The United States of America is wonderfully varied, and that’s especially obvious when it comes to sports. For example, East Coast states aren’t exactly known for their rodeos or motorcycle rallies, while Midwesterners probably don’t get too excited about things like surfing competitions. To get a full-sized glimpse of just how different Americans are when it comes to sports culture, we went on the hunt for the country’s most thrilling competition. From pumpkin chucks to horse racing, bull riding to wrestling, these are the most exciting sporting events in every state.
The Iron Bowl
Post Thanksgiving, just after families have come together to celebrate all for which they are thankful, rival football fans are pitted against each other as they cheer on their favorite team in The Iron Bowl. This thrilling football game is the annual match-up of Alabama’s two largest universities: The University of Alabama and Auburn University. And one doesn’t need to be a football fan to know how important football is in the South. The Iron Bowl has been played since 1893. According to current statistics, Alabama leads the series 46-36-1.
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
Every March, before any of Alaska’s massive amounts of snow have ended, fans and athletes from all over descend upon the state to witness the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. This historic dog race covers nearly 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome, and requires mushers and their teams of 14 dogs each to race through sub-zero temperatures, blizzards and white-out conditions, and windchills as low as -100 degrees Fahrenheit. Finishing the race can take anywhere from eight to 15 days. But the thrill of the Iditarod extends far past race time. Mushers and their dogs tend to be local celebrities.
Arguably, baseball is America’s all-time favorite sports pastime. Before the start of each season, teams and their fans head to warm Arizona for Spring Training. The actual purpose of these exhibition games is for teams to try out up-and-coming players, practice together, and warm up their pitchers. For fans, however, the purpose is a little bit different. Spring Training is a great opportunity for baseball lovers to get up close to their favorite teams and players.
World Championship Cardboard Boat Races
Cardboard boat races may not have the same following as Major League Baseball, but it sure is popular in Heber Springs, Arkansas. This town of approximately 6,500 people plays host to the World Championship Cardboard Boat Races, a summertime staple. Each year’s “championship” has a different theme (2019’s is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), and contesting teams design a boat to fit the theme. Creativity counts, as does getting across Greers Ferry Lake first. But teams may not want to win the Titanic Award, which is reserved for the boat with the most dramatic sinking.
Tournament of Roses
Between its myriad professional sports teams, race tracks, and coastline, California has tons of thrilling sports from which we could choose. And yet, none of California’s sporting events seemed as special, historic, and exciting as the Tournament of Roses. Held on New Year’s Day, the Tournament of Roses consists of the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl. While the former is a massive parade made up of incredible flower-strewn floats, the latter is the oldest bowl game in America, and traditionally pits together the conference champs from the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences.
Pikes Peak Marathon
Colorado loves its outdoor sports, one of the most exciting of which is the Pikes Peak Marathon. Referred to as “America’s Ultimate Challenge,” this trail running competition begins at the base of Pikes Peak in the town of Manitou Springs. Runners must ultimately race nearly 8,000 feet to the top of the peak, traversing a trail of dirt, rocks, and other natural obstacles.
Connecticut has been hosting the Travelers Championship golf tournament (formerly known as the Insurance City Open and the Greater Hartford Open) since 1984. This PGA Tour tournament is held in the Hartford suburb of Cromwell, and is one of the most popular tournaments amongst players, according to the Players Choice Award. The tournament is typically held in June.
The small state of Delaware has plenty of sporting events worthy of mention, but the most exciting may just be the Amish Country Bike Tour. Held annually in September, this unique cycling race spans the beautiful and wide open Amish territory located west of Dover in Kent County. The bike tour attracts cyclists from all over, and is one of the largest cycling events in Delaware.
One doesn’t have to be into NASCAR to know that Florida’s Daytona 500 is one of the most exciting sporting events in America. Considered to be one of the most prestigious races on the NASCAR circuit, the Daytona 500 is a 500-mile-long car race held each year in February. The race attracts more television viewers than any other, and the sixth largest global television audience of any sporting event. No wonder the Daytona 500 boasts nicknames like “The Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing” and “The Great American Race!”
