The Ultimate American Road Trip is back, celebrating what makes this country a fantastically confusing puzzle of intersecting highways and dizzying backroads. Today, we’re exploring one of the most underrated types of excursion—traveling for work. And for those of you gearing up to hit the Detroit Auto Show this January, we’ve got a little treat in store. Namely, a road trip that takes you from the eastern coast of sunny Florida (or the Southeast in general) through seven unique states, landing you in the Motor City just in time for the North American International Auto Show and the icy cold blast of a Michigan winter.
Traveling for Work is More Fun Than You Realize
We know what you’re thinking. Traveling for work is underrated? Did I hear that right? You sure did, pal. And you wanna know why? Two words: EXPENSE ACCOUNT. Rental cars, snack stipends, and reimbursed access to the hotel mini bar are just a few of the reasons to get excited about a work road trip. Sure, you might discover some strange things about your coworkers, but we say that kind of dirt is well worth the price of all those tiny airline bottles of booze.
But let’s assume for argument’s sake that you love your job and your fellow employees, and crafting a road trip to the Detroit Auto Show already has you planning out a jammin’ playlist of 80s hair bands. Well then, buckle your seat belt and start filling out that company request form because we’ve got a 5-day adventure planned, full of gearhead destinations and automotive entertainment.
Our road trip begins in beautiful Daytona Beach, where the average winter temperature holds somewhere in the low 70s. Take it easy this first day. Walk along the boardwalk, check out a hot rod museum, or hit the beach for a couple hours. When you’re done unwinding, hop on over to the prestigious Daytona International Speedway for a quick tour. Or better yet, nix the relaxing stuff and book a Richard Petty NASCAR drive. Ride shotgun or experience the race for yourself in a real Sprint Cup-style stock car.
Now that your adrenaline is pumping and the need for speed is coursing through your veins, grab those rental car keys and gear up for the roughly 1.5-hour ride up to Jacksonville via I-95. Make sure to take a quick pit stop in Ormond Beach to see the Birthplace of Speed or extend your stay a couple hours and pop over to the New Smyrna Speedway to catch a race. Jacksonville will leave you with any number of places to eat and sleep, which you’ll need to gear up for tomorrow’s long day of driving.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, an early start makes the 3-hour drive west across the panhandle a little easier to stomach. Treat yourself to a detour through Crawfordville and check out the spectacular roadside collection of rusty vintage Ford trucks. Arranged in chronological order, with some models dating back to the early 1900s, this is one of those great road trip photo ops you don’t want to miss.
Wind your way up to Tallahassee, grab lunch, and make your way to the Tallahassee Automobile and Collections Museum. With over 160 cars, including THREE Batmobiles, as well as an eclectic array of Americana, this is the place to indulge your inner kid. Don’t dawdle too long though, as we still have to make our way to the Peach State before sun down if we’re ever going to get to the Detroit Auto Show on time!
If you’ve left some time in the schedule, stop at the restored Gulf station in Quincy on your way up to Fort Gaines, Georgia. While you won’t actually be able to fuel up, you can see what a true 1950s gas station looked like—with fully restored vintage pumps, signs, and a Coke machine. Roughly two more hours on US-27 will take you north into Fort Gaines, where you can grab dinner, drinks, and a cozy hotel room.
Wake up! We’ve got things to do and places to see! On your way out of Fort Gaines, be sure to check out Gravity Hill, where you can experience the eerie sensation of watching your company-paid rental car roll uphill. (Send your boss lots of selfies, so he knows you do important automotive research when traveling for work.)
It’ll take about three hours to get to Atlanta, where you can fill up on a hearty lunch and plenty of activities. Check out a Monster Jam, drive a Porsche, or hit the Skip Barber Racing School for more octane-fueled fun. Then pack up that car before nightfall because it’s about a 2-hour drive to the Chattahoochee National Forest and—you guessed it—we’ve got some power-filled fun planned for tomorrow!
You wake up in beautiful rural Georgia wondering how you consumed all that moonshine. But shake off that hangover because we’re headed to Tank Town, USA. That’s right, friends. We’re gonna blow off some steam on this road trip by driving tanks and CRUSHING CARS. As the site boasts, “Nothing is more thrilling than hearing the hood crumple and the glass shatter as you flatten a car with 17 tons of military steel.” Yea, count us in.
Once finished reliving your favorite war movie scene, enter North Carolina via US-127 for a drive down the infamous Tail of the Dragon. Bordered by the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest, this 11-mile stretch of road packs a whopping 318 curves and no annoying intersections or driveways to slow you down.
Continue north about four more hours into Bowling Green, Kentucky. If you’ve left yourself enough time, check out the National Corvette Museum before it closes and enjoy 115,000 sq ft of all things Corvette. Then suck it up for two more hours of driving and round out that long day with a little boozin’ in Louisville—Kentucky’s largest city.
Wake up early so you can get to Indianapolis by early afternoon, because there’s absolutely no shortage of enthusiast-themed things to do here. Take a tour and test drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum or pop in a simulator of the world’s fastest sport at the Dallara IndyCar Factory. Indulge in some nostalgia at the Tibbs Drive-In before you head out of the city, and head north via US-31 on your way to the Big D. (With all this fun, did you forget this was a road trip to the Detroit Auto Show?!)
Ride up East Boulevard Street in Kokomo, IN to see where Elwood Haynes made the first test run of an automobile in 1894, and make a pit stop in Defiance, Ohio to see the towering stack of 1960s VW bugs in the used car parking lot of Pack Rat’s Pawn Shop. From there, it’s only about two more hours into Detroit.
If you’re looking to delay ending the road trip (and checking in with the boss), grab a bite at Pete’s Garage, a car-themed restaurant in Monroe—complete with automobile-converted dining booths. Or take a tour of the Automotive Hall of Fame or the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, both in Dearborn.
As you roll into Detroit, dodging potholes and taking deep, cleansing breaths of exhaust, take a few moments to appreciate what makes this city unique. The Detroit Auto Show runs for a full week, meaning you should still have plenty of time to take in the local sites. Although, after that road trip you may just want to crash in the hotel room and sleep! See? We told you traveling for work can be fun!