There’s something about horsepower belching out of a V8 that kicks on an adrenaline switch in my body. The raw power of an internal combustion engine that’s been tuned to perfection holds all sorts of promises of adventure, and it’s with real difficulty that I sometimes drive cars that don’t have the ability to accelerate like I just broke the law.
Some of my first tinkering projects involved rebuilding these engines and cars with my dad. He bought a pickup truck that had a dragster engine, and I learned a lot about the mechanics behind these machines along the way. The most important lesson I learned was that the more power you produce, the easier it is to break, which is how I became proficient at fixing things.
I broke a lot of expensive parts (sorry, Dad) learning how to mash the throttle, bang a clutch and burn rubber. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.
I grew up reading Car Craft and Hot Rod magazines, JEGS catalogs and shop manuals. I spent most of my teens working on and racing that pickup truck, a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass, and some of my friends’ cars and boats. And I religiously watched top fuel funny cars and NASCAR on television.
The roots of the trend of engine modification for maximum speed are deeply intertwined with the Prohibition era because bootleggers needed to outrun the cop cars while they ripped up and down Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee on delivery runs of distilled corn nectar.
The history of moonshine, outlaw brewing and hot rods is a fascinating glimpse into a time that, while unfortunate for the folks who enjoyed a stiff drink, produced three carburetor engines called “six-packs,” innovative suspension systems for high-speed turns and a culture that endures to this day.
This tie between NASCAR and moonshine was something we dove deep into when we traveled the length of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail two years ago. It was also then that we met the fine people behind Sugarlands Distilling Co. in the Great Smoky Mountains town of Gatlinburg and fell in love with the products they serve up in their 10,000-square-foot tasting room, both full flights of samples and liquor-by-the-drink specialties (try the one with Cheerwine, and just trust us on this).
Going to My First NASCAR Race
Sugarlands is the official moonshine for NASCAR so it was a natural marriage for us—lovers of distilled spirits and the rocket cars that were spawned from them—to visit the iconic track at Bristol for a taste of the action.
We had Hot Passes for the race, which included access to the pre-game pit setups, pace-car laps and a VIP suite overlooking the start/finish line. Being the first of the day to take full-throttle runs on the empty track in the newest version of the Chevy Camaro was a real treat and surprisingly fun for Kristin, who normally freaks when I reach ludicrous speed in my own hot rod.
The racetrack at Bristol, Tenn. is one of the shortest on the NASCAR circuit and is memorable for its steeply banked turns and roaring thunder of noise from 40 hotrods zipping around the stadium.
Naturally, I was in heaven.
Wait until we go to the raceway at Talladega! That track is one of the longest of NASCAR, and the stock cars get up to 200 miles per hour on the regular.
For those of you looking to recreate our NASCAR weekend, Sugarlands Shine 250 will be held on Oct. 12 in Talladega and is the perfect place for next level super speedway action.
Tailgating at NASCAR
Tailgating is a rite of passage in the South, one I wasn’t introduced to until I met Kristin and started attending UT football games with her at Neyland Stadium. The parking lots surrounding any NASCAR event are full of grills, coolers and full bar spreads, but we made do with a bag of ice, a couple of cups and Sugarlands’ latest, the coconut-and-childhood-memories elixir of fruit juice in a box called Cole Swindell’s Pre Show Punch.
We sipped a few pre-race drinks from the boot of Kristin’s Jeep while entertaining the idea of traveling to Charlotte, N.C. for Cole’s concert at the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race on May 19. Cole’s also on the Sunset Repeat tour with Luke Bryan for you country music fans looking to share a pre-show shot with him; we were at one of his shows in Nashville last month when he told us this collaboration was born out of his own pre-show ritual (makes sense, right?).
But NASCAR fans go all out where tailgating is concerned. Not only do they camp out in the parking lots of the racetracks, but they even take coolers stuffed with booze inside the grounds with them. Coolers are allowed inside the speedways, but can be no larger than 14 inches by 14 inches by 14 inches. This is polar opposite from what I have experienced at NCAA and NFL games where you’re patted down and prohibited from so much as sneaking a mini-bottle in.
Making Our Own Sugarlands Shine Cocktails
Sugarlands has a deep well of recipes available on its site, but we were loading up the Jeep to go to NASCAR for the day, so I also set up a mobile bar of sorts, throwing in a mixer here, a garnish there, and created my own race-day concoction.
In all honesty, the 50-proof Pre Show Punch is really great just on its own. All you need is a cup and some ice, and you’ve got yourself a pre-made drink, perfect to sip when you’re on the go and don’t want to pack up your entire home bar. But I wanted to kick it up a notch and moderate some of the sweetness of the base moonshine, so I brought along a little vodka, sparkling water, pineapple and pure lemon juice.
The Hot Gas Punch
- 1 cup Cole Swindell’s Pre Show Punch
- 1 cup vodka
- 2 cups sparkling water
- ½ cup pineapple juice
- 2 shots of pure lemon juice
This drink is best made in batches, so keep the ratio about the same, and whip up a pitcher to share. Stirred, not shaken.
Back home, I got into the mixologist spirit once more and started crafting another cocktail with a flavor we had on the shelf. Kristin has always been a fan of the classic Tennessee milkshake, the Bushwhacker, and I’m nothing if not creative in keeping her entertained. I came up with my own spin on it, using one of her favorite flavors: hazelnut.
The Squirrel Smuggler
- 2 cups Sugarlands Shine’s Mark & Digger’s Hazelnut Rum
- 2 cups coconut cream
- 2 cups Graeter’s vanilla ice cream
- 2 cups ice cubes
- Swirl of chocolate syrup in the glass
- Grated nutmeg
Dump all of the ingredients into a blender, mixing until the liquid is the consistency of a milkshake. Drizzle chocolate syrup into a glass and pour the mixture from the blender to the rim.
Garnish with grated nutmeg (optional, though we have some delicious nutmeg leftover from Grenada we are always looking for an excuse to use).
Love whiskey? Here are some related travel ideas throughout Tennessee:
- How the Tennessee Whiskey Trail came to be
- West Tennessee’s lone distillery in Memphis
- The urban distilleries of the Nashville area
- The backroads of Middle Tennessee
- East Tennessee’s moonshine culture
- Going on a Jack Daniel’s Tour in Lynchburg