Held the first full week of April in Augusta, Georgia, The Masters [golf] Tournament is perhaps the best-known of four major championships in professional golf. Established in 1934, The Masters oozes class and excitement. It also boasts a number of traditions, including a par-3 course played the day before the first round, and a green jacket awarded to the winner. The Masters attracts a very large television audience (getting tickets to the actual event can be difficult), many of whom tune in to see the biggest names in golf competing for one of the sport’s top honors.
Triple Crown of Surfing
When one thinks of Hawaii, the thought of surfing probably isn’t too far behind. The Hawaiian island of Oahu plays host to the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, one of the most exciting sporting events in America. The competition series — which includes The Hawaiian Pro, the World Cup of Surfing, and The Pipeline Masters — takes place on Oahu’s North Shore, a stretch of coastline famous for waves that frequently reach 50 feet high. This thrilling event is one of the most difficult surfing competitions found anywhere in the world, and therefore it is also one of the most prestigious. The winner is decided based upon overall performance throughout the three individual competitions.
Snake River Stampede
Nampa, Idaho plays host to the Snake River Stampede, an exciting rodeo. Held annually in July, the Stampede is one of the top 12 pro rodeos in the country, as recognized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. The whole production takes place over five days, and includes favorite events like bull riding, steer roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling, and saddle bronc, among others.
Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field (in the bleachers!)
Baseball fans visiting Chicago often try to score tickets to a game at Wrigley Field — even if they’re not Cubs fans! This is because the historic baseball park, located on Chicago’s North Side, is one of the most iconic venues in sports. Wrigley Field, which is named after the chewing gum brand and former owners of the Cubs, is known for its ivy-covered brick outfield wall, iconic red marquee, hand-turned scoreboard, and unique wind patterns that add a little extra excitement to the game.
Known officially as the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, the Indy 500 is often called “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Every Memorial Day weekend, some 300,000 spectators flock to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the aptly named city of Speedway to witness top-level open-wheel, open-cockpit formula racing. The race has been held annually since 1911, and is steeped in tradition. For example, one doesn’t need to be a racing fan to know that the winner of the Indy 500 is doused in milk after crossing the finish line.
Iowa State University and University of Iowa are fierce rivals when it comes to just about everything. This includes wrestling, a popular sport for which both schools are well known. Each year, the two compete against each other for more than just the official standings. Since 2004, University of Iowa has won every rivalry match-up but one. This makes for an exciting sporting event, regardless of which team one roots for.
Want to get a Kansan really excited? Start talking about Jayhawks basketball. The official basketball team of the University of Kansas is one of the sport’s powerhouses, and a game is never anything less than thrilling. The Jayhawks have taken home the title of NCAA national champions a number of times, and was ranked fourth on Street & Smith’s annual list of the 100 greatest college basketball teams of all time. Fun fact: the first coach of the Jayhawks was none other than James Naismith, the inventor of the game of basketball.
On the first Saturday of May, it’s time to don your big hats and fanciest clothes and head to historic Churchill Downs to watch “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”: The Kentucky Derby! The race, which few non-Kentuckians realize is actually the culmination of a two-week long party in the Bluegrass State, features the best three-year old Thoroughbreds in a one-and-a-quarter mile race around the track. The Derby is the first race in the prestigious Triple Crown, and is the second oldest sporting event in America.
Traditionally held the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Bayou Classic is a Louisiana tradition that includes both a parade through New Orleans and a rivalry football game between Southern University and Grambling State University. The popular and exciting game has been held since 1932, and takes place at Tulane Stadium in NOLA. Over the course of the Bayou Classic’s history, Southern University has the most wins at 35.
The Great International Lobster Crate Race
As it’s known worldwide for its lobster, it should come as no surprise that the state of Maine holds an annual Maine Lobster Festival to celebrate all things crustacean. The festival includes all sorts of fun sporting events, the most unique and thrilling of which is The Great International Lobster Crate Race. This fun event is open to all who are brave enough to cross a path of lobster crates at the risk of falling into the water!
