tip: Sticking to the trails helps reduce disturbance.
For motorsports: Find an off-trail stop in Newton. In 1955, Junior Johnson scored his first Cup victory at Hickory Motor Speedway, a short track that earned the reputation “Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars” for the wins by Johnson, Lee and Richard Petty, and Ned Jarrett. The current race lineup includes the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series.
For moonshine: Tap into spirits history at South Mountain Distilling in Connelly Springs. The distillery draws on whiskey and brandy recipes from owner Don Smith’s family. In Hickory, make an appointment to tour Gunpowder Creek Distillers and taste Stillhouse Forty-Four Corn Whiskey and other small-batch spirits.
The Queen City was the site of NASCAR’s first Strictly Stock Series race (now the Cup Series) in 1949 and is home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, part of the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail. Charlotte also anchors a region with a number of NASCAR teams in residence.
For motorsports: The Hall of Fame is a must-visit site for entry-level interest, die-hard dedication and everything in between. Among the highlights: a custom-built still from Junior Johnson; storied racecars displayed on Glory Road, a track banked at angles found at speedways; a hands-on pit crew challenge; and a racing simulator.
From Charlotte, it’s a 30-mile shot to Mooresville, home of the NC Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Memory Lane museum, and race shops including JR Motorsports, Kyle Busch Motorsports and Team Penske Retail Store. Keep driving to reach Statesville, touted as the “Liquor Capital of the World” in the 1880s, where Southern Distilling offers a line of refined spirits made with locally sourced ingredients. On the return trip, swing by Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville.
For moonshine: Craft beverages thrive in Charlotte. While most distillers favor refined spirits, Great Wagon Road Distilling harnesses moonshine’s raw power in its Drumlish Poteen Carolina Whiskey. Or check cocktail menus for drinks such as the Moscow Muleshine at The Cowfish or Bramble On at Midwood Smokehouse.
For motorsports: At Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, race fans fill the stands for the Coca-Cola 600, the Bank of America ROVAL 400 and other events. The 2,000-acre complex includes the ZMAX Dragway, the country’s only all-concrete, four-lane dragstrip, plus a clay oval for dirt racing. Take a tour, line up on the Kart Track or get behind the wheel with a racing school experience.
Check more race shops off your list at Hendrick Motorsports, RFK Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing in neighboring Kannapolis. But the most compelling reason to visit Kannapolis is Dale Earnhardt Plaza in the hero’s hometown. As the centerpiece of The Dale Trail, the plaza displays a 9-foot bronze statue that sculptor Clyde Ross Morgan loaded with symbolic touches reflecting the life of the popular driver.
For moonshine: Plan a behind-the-bars tour and tasting at Southern Grace Distilleries, located in a former prison in Mount Pleasant.
For motorsports: Its full name is Rockingham Speedway and Entertainment Complex, but fans call it The Rock. A key stop on the trail, it opened in 1965 as the North Carolina Motor Speedway. Junior Johnson drove his last race here in 1966. The track’s final Cup Series race was 2004’s unforgettable Subway 400, which saw driver Carl Young escape unscathed from a wild crash and Matt Kenseth beat Kasey Kahne by 0.01 seconds.
Find context for moonshine and motorsports heritage at the NC Museum of History. This trail stop features a No. 3 car driven by Dale Earnhardt, a No. 43 car driven by Richard Petty, and the NC Sports Hall of Fame that honors champion drivers and motorsports trailblazers.
For motorsports: South of downtown, Wake County Speedway earned the nickname “America’s Favorite Bullring” for its tight-cornered quarter-mile track. It hosts NASCAR’s Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series.
For moonshine: Raleigh’s the right stop to sample moonshine, starting with Pinetop Distillery, which is served at Whiskey Kitchen along with other local spirits. More spots for hooch: MoonRunners Saloon in Garner with more than 40 options; and the Angus Barn’s Wild Turkey Lounge, where the Troy Manhattan is made with Troy and Sons Oak Reserve Moonshine from Asheville’s Troy Ball, the country’s first woman to score a whiskey distilling license.
For motorsports: Hikers as well as motorsports fans are drawn to the Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, the only remaining dirt track from NASCAR’s inaugural season. On the 44-acre site, preservationists have maintained the 1-mile oval that led to victory for Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett, and Lee and Richard Petty.
Engines continue to roar in nearby Rougemont on the Orange County Speedway, billed as “America’s Fastest ⅜ Track.” A former Xfinity Series venue, the speedway is known for its 19-degree banked turns and affordable fun.
For motorsports: NASCAR history lives it up in a city celebrated for its Moravian roots and tobacco heritage at Bowman Gray Stadium, NASCAR’s first weekly track. The downtown stadium, whose 75th season begins in April 2023 on a newly resurfaced track, ranks as the longest-running NASCAR-sanctioned track.
Three miles from the stadium, the Winston Cup Museum highlights the era with exhibits, photos, and an assortment of cars driven by Dale Earnhardt, Jimmy Spencer, Wendell Scott and others.
For moonshine: Broad Branch Distillery honors moonshine tradition with Nightlab, which is crafted alongside other spirits. For a deep dive into spirits history, follow U.S. 421 to Old Nick Williams Farm & Distillery in Lewisville, where the owners continue their family’s 2½-century-old story with a goal of reclaiming the pre-Prohibition status the distillery once enjoyed.
To complete the journey, U.S. 421 leads directly back to North Wilkesboro.