football Edit

How to celebrate Labor Day weekend: Pack football, bourbon and the Derby

The past week has been hard for sports fans. Not simply due to the mass cancellations of sporting events across the globe, but also because of the overnight change to daily life as the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the American public to practice social distancing for the immediate and indefinite future.

March has been a disappointment to say the least, but the mass postponements of professional sports have created what is quickly becoming (hopefully) an action-packed fall sports schedule. Although there is hope to have pro leagues like MLB and the NBA return before the fall, college sports fans won’t be able to cheer on their schools until football season at the earliest.

At least for now, NC State’s next scheduled sporting event is a Thursday night football season opener at Louisville on Sept. 3. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby was recently rescheduled from its traditional date of the first Saturday in May to Saturday, Sept. 5.

While several spring and summer vacations have been canceled over the past week, Wolfpack fans have been presented a rare opportunity for an unforgettable sports weekend in Louisville on Labor Day weekend.

In light of the increased anticipation for the arrival of college football season, along with the new scheduled date for the Kentucky Derby, we called Mark Ennis, publisher of and host of the popular Louisville sports talk radio show 'The Drive,' to give some local tips on how Wolfpack fans can make the most of an extended Labor Day weekend in Louisville.


Even if fans don’t plan to stay the weekend for the Derby, it's advisable to lock in a place to stay soon before rooms are no longer available.

“I would book whatever you can right now,” Ennis said. “The demand is really incredible. With the football game coming in that Thursday, it’s really going to be stretched.”

The Kentucky Derby brings over 100,000 visitors to Louisville each year. The Derby takes place on Saturday, but many spectators will arrive days in advance.

“In September, I think people are going to be dying to do stuff like this,” Ennis explained. “I would expect the demand for all of this stuff to be kind of crazy as people sort of come out from under their rocks.”

As for the best location to stay, book something close to the stadium or airport. The airport, Cardinal Stadium and Churchill Downs are all within close proximity of each other, according to Ennis.

Derby Experience

The twin spires of Churchill Downs
The twin spires of Churchill Downs are an iconic sports scene. (Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports)

The experience of the Derby-goer depends greatly on where their seat (or lack of) is located. According to Ennis, there’s more than one Derby.

“Pick what kind of Derby you want to do first,” he said. “Are you going to want to be in the grandstands and wear suits, or are you going to be in the infield?”

General admission tickets are the cheapest option and go for $75 per person until Aug. 23. These tickets give you access to the infield, where you can bring your own chair and watch the race from the world’s largest 4K video board.

“The infield is a young man’s game,” Ennis noted. “The infield is like Woodstock. It’s wild. It’s frantic, people are very drunk and partying. It can be messy, sometimes it can be muddy. For September, it’s going to be absurdly hot.

“Dress comfortably, be prepared, drink a lot of water, keep your head on a swivel. It’s a wild scene, it really is.”

For those looking for less of a party-like atmosphere, the grandstands and boxes offer a swankier scene to drink mint juleps and take in the races. Grandstand tickets come with options for bleacher-style seats starting at $429 or stadium-style seats starting at $621. Box seats start at $540 per ticket, but are only sold in groups of six.

Here is a link for more information on tickets:

Other Places To Visit In Louisville

If Wolfpack fans decide to stay in Louisville through the weekend, there will be plenty to do beyond the Derby and football game.

Derby celebrations begin early in the week, and there won’t be a shortage of live music and events during the biggest week of the year in Louisville.

The Kentucky Oaks, a race for three-year-old fillies (female horses), will take place on Friday at Churchill Downs and tickets are commonly bundled with the Derby for a nominal extra cost.

Louisville offers several other entertainment options beyond horse racing and college sports.

“I think if you came to Louisville and didn’t go to the Muhammad Ali museum, you’d be missing out,” Ennis said.

The Louisville Slugger museum and factory is another landmark tourist attraction for visitors. Both sites are easily accessible from the Churchill Downs area, according to Ennis.

For those looking to blow off some quarantine steam by indulging in vices, Louisville’s shared border with Kentucky and Indiana offers a different slate of recreational options than what North Carolinians are accustomed to.

“There are distilleries downtown, we do bourbon here,” Ennis said. “There are a number of breweries. Old Forester downtown is the distillery I would recommend, it’s great. You don’t really have to leave downtown.”

Feeling lucky? You won’t have to wait to get to Churchill Downs to place a wager. A quick 25-minute drive across the Ohio River takes you to Caesars Southern Indiana Casino, where visitors can play some poker or punch in a parlay for the opening weekend of college football.

“Everyone drives across the river to Indiana to the Caesars,” said Ennis. “They do have a sportsbook there, so you can sit there and gamble on games live. No gambling is legal in Kentucky except what they have at Churchill Downs with parimutuel gambling on horses.”

For additional information:


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