We’ve already declared the Kentucky Derby to be one of the country’s most exciting sporting events, so it makes perfect sense that the Preakness Stakes would also make the list. Held in Baltimore, Maryland at Pimlico Race Course, the Preakness is the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown. It’s held just two weeks after the Derby and three weeks before the third jewel, the Belmont Stakes. The winning horse is traditionally draped in a blanket of yellow flowers, as the Preakness has been nicknamed “The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.”
Massachusetts is home to the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon and one of Earth’s best-known sporting events. This thrilling race is held on Patriots’ Day — that is, the third Monday each April — and spans 26 miles through multiple cities of the greater Boston area. The marathon has been run every year since 1897, and attracts nearly 40,000 entrants, almost 37,000 starters, and just under 36,000 finishers.
Bayview Mackinac Boat Race
More than 200 boats enter the Bayview Mackinac Boat Race each year, making it one of the biggest fresh-water races in the world. This exciting sporting event in Michigan begins in Lower Lake Huron before crossing the span of the lake and finishing just off the coast of Mackinac Island. The race is steeped in tradition, and tends to attract competitors again and again.
U.S. Pond Hockey Championships
Hockey is practically the official sport of Minnesota, and those who aren’t able to play in big stadiums for a pro or college team do just fine on a frozen pond. Held during the winter on Lake Nokomis near Minneapolis, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships consists of six divisions. These include an open division for anyone, 40+ and 50+, women’s, seniors, and amateurs, among others. There’s even a division for “benders,” or those who got into pond hockey a bit later than most of the other competitors. The championships draw competitors and spectators from all over North America. No wonder ESPN listed the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships as one of their “101 Things Sports Fans Must Experience Before They Die.”
Mississippi State University and The University of Mississippi are the two contenders of the Egg Bowl, the tenth longest uninterrupted rivalry in all of America. The two college football teams compete against each other in the “hunt for the Golden Egg” every year over Thanksgiving weekend. The series has been played since 1901, and Ole Miss currently leads Mississippi State with 62 wins.
Show-Me State Games
There are the Olympics, and then there are the Show-Me-State Games, Missouri’s Olympic-style competition series for amateur athletes. Officially sponsored by the Missouri Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health, the Show-Me-State Games boasts more than 34,000 participates! These amateur athletes participate over three weekends in games such as basketball, soccer, and even a state-wide torch run.
Montana still embraces a bit of that Wild West lifestyle, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the Livingston Roundup. Held for nearly 100 years now, this iconic rodeo takes place each July over Independence Day weekend. The nighttime rodeo attracts top athletes from all over the country, and features such sports as saddle bronc, team roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing, and bull riding, to name but a few.
College World Series
“The Road to Omaha Goes Through…” Thus reads a banner at just about every college baseball stadium in America. That just goes to show you how prestigious of a sporting event is the College World Series. This exciting event is held in Nebraska each June. Sixty-four teams compete in the first round, though ultimately only one team is crowned. University of Texas currently reigns as the college with the most College World Series Wins (85), with University of Southern California (74) and Arizona State (61) following closely behind.
Professional Bull Riders World Finals
Held annually in Las Vegas, the Professional Bull Riders World Finals is the culmination of the PBR association’s Unleash the Beast Series. This aptly named series features the very best bulls and bull riders, each of which vies for one of the biggest titles in professional bull riding. The finals are nothing short of thrilling, whether you’re an avid rodeo fan or not.
New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival
Scottish traditions are a huge part of New Hampshire’s culture. After all, the state has its own tartan officially registered with the proper Scottish authorities! Held annually over the third weekend of September, the New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival is one of North America’s biggest cultural events. In addition to seminars, worship services, and lots of food, athletic events include sheep dog trials, a kilted mile race, and such traditional heavy athletics as the hammer throw, stone carry, caber toss, and weight over bar. These latter events attract some of the top athletes in the world, and those in the professional division are invited to compete by the Scottish Heavy Athletic Committee.
