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Santa Anita Derby Day starting gate
(Photo: Santa Anita Derby Day 5K)

To most Americans, the word “racing” conjures up images of sleek roadsters and sleeker thoroughbreds. In fact, two of the nation’s most popular and prestigious races take place this month in the equine-powered Kentucky Derby and the turbine-powered Indianapolis 500. With that in mind and the latter coming up this weekend, here we feature nine running events that showcase horse or auto racing tracks. Ladies and gentlemen, start your Garmins!

Daytona Beach Half Marathon logoDaytona Beach Half Marathon — Daytona Beach, FL
(Feb; Half marathon, half marathon relay, 5K)
Where better to begin this list than on the world-famous track that hosts NASCAR’s signature event? Home to the Daytona 500, i.e. “The Great American Race,” Daytona International Speedway is the celebrated centerpiece of this racing-themed event, with half marathon and 5K “Lap the Track” runners starting and finishing on the flat apron of the banked tri-oval track. In between, half marathoners score sunrise views of Daytona Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Racing aficionados with a thing for bling can accept the Speedway Challenge (half + 5K) to earn bonus swag, including a Challenge finisher medal and full-zip hoodie. And runners looking to escape the cold can “bank” on Central Florida’s mild winter weather.

Spa-Francorchamps Run logoSpa-Francorchamps Run — Stavelot, Belgium
(Mar; Marathon, half marathon, 14K, 7K)
The only non-US race on our list takes place on the almost century-old Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, home of the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix. Marathoners run six laps of the irregularly shaped 7K circuit while half marathoners run three (14K and 7K options are also available). But if the term “Formula One” brings to mind miles of speedy running over flat terrain, think again — Spa-Francorchamps is among the hilliest race tracks in the world, with a total elevation change of roughly 1100m (3600 ft) over 26.2 miles. And given the race’s early March time slot, runners can expect wintry surprises like this year’s pre-race snowfall on a circuit notorious for its unpredictable weather. (Thanks to RaceRaves member @JoJoRunner, whose excellent review we referenced.)

Santa Anita Derby Day 5K logoSanta Anita Derby Day 5K — Arcadia, CA
(Apr; 5K, kids run)
From its start line in an authentic starting gate to its finish on one of the world’s most beautiful race tracks, there’s a reason the Santa Anita Derby Day 5K is one of the Golden State’s most popular running events. Starting outside Santa Anita Park just east of Pasadena, the scenic course runs through the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden before finishing on the Park’s dirt track in the hoofsteps of thoroughbred legends. And with perks like live post-race entertainment and a complimentary beer garden for runners 21 and over, plus free admission to the annual Derby Day horse races later in the day, you’ll appreciate why Santa Anita Park claims the title of “The Great Race Place!”

Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon & miniMarathon logoKentucky Derby Festival Marathon & miniMarathon — Louisville, KY
(Apr; marathon, marathon relay, half marathon)
When it comes to the state’s premier event, Louisville doesn’t horse around. With its 10,000+ runners, the Marathon/miniMarathon is one of more than 70 events attended by 1.5+ million people as part of the city’s two-week Kentucky Derby Festival, culminating in the Run for the Roses. The mostly flat loop courses start and finish in Downtown Louisville, with the hands-down highlight arriving in mile 9: a lap inside the gates of the legendary Churchill Downs race track, accompanied by the broadcast sounds of past Derby calls. Here, insider views of the dirt track and iconic twin spires atop the grandstands provide a unique perspective and appreciation for “The Most Famous Two Minutes in Sports.”

OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (Indy Mini) logoOneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (Indy Mini) — Indianapolis, IN
(May; half marathon, 5K, kids run)
Billed as the “Greatest Spectacle in Running,” the Indy Mini is anything but small — with 35,000+ participants, it’s one of the nation’s largest running events and a raucous kickoff to Indianapolis 500 month. Curiously, it also happens to fall on the same Saturday as a certain prestigious horse race in neighboring Kentucky. Runners hail the 2.5 miles on the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway (miles 7–9 of the half marathon) as an “exciting and emotional” highlight, while boisterous crowds and nearly 100 on-course entertainment acts “make for a lot of energy and fun.” And for those who feel the need for speed, the top 500 finishers receive an exclusive “First 500” medal to commemorate their achievement.

Prove It 5K logoProve It 5K — Milford, MI
(May; 5K)
What list of auto racing anything would be complete without a nod to the Motor City? Located in Milford on the outskirts of Metro Detroit, the General Motors Proving Ground is the venue for the first race in the Trivium Racing Southeast Michigan Medal Series. Normally reserved for testing new automotive technologies and industry protoypes, GM’s track also serves as an admirable proving ground for runners, with age- and gender-graded results used to determine the overall winners and thus level the playing field. Think you’ve got what it takes to set a PR on their challenging, USATF-certified loop course? The folks at Trivium invite you — in no uncertain terms — to step up and Prove It.

GO! St. Louis Run at the Raceway logoGO! St. Louis Run at the Raceway — Madison, IL
(Aug; 5K, 1 Miler, Kids Run)
The newest addition to the GO! St. Louis family of events, Run at the Raceway starts at dusk under the lights of the Gateway Motorsports Park in neighboring Madison, Illinois. The 5K course makes full use of the facilities, featuring sections of the 1.25-mile egg-shaped oval track, the 1.6-mile infield road course and the 0.25-mile drag strip. If 3.1 miles isn’t enough to lubricate your chassis, add on the 1-mile fun run to conquer the Raceway Challenge and earn a special challenge medal plus pint glass for your efforts. And for those whose engine prefers a different lubricant, the four-person beer mile relay runs entirely on the drag strip and includes a non-alcoholic option. How’s THAT for fun for the whole family?

Monster Mash Marathon and Half Marathon logoMonster Mash Marathon & Half Marathon — Dover, DE
(Oct; marathon, half marathon)
No doubt about it, the Dover International Speedway is the star of this Halloween-themed race. Not only is the first mile of each course run on the speedway, but Miles the Monster — the speedway’s monolithic mascot — towers over the finish line with glowing red eyes and captive race car clenched in his right fist. The flat, certified Boston Qualifier course showcases much of the capital city, starting and ending at the speedway while extending east to the Delaware Bay. With plenty of race-day parking and post-race food plus bling worth raving about, Monster Mash is your ticket to big fun in our smallest state. And all for a great cause, as proceeds from the race benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.

SCCA Runoffs 5K and Checkered Flag Dash logoSCCA Runoffs 5K & Checkered Flag Dash — Location varies
(Oct; 5K, 1 Miler)
If variety is the spice of life, then the SCCA Runoffs 5K may be the spiciest race in the nation. Now in its third year, this charity 5K is run in conjunction with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National Championship Runoffs, i.e. the “Olympics of Amateur Road Racing.” The Runoffs and associated 5K are held on a different track each year, with the 2018 event scheduled for the Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. All 5K participants are eligible to win racing-related door prizes including a high-speed ride in a two-seater IndyCar, with proceeds benefiting a local pediatric cancer charity in support of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Buckle up for a running tour of America’s favorite race tracks!

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