The “Monte Carlo of California”, that’s how tour agent and expat Brit’ Chris Pook tried to sell his audacious plan to bring an F1 race to the US’s West Coast back in the 1970s. When he explained where he envisioned this Monaco to be—Long Beach, a broken-down city long past its prime and now in terminal decay—the response from all potential investors was invariably the same: an invitation to leave the way he came. Pook insisted and eventually he found Long Beach itself ready to get onboard. In 1976, the F1 brigade came to town, Pook’s dream became a reality, the rejuvenation of Long Beach was successful, and the track quickly became one of the most treasured and famed street races in the world. Running through a tunnel of concrete walls on a circuit that contains surface changes throughout and presents and mix of slow and fast turns, Long Beach is a true test of courage, timing, and stamina. Get it even a little long, and the walls will end your race in a heartbeat.
The full layout is a gorgeous run into the California hills. This is an ideal place to give your thoroughbred a workout with a perfect mix of long straights and plenty of turns. As in hundreds of them. The track is bumpy as you’d expect, and you can also expect to hit top speed on numerous occasions, particularly after you’ve gone over the suspension bridge. If you don’t know your way around, keep off the racing line because this track is quick and you’re likely to cause an epic shunt.
DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
The “World Center of Racing” and the spiritual home of NASCAR, this is the US’s premiere racing circuit built when stock car racing in Daytona became too big for the local beach. The track was based on Ford’s oval test track in Michigan, but it was built a lot bigger and with only one overriding ambition—finding terminal velocity. The history of American stock cars lives and breathes at Daytona. The tri-oval opened for business in 1959 and the size of this place is jaw-dropping. In 1966, to add to its calendar of world-class events, Daytona hosted its first 24-hour with an infield road-course linked to the banking and, along with the Daytona 500, the 24-Hour race has grown into one of the three blue riband endurance races on the planet.
INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Inspired by the Brooklands oval in the UK, the Indianapolis Speedway traces its history to the very dawn of motorsport—1909—and its layout remains untouched to this day. The track’s paving proved a disaster when it first opened, and it was repaved with 3.2 million bricks—that’s how the “Brickyard” got its name. The speedway term, meanwhile, was also coined here for obvious reasons. This is an oval that is fast and difficult, requiring nerves of steel as cars trade downforce for top speed and begin to rely on little else but a driver’s feel for the conditions. In 2000, the Brickyard invited the world’s best single seater drivers to town, to duke it out on a road course that remains in place to this day. It’s a testy layout with an endless run up the banking and down the main-straight and rewards the winner in the same way as the oval—a bottle of cold milk, Indy’s champagne since 1936. Motorsport lore doesn’t get more special than winning it all at the Indy 500.
Built around the dry desert of the Mojave, this is a combination of 5 super-wide layouts, and each is a challenge on its own. All layouts, with their sweeping turns and undulating straights, offer both a fast driving challenge and great, close racing opportunities. The pick of the punch, for pure racing action, is Coyote Noose, a short run with fast sweeping bends that seems always to throw up door-to-door action. It’s a super-short lap as well, far less than a minute in a quick car, and simple to learn.
Monument Canyon is desolate, isolated, and spectacular—and an ideal location of three gorgeous layouts that will challenge you in unique ways. The Mesa View run takes you on a rollercoaster ride through tight turns, super-long straightaways, and a wider array of turns than the satellite dish network. You need to have it all to be quick here: good brake balance into downhill turns, torque on the uphill runs, and grip through long, fast, sweeping bends with blind approaches and ill-defined apexes. The Mesa View run is not short either: you’ll be doing well if you’re lapping here under 3 minutes in a lot of cars.
Road America is the National Park of Speed and North America’s most formidable road circuit that’s been scaring and thrilling drivers since 1954. The original layout has remained almost unchanged to this day, and no wonder: you can’t possibly improve on something so perfect and primal. In parts it will remind you of the best sweeps around Spa, and then it adds a number of turns that require complete commitment, especially through turn 11 where mucking about with your throttle input on entry will guarantee the rear-end gets snappy at some serious rates of knots. To be fast here is as simple as it is difficult: hit your apexes and get the power down early on this narrow, winding, and special circuit.
Welcome to the rolling green hills and valleys of California’s wine country and setting for the Sonoma Raceway, a beautiful race facility built in 1968. It’s a fabulous stretch of racetrack used by a whole host of national motorsport series and club racers. It’s arguably the most technical circuit in North America too, which is why this has been home to 3 of the world’s most important race schools—the original Bondurant school which was replaced by Skip Barber and finally Jim Russell’s school. It’s also a circuit that is slow to reveal its secrets: some turns really require you to try a few unusual lines to find pace around here.
TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
If a Texan says you’re about to get onto a superspeedway, you should listen up. Take the Texas Motor Speedway for instance, a 4-turn oval that, in 1994, invited the world to come find out what speed—Texas style—was all about. In the true tradition of the Lone Star State, the oval delivered precisely what it said on the box—speed. Insane, brain-breaking speed. So fast that in 2001, when the Champ Car series came to town, Paul Tracy clocked an average lap of 386kmh. Fast, yes, but nothing compared to the sustained Gs of load he was pulling out of the turns—5G. With the organizers fearing drivers would black out in the race, the event was cancelled with a couple of hours to go and Champ Car never came back. That was around when a road course was built joining the ovals to an infield section to bring in the GT crowd to town as well. A mighty fast place where pack-running at breakneck speeds means one mistake and its carambolage time.
WATKINS GLEN INTERNATIONAL
Back right after the war, gearheads from across the tri-state and Canada would decamp to the beautiful Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York to hold weekend races on public roads through country lanes and forests. The popularity (and danger) of these races—even a guy named William Milliken was a regular (the same Milliken whose book, “Race Car Vehicle Dynamics”, is the Bible of racing games)—led to the inevitable construction of a purpose-built facility in 1956. Milliken was a consultant on the design of this new circuit built near the town of Watkins Glen, and what a track it is; fast and treacherous, it rolls through the beauty of Upstate New York in a series of naturally cambered turns and sweeps. In the fall, which is when F1 once came to town, Watkins Glen remains one of the most evocative racetracks in the world.
WEATHERTECH RACEWAY LAGUNA SECA
A beautiful, flowing racecourse over natural hills in the Monterrey Peninsula and featuring one of the world’s most infamous turns, Laguna Seca is a driver’s circuit of note, mixing fast sweeps, serious undulation, and very quick turns with well-hidden apexes. It’s been a staple of national and international racing since 1957 when the track—built around a dried-up lagoon (hence the name)—opened its door for business. The rollercoaster ride here makes it one of the world’s most beloved and challenging tracks and includes the 20 metre drop through the Corkscrew, and the almost 10 story drop between turns 8 and 9.
WILLOW SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
Built out in the Mojave Desert, Willow Springs has not changed much since it opened its gates in 1953. The initial plan had been to develop a copy of the Indy oval here until funds ran as dry as the landscape and they settled on a road-course instead, designed in part by Ken Miles who tried to buy the track a few years later but was rebuffed by owner Bill Huth. They call it the “Fastest Road in the West” for good reason—super-fast sweeps and a long straight combine to make this one of North America’s quickest and wildest rides. With a surprising number of hills given its desert location, big run off areas, no grandstands, and challenging layouts, Willow Springs is an ideal circuit to hone your skills and your setups.