The Hambletonian Stakes
First run in 1926, the Hambletonian Stakes is one of the most prestigious racing events in Standardbred harness racing. As the first race in the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Trotters, the Hambletonian features the top three-year old Standardbreds. It is run at New Jersey’s Meadowlands Racetrack on the first Saturday in August.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
More than 800,000 people flock to New Mexico in October to experience the wonder that is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This amazing nine-day event includes all kinds of fun activities, one of the most thrilling of which is the competition segment. During this challenging event, competitors must launch their hot air balloon, then attempt to drop markers as close as possible to targets and scoring areas. The BalloonMeisters judge which competitors have come closest. Though it may sound simple, this unique sporting event is nothing short of difficult, as competitors must travel over a mile before finding their target, all while calculating the effect of surface and upper-level winds.
New York is home to quite a few thrilling sporting events, but it’s the U.S. Open that makes our list of the most exciting sporting event in every state. This prestigious tennis tournament is the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year. As such, it attracts the top names in tennis, including past winners like Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Roger Federer, and Chris Evert, to name but a few. The annual two-week tournament begins on the last Monday of August, and consists of five championships: men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles.
UNC vs. Duke Basketball at Cameron Indoor Stadium
North Carolina’s two biggest powerhouse colleges — University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Duke University — have an intense rivalry. This makes for very exciting basketball games, especially when played at Duke’s historic and impressive Cameron Indoor Stadium. Opened in 1940, the stadium is often ranked as one of the best in the country. Sports Illustrated, for example, declared it the 4th best sporting venue of the 20th century, while USA Today described it as “the toughest road game in the ACC.”
Motor Magic Festival
Despite the fact it’s a beautiful state, North Dakota just doesn’t have too many claims to fame. Well, except motorcycles. Indeed, the small North Dakota town of Minot is home to the Motor Magic Festival, the largest motorsports festival held anywhere in the upper midwest of the United States. If it has to do with motors, then it’s on the festival itinerary. Exciting events include drag racing, dirt track auto racing, enduro racing, a classic car show and auction, and racing pigs.
The Arnold Strongman Classic
Taking place each year in Columbus, Ohio, The Arnold Strongman Classic is a strongman contest created by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Classic features strength athletes from all over the world as they compete in events like the tire deadlift, stone carry, timber carry, the super yoke, and the circus dumbbell.
Mangum Rattlesnake Derby
One thing is for sure: there’s nothing else quite like Oklahoma’s Mangum Rattlesnake Derby. This annual event centers around a two-day hunt for rattlesnakes. After taking part in a brief safety meeting, brave participants have the unique opportunity to travel into the Oklahoma countryside to catch as many local rattlesnakes as possible. For those who would rather not get up close and personal to the poisonous snakes, the Derby also includes a slew of family-friendly events like an arts & crafts show, food trucks, and live music.
The sport of track and field is practically life in Oregon, as evidenced by the popularity of events like the Prefontaine Classic. Held in the town of Eugene, this premiere track and field meet attracts some of the finest athletic talent in the world. The Prefontaine Classic is also a part of the IAAF Diamond League, an elite series of competitions held throughout the year and around the world.
Little League World Series
The Little League World Series has been held in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania every August since 1947. While the players are ages 10-12, the boys make for some tough competition. The series, which is televised on ESPN, attracts teams from all over the world. While the team from Honolulu was the Little League World Series’ most recent champions (2018), it is Taiwan which holds the record for the most wins at 18.
Newport International Polo Series
Newport, Rhode Island has long been considered a haven for the sophisticated. That’s especially apparent at matches of the Newport International Polo Series. Held every summer Saturday through the end of September, the polo matches feature teams from around the world who travel to Rhode Island to compete against Newport’s famed team. The games draw hundreds of spectators, plus local vendors of all sorts.
The Carolina Cup
Steeplechase racing isn’t nearly as popular in the United States as it is in other parts of the world. Well, perhaps with the exception of South Carolina. The Palmetto State is steeped in old time-y equestrian traditions, one of which is The Carolina Cup. Held annually during the spring, The Carolina Cup features a day of steeplechase racing at the Springdale Race Course. Thousands of fans come out to enjoy this social athletic event, and all monies made is donated to the local Kershaw County Medical Center.
