Have you ever driven really fast down a cool country road
? You know the kind I mean, lots of smooth sweeping curves, climbing up and down over a hill, then maybe a couple blind, fast corners then you brake hard for a hairpin
. If you have, then you have an idea what road racing
is all about. Road racing is essentially racing down a country road. Only the course is closed so you don't have to worry about Farmer Jones on his tractor in front of you, or someone backing out of his driveway
just as you're exiting a blind corner. Road racers turn both left and
right, climb hills. Any and every type of corner can be found on a road course.
People started racing almost as soon as they started making cars. Henry Ford and others saw racing as a way to promote their products, and it was fun. There were two places to race in the old days. Circle track, or oval track racing began at the county fairgrounds, where the horses raced. They were spectator events from the start, as the horsey tracks already boasted seating and other spectator accomodations. Road racing began the public roads. In easier going times roads were closed so people could race and the locals could make money selling stuff to the fans. Races like the Le Mans began on public roads, as did most road racing in America. On temporary street circuits that tradition still continues, in places like the Grand Prix at Monaco and Long Beach.
But the street circuits had their problems. Public roads are built to move the public. Many were very old, beginning as horse trails in revolutionary times. Safety at high speeds was never considered. There wasn't much (or any) room to spin off before you hit something. Road surfaces were rough, which can create a big problems at speed. Plus there were lots of hard things to hit in bad spots. Which meant that more people were killed than necessary. Fatalities led to the closing of most US public roads in the early fifties. But General Curtis LeMay was a racing fan. The SAC commander loved racing and saw it as a way to improve morale among his pilots. The 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race began that way. So lots of races were run on old Air force bases, where there was a lot of room to spin off and lots of wide pavement. In England, a profusion of surplus bomber bases gave tracks like Donnington their start.
But airports tend to lack character. For one thing, they're flat as a board. Not a tree or terrain feature in sight. And people want to keep flying planes off them, rather than use them for God's Intended Purpose, namely racing. So in the late fifties people started building purpose built road courses like Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, which opened in 1962. Watkins Glen used to host street circuit races, and liked the draw enough that purpose built course was built there. Mid Ohio, Germany's Nurburgring and Laguna Seca Raceway tend to represent the best of the purpuse built circuits, combining safety with challenging terrain.
Road racing cars
tend to emphasize handling and nimbleness more than their oval counterparts for the reason that the corner
s on a road course display much more variety than those found on circle track
s. A typical oval track, dirt or asphalt, features only left turns and the turns are either flat or banked
which is known as on camber
. Anything can happen on a road course. Corners that start on camber can end up off camber. In other words the banking tries to throw you off
the track! There are blind corner
s and hills, such as the infamous station eleven at Mid Ohio
or the corkscrew
at Laguna Seca
. For this reason a small, nimble car may lap faster than a more powerful, faster machine, though power does
matter. On a long circuit, like Nurburgring or Belgium's Spa
it is possible for one part of the circuit to be dry, while rain is falling on another part of the course. Unlike oval track racing, road racing takes place in the rain. Rain racing
is quite interesting for both spectator and participant alike.
Although NASCAR is the most prominent series in the United States, around the world road racing dominates. The Formula One or Grand Prix racing series is the most important racing series in the world, and has featured such famed drivers as Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart and Michael Shumacher F1 racing simply features the fastest cars and the best drivers on earth. And the highest expense, with top team budgets approaching $100 million. Endurance races such as LeMans and Sebring are road races, as are the various touring car competitions, the Grand Am, Trans Am and all forms of racing involving formula cars. The Champ Car series runs much of its schedule on road courses. The Sports Car Club of America SCCA sanctions amateur road racing in the United States, and the annual Runoffs at Mid Ohio routinely draws over 700 race cars and thousands of spectators.