Our Happy Place: Race Tracks!
June 07, 2024

Our Happy Place: Race Tracks!

Automobile racing began in the USA on Thanksgiving Day of 1895 with a 54-mile race from Chicago to Evanston, Illinois. It's safe to say auto racing is just as old as the first internal combustion automobile was constructed successfully. From the first Grand Prix in the early 20th century to today’s high-tech competitions, race tracks have been the stage for countless automotive brilliance. Race tracks are places where heroes are made, and the rich history of automotive culture and motorsports is written.

Pursuing a career in racing is a long (and expensive) road, and many of us could already be late for it. But even spectating a race is nothing short of exhilarating. It allows us enthusiasts to witness drivers with their beast of cars blasting past right in front of us. The atmosphere is magical, to say the least, in a professional racing event. People from all walks of life share the same excitement cheering up at the grandstands, roaring machinery driven by skilled racers at the razor’s edge, and the air thick with burnt rubber! 

 

jaguar drifting through a corner

 

Race tracks are also social hubs for the automotive community, bringing together people who share the same passion through various events beyond actual racing. They are places where enthusiasts can take their cars to drive and test their skills at different track days, driving experiences, and educational programs. Here are our top 10 picks of the many race tracks in the USA where you should spend at least a day in your lives.

10- Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Situated just a few miles from downtown Indianapolis, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is known as “The Greatest Race Course in the World.” Most known globally for hosting the Indianapolis 500 every Memorial Day, the largest one-day sporting event, this behemoth of a racetrack has become a National Historic Landmark.

 

indianapolis motor speedway start finish

Constructed in 1909, the famous 2.5-mile race track is the first circuit to be called a “speedway.” IMS features an oval course and an infield GP circuit. Deeply significant to the American automotive culture and racing industry, the track hosted the famed Indianapolis 500, part of the F1 World Championship from 1950 through 1960. Formula One later returned to the IMS between 2000 and 2007, and the track has been home to various motorsports events beyond F1, from NASCAR to the IndyCar series.

 

The excitement is not exclusive to the professionals, though. Enthusiasts can also experience the thrill of the iconic race track in a 150-mph 2-seater Indy car, offering an exclusive and unforgettable glimpse into the world of motorsports. 

  • Location: Indianapolis, IN
  • Length: 2.5mi (oval course), 2.6mi (GP road course)
  • Turns: 4 (oval course), 13 (GP road course)
  • Highlight: The entire track used to be surfaced by millions of bricks. It was paved with asphalt in 1961, but 85-90% of the bricks are still underneath. A yard of bricks was left out as the start-finish line. Those bricks have been there since 1909, giving the venue its nickname, “The Brickyard.”

9- Daytona International Speedway

Built by NASCAR founder William “Bill” France Sr. in 1959, Daytona International Speedway is an iconic racing hub located in Daytona Beach, FL, 50 miles north of Orlando. It has hosted racing events for more than half a century.

 

daytona international speedway at night

 

It is most notably home to the Daytona 500, arguably the crown jewel of NASCAR events, and the Rolex 24-Hour endurance race, regarded as America's most prestigious sports car event.

  • Location: Daytona Beach, FL
  • Length: 2.5mi (tri-oval course), 3.56mi (sports car course)
  • Turns: 4 (tri-oval), 12 (sports car)
  • Highlight: The racetrack is one of the venues that host the Richard Petty Driving Experience, where you take a NASCAR race car out for a spin for up to 48 minutes all by yourself!

8- Lime Rock Park

Lime Rock Park has maintained its original layout since its opening in 1957. A natural terrain road course, the venue is just a one-and-a-half-mile compact but challenging race track. Known for its unique spectator experience, Lime Rock has no grandstands, inviting the spectators to picnic on the grassed hills looking down at the track.

 

two race cars at lime rock park

 

Lime Rock hosts many prestigious events, such as the Trans-Am series, the International Race of Champions, SCCA regional races, and the Lime Rock Historic Festival. The venue offers supercar owners a membership program named Lime Rock Drivers Club, where they can test their vehicles’ limits on the race track. Many car clubs also offer public track day events at Lime Rock Park.

  • Location: Lakeville, CT
  • Length: 1.53mi
  • Turns: 7
  • Highlight: The track remains true to its original 1957 design. This means you can drive through the same curves and straights as legendary names like Mario Andretti, Paul Newman, or Dereck Bell.

