Ferrari, Bob Lee
Eric Risberg  /  AP
Bob Lee, of Reno, Nev., drives his 1956 250 GT Ferrari Boano convertible along the 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, Calif., Aug. 16.
updated 9/1/2006 3:25:00 PM ET 2006-09-01T19:25:00

When Danica Patrick, Tom LaSorda and Peter Schwarzenbauer want to blow off steam or just relax, they dream about California. Not the beaches--the roads.

These are three leaders of America's auto business: Patrick is a star race car driver, LaSorda is president of DaimlerChrysler's (nyse: DCX - news - people ) Chrysler subsidiary and Schwarzenbauer is Porsche Cars North America's president. In other words, they know from a good drive. So when they note their favorite places to motor, you might want to read closely.

Patrick loves Highway 1 around Monterey, because of its curves and beauty. LaSorda's pick is 17 Mile Drive, south of Monterey, which offers gorgeous views and plenty of places to stop. And Schwarzenbauer throws his vote in for Highway 25, which runs by Pinnacles National Monument--"the perfect sports car road."

All three were part of a panel of auto industry newsmakers we assembled to determine some of the best drives in the U.S. We asked each to tell us his or her favorite road or route, and most named places in California--some famous and some lesser-known escapes.

California's centrality to the America auto business is undeniable. Part of this is because fashions take root there--"Will it be a hit in California?" is a question by which new cars live or die--but the state is also America's best place to drive. Whatever you like best, whether it's following the coast for hours, winding up and down mountain roads, cruising ritzy boulevards with the top down or snaking past Joshua trees in the desert, California has something for you. As John Walton, general manager of Aston Martin North America, told us, "No place offers geographic diversity like California."

Diversity of scenery is one thing California boasts; superiority and concentration thereof is another. The East Coast is beautiful, but you won't encounter mountain passes, beaches and austere canyons all on one road there. In California, you can switch rapidly from one scenic backdrop to another. Consider that in Death Valley National Park, Walton's favorite place to drive, the scenic overlook at Dante's View (5,475 feet above sea level) is five miles away from Badwater Basin, which, at 282 feet below sea level, is America's lowest elevation.

But other panelists said their favorite places to drive are out East. General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) design boss Ed T. Welburn prefers the turnpike in his native state of Pennsylvania--a route that slices through the Allegheny Mountains with "some degree of banking." Skip Barber, founder of the famous racing school that bears his name, recommends a riverside country route in Connecticut--complete with at least one covered bridge, he says--that ends near the school's track in Lime Rock.

Hometowns and home bases played a role in many of the panelists' selections. Corvette Chief Engineer Tom Wallacechose a route in southwestern Pennsylvania, where he grew up. Bob Lutz, vice chairman of Detroit-based GM, picked one in the Motor City's exurbs.

While multiple panelists referenced memories of driving in their younger days, many picked awesome routes they just recently discovered. Whatever circumstances prompted their selections, and wherever their recommendations take us, we're just glad to be along for the ride.

© 2012


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