The much-anticipated 2016 NMRA season will open with the 22nd Annual Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout, March 3-6 at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Bradenton, Florida, and according to Sean Walter, Director of Sports for the Bradenton Area Sports Commission, the area located on the state’s West Coast has many offerings for those looking to extend their trip.
Worth mentioning first, Walter says, are its beaches, including those around Anna Maria Island; Longboat Key Beaches; Coquina Beach, which offers a picnic area, playground and nature trails; Whitney Beach, which, at a quarter-mile long, is a length racers can relate to; Manatee Beach, which features a playground, volleyball courts and a beach shop, and Cortez Beach, which boasts more than a hundred feet of beach. (www.bradentongulfislands.com)
“In addition to being beautiful and relaxing, our beaches are award-winning,” said Walter, who indicated that 660,000 people visited the Bradenton area in 2014.
More opportunities for fun in the sun include flyboarding in the air over water through Top Gun Flyboards (9000 Manatee Avenue West, Bradenton. 941-281-5926 or www.topgunflyboards.com). Or, you can go climb a tree, or something like a tree, at TreeUmph, an obstacle course for the adventurous which reaches up to sixty-feet tall. (21805 S.R. 70 East, Bradenton. 855-322-2130 or wwwtreeumph.com)
Parasailing above the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico is also popular, and can be accomplished through Elite Parasail. (402 Church Ave., Bradenton Beach. 941-795-1000 or www.annamariaparasail.com). Or, if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, play eighteen rounds of miniature golf at one of two Fish Hole Miniature Golf locations. (115 Bridge, Bradenton Beach or 8111 Lakewood Main Street, Bradenton)
Lace up some skates and hit one of two ice rinks at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex. (5309 29th Street E., Ellenton. 941-723-3663 or www.ellentonice.com). Or, explore Florida’s maritime heritage through the exhibits at the Florida Maritime Museum, which earns extra points for being located within a schoolhouse built in 1912. (4415 119th St. West, Cortez. 941-708-6120 or www.floridamaritimemuseum.org)
As the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the South Florida Museum includes the Bishop Planetarium and the Parker Manatee Aquarium. There, visitors can meet the handsome Snooty, who’s believed to be the world’s oldest Manatee in captivity. (201 10th Street West, Bradenton. 941-746-4131 or www.SouthFloridaMuseum.org)
More than 400 acres of coastal saltern, marsh and mangrove habitat are part of the Robinson Preserve, which attracts wood storks, white pelicans, bald eagles and more. A forty foot-tall observation tower will give you a bird’s-eye view of five bodies of water and four counties, and kayak and paddleboard rentals will give you an opportunity to explore while afloat. (9800 Manatee Ave., West Bradenton. 941-527-6355 or www.robinsonpreserve.com)
Designer and brand outlet stores carrying everything from clothing to home furnishing are within the Ellenton Premium Outlet Mall, which has covered walkways. (5461 Factory Shops Blvd, Ellenton. 941-723-1150 or www.premiumoutlets.com)
Originally built in 1923, the chockfull-of-character McKechnie Field was named for Pittsburgh native, former Bradenton resident and Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie, who guided the Pirates to the World Series in 1925 and the Cincinnati Reds to the World Series in 1940. Many baseball fans know it as the place where Pittsburgh Pirates hold spring training, and around the time the NMRA will be in the area, the Pirates will play against the Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees, as part of spring training. (1611 9th Street West, Bradenton. 941-748-4610 or www.pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com)
If you’ve already crossed any of the above off your to-do list but find that the revved-up racer in you is still looking for something that involves a steering wheel, gas pedal and ample amounts of adrenaline, hop into a go-kart at Andersen RacePark. It offers what it refers to as “arrive and drive” open-lapping sessions. (10101 U.S. Highway 41 North, Palmetto. 941-723-3900 or www.andersenracepark.com)
“Our area is a unique destination that offers something for everyone, and we’re only an hour away from attractions like Disney World,” said Walter. “We’re known for having polite and friendly hospitality and customer service, which is reflected in the fact that ninety-four percent of the time, when a visitor comes here, they come back. That’s something we’re very proud of.”