The racing held on these tracks is referred to as 'oval racing', and is a type of motorsport, primarily American, that involves running multiple cars wheel-to-wheel in a race around the track.
For many years the premiere oval race in the United States was the Indianapolis 500 (an open wheel race), but among some pundits this has been largely superseded by the Daytona 500 (a stock car race).
Oval tracks are classified based upon their size, surface, and shape. Their size can range from only a few hundred feet to over two and a half miles. Track surfaces can be dirt, concrete, asphalt, or a combination of concrete and asphalt. Some ovals in the early twentieth century had wood surfaces.
The longest and fastest superspeedway is the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Built in the 1960s, it is 2.66 miles (4.20 kilometers) long, and holds the current record for fastest speed in a stock car, 228 miles per hour (367 km/h).
Rovals typically consist of the oval portion of the track, utlizing the same start/finish line, and same pit area, but a mid-course diversion to a winding road circuit in the infield. At some point, the circuit leads back to the main oval, and completes the rest of the lap. On some of the faster ovals, a chicane is present on long back-straighaways, to keep speeds down, and create additional braking/passing zones.
Rovals combine the high speed characteristics of ovals and technical precision of road courses, and allow road racing the unique experience of being held in the "stadium style" atmosphere of an oval superspeedway. Since 1962, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona has been one of the most notable roval races. However, due to the limitations of infield dimensions, and the common lack of topography, rovals often compromise the road racing experience. While the oval’s sightlines are popular, some fans may feel that the racing itself is lackluster. In many cases, the grandstand seating around the oval offers the least popular view of the road racing, as fans are drawn to observe from the more challenging infield portion.
Notable rovals (U.S.)
Notable rovals (International)
The term rovals can also be used to loosely describe an oval track with an asymentrical, unusual, or oblong shape. While these speedways are still technically ovals, their unique shape often requires driving characteristics similar to those of a road course.
Notable asymmetrical rovals
Pack racing is a phenomenon found on fast, high-banked superspeedways. It occurs when the vehicles racing are cornering at their limit of aerodynamic drag, but within their limit of traction. This allows drivers to race around the track constantly at wide open throttle. Since the vehicles are within their limit of traction, drafting through corners will not hinder a vehicle’s performance. As cars running together are faster than cars running individually, all cars in the field will draft each other simultaneously in one large pack. In stock car racing this is often referred to as “restrictor plate racing” because NASCAR mandates that each car use an air restrictor to reduce horsepower.
The results of pack racing may vary. As drivers are forced to race in a confined space, overtaking is very common as vehicles may travel two and three abreast. This forces drivers to use strong mental discipline in negotiating traffic. There are drawbacks, however. Should an accident occur at the front of the pack, the results could block the track in a short amount of time. This leaves drivers at the back of the pack with very little time to react. The results of this are often catastrophic as several cars may be destroyed in a single accident. This type of accident is often called "The Big One". NASCAR drivers have developed strategies to form smaller packs away from the lead pack early in a race. This gives them extra reaction time in event of a crash.
Weather also plays a different role in each discipline. Road racing offers a variety of fast and slow corners that allow the use of rain tires. Paved ovals cannot support rain tires because the turns are all very fast and the soft rubber compound used in the tread would not survive long against the forces inflicted upon it. Dirt ovals will sometimes support a light rain.
Safety has also been a point of difference between the two. While a road course usually has plenty of runoff space, gravel traps, and tire barriers, ovals usually have a concrete retaining wall separating the track from the fans. Innovations have been made to change this, however. The SAFER barrier was created to provide a less dangerous alternative to a traditional concrete wall. The barrier can be retrofit onto an existing wall or may take the place of a concrete wall completely.
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