7- Road Atlanta

Road Atlanta is a natural-terrain road course located in the hills of North Georgia, established in 1970. It is a park-like motorsports facility that accommodates a variety of events, from professional and amateur races to motorsports team testing. The highlight of the track’s calendar is the Petit Le Mans, an endurance race that stands as the most significant international sporting event in Georgia. The track is also the birthplace of Formula Drift and continues to host Drift Atlanta events today.

 

S turns of road atlanta 

The track’s demanding layout begins with an uphill climb, and the first turn is followed by a series of Esses, which offers a thrilling experience for both drivers and spectators. If you’re eager to drive on the pavement of the Road Atlanta, numerous car clubs provide us enthusiasts with public track days. 

  • Location: Braselton, GA
  • Length: 2.54mi (GP circuit)
  • Turns: 12
  • Highlight: The track’s signature event, the Petit Le Mans. Created by Dr. Don Panoz (father of Danny Panoz, who founded the luxury sportscar brand Panoz), the race is a 10-hour and 1,000-mile endurance race that attracts even overseas visitors to the track.

6- Watkins Glen International

Nicknamed “The Glen,” the Watkins Glen International sits at the south end of Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen, NY. Yes, you read that right, New York – it is in the upstate part, though. It has been home to many races since the late 40s, even hosting the F1 US Grand Prix for twenty years straight at one point. The Glen continues to be a motorsports hub today with various racing events from NASCAR to the IMSA series. With its different track combinations for various series and vehicles, elevation changes, and long stretches, the Glen almost always presents excellent action for the spectators.

 

bmw m3 on watkins glen

 

Renovated comprehensively in 2016, Watkins Glen allows us petrolheads to get in on the action, too. Their in-house offering, named “Drive the Glen” is a paced driving experience that grants you the opportunity to drive your personal car around the iconic twists and straights of the circuit. For those of us craving for more speed, there are many organizations and clubs that offer track days, allowing us enthusiasts to push the limits of our own cars. 

  • Location: Watkins Glen, NY
  • Length: 3.45mi (GP course), 2.45mi (short course)
  • Turns: 11 (GP course), 8 (short course)
  • Highlight: Widely known as the Mecca of North American road racing, Watkins Glen shares the same name as the city, but the circuit's fame outweighed that of the city.

5- Virginia International Raceway

Located between Danville and Alton, VA, Virginia International Raceway has a storied history, split in half by abandonment for a quarter of a century. Initially opened in 1957, VIR was closed from 1974 until 2000. Today, it stands as a “motorsport resort,” featuring a paved race track, an unpaved off-road course, and a go-kart track, amongst a few restaurants and even an on-site shooting range!

 

virginia international raceway pits

 

VIR hosts a variety of events, from SCCA events and NASCAR K&N Pro Series to historic races. It is also a prominent testing ground for the likes of NASCAR and SCCA. Famous for its uphill esses, sharp elevation changes, and scenic environment, VIR is recognized by Car and Driver as one of the top six road courses in the USA.

 

Wanna get on the VIR? Whether you are a seasoned pro or an excited enthusiast, numerous car clubs are renting the Virginia International Raceway, where you can book a track day.

  • Location: Alton, VA
  • Length: 3.3mi
  • Turns: 17
  • Highlight: The track was closed following an SCCA endurance race in 1974. Being an abandoned farmland for almost 25 years, two investors left their careers to brought the VIR back to life in 2000.

4- Road America

Located near Elkhart Lake, WI, Road America has been hosting motorsports events since the mid-50s. Home to over 400 events annually, Road America has a full schedule featuring anything from NASCAR, IMSA, and SCCA to several vintage car events, ensuring there’s always something exciting happening. 

 

nascar on road america

 

Unlike many race tracks that undergo modifications throughout the years, Road America’s design and layout have remained basically unchanged since its construction in 1955. The track features many elevation changes and a long front straight where speeds can reach up to 200 miles an hour. In addition to the main track, the Briggs & Stratton Motorplex inside the complex adds to the fun with a karting track and an off-road circuit. 

 

For those looking to test their driving skills and cars, Road America offers public track days to experience the historic venue firsthand. The rich story behind it, its picturesque environment, and high-speed action make Road America a must-see place for any petrolhead.

