Suzuka
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Iconic Racetracks Around the World

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Suzuka
Clive Rose/Getty

Get Your Motor Running

Somewhere in our DNA, humans have always had the need for speed. Some of the oldest and most challenging racetracks around the world got their starts as testing grounds for cars as a new mode of transportation. Many live on today as sacred spaces for fans to see the skill and daring of drivers trying to coax the best run possible from their rides. Take a spin through some of the most challenging racing circuits from around the world still in use today.


Related: Great Car Museums and Car Shows Worth the Drive

Bristol Motor Speedway
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Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol, Tennessee

At just over half a mile in length, this circuit with dirt track roots draws huge crowds to car, truck, and drag racing events. The Last Great Colosseum, as it’s called, opened in 1960 and features 24 degrees of banking in the turns. NASCAR.com says its a fan favorite “due to the close-quarters racing the track creates and the frequency of the ‘bump-and-run’ move that has become iconic at Bristol.”


Related: The History of NASCAR, From Bootleggers to Checkered Flags

monza circuit aerial view shot from drone on sunset
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Monza

Monza, Italy

This 3.6-mile road course is “a true cathedral to speed,” RacingCircuits.info says, and the site of Formula 1’s faster-ever lap — established in a 2004 practice round. The original 6.21-mile circuit was built in 110 days and opened in 1922 as a mix of banked oval and road courses. Eventually, the oval was abandoned in favor of the road course, which has been a Formula 1 staple.


Related: Classic Italian Sports Cars We Wish Were in Our Driveway


Autódromo José Carlos Pace
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Autódromo José Carlos Pace (Interlagos)

Sao Paulo, Brazil

The Autódromo José Carlos Pace — more commonly known as Interlagos — “is one of [Formula 1’s] few remaining jewels,” Bleacher Report says of the circuit that dates back to 1940. Emerson Fittipaldi took the first two Brazilian Grand Prix checkered flags in 1973 and 1974 before the course was reconfigured to its current 2.7-mile length (down from the original 5 miles) in 1990.


Monaco Grand Prix Tunnel
Rossella De Berti/istockphoto

Circuit de Monaco

Monte Carlo

Bleacher Report calls this tight 2.07-mile course “the last true, old-style street circuit in F1,” testing human and machine since 1929. With few exceptions, it’s been part of the Formula 1 racing schedule since 1950. The narrow surface that covers 19 turns leaves little room for error and passing can be tricky. In fact, there were no passes in the 2003 race.


Gateway of the circuit of the 24 hours of Le Mans, France.
olrat/istockphoto

Circuit de la Sarthe

Le Mans, France

Race fans know this 8.5-mile course with 38 turns for its fabled 24-hour endurance race, which began in 1923 and uses large sections of public roads. The smaller (2.6-mile) Bugatti circuit is used for most other events during the year. Until 1970, drivers sprinted across the track to their cars, started their engines, and drove off, but that tradition was abandoned for safety reasons.


Circuit of the Americas
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Circuit of the Americas

Austin, Texas

This 3.4-mile, 20-turn course is the home of the United States Grand Prix, one of only two Formula 1 races here in 2022. Drivers climb more than 100 feet from the starting grid before making a quick left turn. And before they can hit the straightaway again, they’ll need to dramatically cut speed to make it through Turn 15.


Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fl, USA.
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Daytona International Speedway

Daytona Beach, Florida

Racing on the sand at Daytona Beach was popular in the 1940s and ’50s. But Bill France Sr. had a better idea: build a permanent 2.5-mile tri-oval facility with lots of banking to allow for higher speeds. In 1959, that self-proclaimed “World Center of Racing” opened. NASCAR kicks off each season with the Daytona 500 endurance race there, and the venue is home to other annual events.


Indianapolis Motor Speedway Gate One Entrance. Hosting the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400, IMS is The Racing Capital of the World.
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indianapolis

There’s nothing flashy about this 2.5-mile banked oval track that opened in 1909 — unless hundreds of left turns at more than 220 miles an hour get your attention. Originally built as a testing facility for a growing number of auto manufacturers and paved with 3.2 million bricks (hence the “Brickyard” nickname), it's known for the annual Indy 500 but also has a 14-turn, 2.4-mile road course inside the bigger loop.


Tire tracks on the racing line
Kyle Campbell/istockphoto

Laguna Seca

Salinas, California

Sixty-five years after the Monterey Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Army signed a lease to turn Fort Ord into a road course, Laguna Seca is still dishing up a variety of racing action. The 2.2-mile circuit is the home of the famous Corkscrew turn that takes drivers up a hill and whips them through a quick left-right combination as they crest and head down the other side.