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
For 10 days beginning the first week of August, the small town of Sturgis, South Dakota becomes the motorcycle center of the world. Founded in 1938 by a group of passionate Indian Motorcycle riders, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally features stunt riding exhibitions, motorcycles races, Motocross races, and a Hillclimb. The annual event draws more than half a million motorcycle fans from all over the country.
Lady Vols Game
The women’s basketball team of University of Tennessee are such a force to be reckoned with, witnessing one of their games is on the bucket list of many sports aficionados. Once coached by the great Pat Summit, the Lady Vols have made their way to every single NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Championship tournament since the 1981-82 season. That’s a lot of wins, a lot of players, and a lot of successful seasons!
Red River Showdown
If you know any Texans, then you know there’s quite a rivalry between the two states of Texas and Oklahoma. You’ve probably also heard that in Texas, football is life. That’s what makes the Red River Showdown, a thrilling rivalry game between University of Texas at Austin and University of Oklahoma — such an exciting sporting event. The annual game takes place in October at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas. It’s been played every year since 1900, and University of Texas leads the series with 62 all-time wins.
Park City Point 2 Point
Park City, Utah is a must-visit mountain town boasting more than 400 miles of trails. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the city’s point to point mountain bike race would make our list o the most exciting sporting event in every city. Held annually over Labor Day weekend, the Park City Point 2 Point draws the best mountain bike racers from all over the world. The race is done in true adventure style, without markers. This forces competitors to study the course thoroughly before competing and ensures a thrilling spectacle for both racers and race goers.
24Hours of Stratton
There aren’t many exciting sporting events on our list that are open to anyone with the desire. But Vermont’s 24Hours of Stratton is the exception. This annual event, which takes place in March, allows visitors to ski at the world-famous Stratton Ski Resort for 24 hours straight — the one and only time throughout the year that Stratton offers night skiing. There are skiing competitions in which to take part, food vendors, a ski party, and even a fireworks show. Best of all, all of the proceeds from 24Hours of Stratton go to Vermont-based charities to benefit the lives of local children in need.
Virginia has a long tradition of equestrian sports, as evidenced by the popularity of the Foxfield Races. Having originated in 1978, these steeplechase races are held in Albemarle County twice each year. The family-friendly sporting event attracts hundreds of racing fans, most of whom dress in the traditional racing fan uniform of seersucker, bowties, hats, and pastel colors. Typically, the Foxfield Races are held to benefit a local charity.
Seattle residents have been enjoying the annual Seafair summer festival in one way or another since 1911. This exciting event, which actually encompasses dozens of events held throughout Seattle’s many neighborhoods and waterways, includes a Torchlight Run, air shows, and the famous Seafair Cup hydroplane race. The race attracts thousands of spectators who line the shorts of Lake Washington in order to watch the winning boat receive the prestigious Seafair Cup.
While the majority of the most thrilling rodeo events take place west of the Mississippi, West Virginia’s Huntington Invitational is a clear exception. This exciting bull-riding event is an officially sanctioned PBR event, and features top bulls and riders from all over the world. The Huntington Invitational takes place in October at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, West Virginia.
Lumberjack World Championships
Every summer — in perhaps the most unexpected place ever: Wisconsin — lumberjacks from all over the world flock to the small town of Hayward to take part in the Lumberjack World Championships. This exciting sporting event consists of contests in climbing, logrolling, chopping, and sawing for both men and women. More than 21 individual competitions are on the schedule, with winners taking home as much as $50,000.
Cheyenne Frontier Days
Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming is so much more than your average rodeo. This week-long event is a thrilling celebration of the American West. Held every year since 1897, “The World’s Largest Outdoor Rodeo” consists of bull riding, bronc riding, barrel racing, and steer wrestling, among other traditional events. Events unique to Cheyenne Frontier Days include trick riding, a wild horse race, and the cinch rodeo shootout.
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