  • Location: Elkhart Lake, WI
  • Length: 4mi
  • Turns: 14
  • Highlight: The sign outside Turn 5, saying “America’s National Park of Speed,” perfectly summarizes the circuit’s history, and the venue lives up to this with its rich history and bustling calendar. 

3- Circuit of the Americas

Circuit of the Americas (COTA) opened in 2010 and is the first race track in the USA purpose-built for Formula One. The main layout of the Grade 1 track was designed by renowned German track architect Herman Tilke, who is famous for designing numerous F1 circuits like the Yas Marina, IstanbulPark, and Bahrain International Circuit, as well as updated classics like Fuji Speedway and Hockenheimring. Enough said, right? 

 

formula one in cota

 

Located in Austin, TX, COTA has been the home of the United States Formula One Grand Prix since 2012, amongst many different series from various NASCAR events to MotoGP. Additionally, COTA is a multi-purpose venue, hosting concerts and festivals that attract crowds year-round outside of motorsports.

 

Besides spectating many of the world’s most prestigious racing events, you can drive your car on the same tarmac that legends have been racing on! COTA offers driving schools and track days where you can sharpen your skills or just enjoy driving on the edge with your own car. 

  • Location: Austin, TX
  • Length: 3.42mi
  • Turns: 20
  • Highlight: Definitely Turn 3-6 or the Esses. Inspired by the UK’s Silverstone, this section was built purely for the love of racing. Left, right, left, right…sounds simple, but the series starts at top gear on most cars and pushes both drivers and cars to their absolute limits.

2- Laguna Seca

Close to the top of our list, one of the most famous North America has to offer, is the Laguna Seca Raceway. Sitting on the Monterey Peninsula in the city of Salinas, California, Laguna Seca’s roots go back as far as the late 50s. Road racing was held on the public roads back in those days at Pebble Beach, and a permanent circuit was a requirement as the safety concerns increased.

 

two muscle cars on the corkscrew in laguna seca

 

The track follows a natural geographical path along the hills, resulting in a very interesting layout, significant elevation changes, and some very challenging corners. The most famous corner undoubtedly is “The Corkscrew.” Officially named “Turn 8” and “Turn 8A,” the Corkscrew features a staggering elevation change.

  • Location: Salinas, CA
  • Length: 2.23mi
  • Turns: 11
  • Highlight: The Corkscrew, officially named Turn 8 and Turn 8A, is undeniably the star of the show at Laguna Seca. Once you reach the first apex of the blind chicane, the elevation drop is 12 percent, and as you exit the 8A, the course drops 59 feet in total, in only a 450-foot distance.

1- Sonoma Raceway

The classic road course, initially known as Sears Point Raceway, is nestled in the hills of California’s wine county, just 30 miles off San Francisco. It has been a landmark for the North American motorsports scene since its inception, and it still hosts many racing series, including the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, and GT World Challenge, among many others. The venue also features a quarter-mile dragstrip that hosts the NHRA drag racing series. With steep elevation changes, blind hills, and tight corners, Sonoma Raceway is one of the most demanding race tracks in the US.

 

The venue also hosts some very unique events. Sonoma Drags & Drift offers anyone an adrenaline-fueled Wednesday night 16 times a year where you can participate with your own car. Another mentionable event held at the Sonoma Raceway is the Velocity Invitational. It is a festival-style event dedicated to celebrating speed and the history of racing. Sonoma also provides open track days for enthusiasts to drive their own cars on the iconic race track.  

 

drag racing at sonoma raceway

 

Here’s a fun, off-topic fact about the Sonoma Raceway: Remember that famous Windows XP wallpaper? Yup, the one with the green hill and bluest of the skies. That “Bliss” photo was captured in Sonoma, CA, just a few minutes from the track! 

  • Location: Sonoma, CA
  • Length: 1.9 to 2.5mi depending on the course
  • Turns: 12
  • Highlight: A flock of around 4,000 sheep maintains the grounds in and around the track—a charming and environmentally friendly approach to landscaping!

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pedal commander throttle controller

 

You can choose from Pedal Commander’s multiple driving settings to match your vehicle’s throttle response to your driving style and needs. Order yours now, enjoy adrenaline-fueled adventures, and don’t forget to switch to Sport+ for the best lap times!