Long Beach Street Circuit
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Long Beach Street Circuit

Long Beach, California

The Grand Prix of Long Beach, a staple of the Indycar Series since 1984, runs on a temporary 1.9-mile, 11-turn road course that circles the Long Beach Convention Center. It has also served as a Formula 1 track over its long history. Mario Andretti edged Niki Lauda to become the first American to win a Formula 1 race in a U.S. Grand Prix event there in 1977, two years after the track was established. There’s lots of passing room, including in Turn 1, but successfully navigating the hairpin turn before the front stretch is critical.


whole Pflanzgarten section of the old Nordschleife
Markus Volk/istockphoto

Nürburgring

Nürburg, Germany

The original track opened in 1927 with a 14.2-mile north loop (Nordschleife) and a 4.8-mile south loop (Südschleife) that could be combined. Because of safety concerns after Niki Lauda’s crash in 1976 and other accidents, it was redesigned and reopened in 1984. The track — now in a more manageable 3.2-mile configuration for the Grand Prix circuit — has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Formula 1 racing, last appearing on that circuit’s schedule in 2020.


Road America
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Road America

Plymouth, Wisconsin

Road racing near Elkhart Lake in the early 1950s inspired this scenic 640-acre circuit dubbed “America’s National Park of Speed” with its 14-turn permanent track that measures a touch over 4 miles. The venue is heavily used by all forms of racing including SCCA, IMSA, Superbike, IndyCar, and NASCAR events.


Road Atlanta
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Road Atlanta

Braselton, Georgia

The 12-turn, 2.5-mile course built on 750 acres in northeast Georgia opened in 1970 and is the home of the Petit Le Mans 10-hour endurance race as well as other sports car and motorbike events. While the circuit doesn’t attract the bigger race series, it has seen its share of famous drivers, including Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Mark Donohue, and even Paul Newman. NASCAR bought the track in 2012.


Sebring International Raceway
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Sebring International Raceway

Sebring, Florida

The oldest road course in North America opened in 1950 and hosts sportscar events on the 3.7-mile, 17-turn circuit that include a famed 12-hour endurance race. The site was once home to Hendricks Field, a World War II U.S. Army Air Forces base used for training B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator pilots. The first 12-hour endurance race took place on the base’s runways and connecting roads marked with hay bales.


FIA WEC Race start at Spa Francorchamps
Sjoerd van der Wal/istockphoto

Spa-Francorchamps

Francorchamps, Belgium

The home of the Belgian Grand Prix as originally envisioned in 1921 covered 9.3 miles of rolling country roads. “Fast straights along public roads, sweeping corners, and unpredictable weather could combine to create a lethal combination — and too often did,” says RacingCircuits.info. Like other European road courses, this one was scaled back to something resembling its current 4.4-mile length in 1979. Bleacher Report calls it “the best F1-standard circuit in the world.”


Suzuka
Clive Rose/Getty

Suzuka

Suzuka, Japan

“Show us a racing driver who doesn’t love Suzuka and we’ll show you a liar,” says the course description for this unusual 3.6-mile figure-eight circuit on Formula1.com. “The high-speed track remains one of the ultimate driving challenges.” Built as a Honda test track in 1962, it began hosting the Japanese Grand Prix in 1987.


Silverstone
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Silverstone

Northamptonshire, England

The perennial home of the British Grand Prix played host to the first Formula 1 World Championship round in 1950 on the grounds of a converted RAF airfield where pilots were trained in night bombing techniques during World War II. “At the 2018 British Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton compared a flat-out lap around Silverstone to flying a fighter jet,” Formula1.com says of the 3.7-mile circuit. “Despite numerous layout changes over the years, Silverstone has always maintained its essential character as one of the fastest tracks on the F1 calendar.”


Watkins Glen International
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Watkins Glen International

Watkins Glen, New York

This track is “the spiritual home of road racing” in America, according to RacingCircuits.info, attracting crowds since the 1940s to various levels of racing including Formula 1 and NASCAR events. What started as a 6.6-mile course on roads in and around the village in 1948 evolved into a permanent (now 3.5-mile) circuit that opened in 1956. NASCAR bought the track in 2019.

Talladega Superspeedway
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Talladega Superspeedway

Talladega, Alabama

On the site of the former Anniston Air Force Base, this 2.7-mile tri-oval was literally built for speed with a 4,000-foot backstretch and greater banking in the turns than Daytona. The brainchild of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. opened in 1969 as the Alabama International Motor Speedway and immediately offered speeds of almost 200 mph. It also had a 4-mile road course in the infield until 1989.


Las Vegas Strip
Wikimedia Commons

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas

This may be jumping the gun, but the idea of a night race on a 3.8-mile road course with 14 turns that winds through the neon lights of Vegas seems like an instant classic. That’s what’s on tap when the Formula 1 series returns to Sin City in 2023 after three decades.