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Oval track racing

An oval track is a dedicated motorsport circuit, primarily in the USA, which differs from a road course in that it only has turns in one direction, which is almost universally left. Oval tracks often have banked turns as well. Despite the name, tracks do not have to be precisely oval, such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to be classed as oval tracks.

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.

Major forms of oval racing include stock car racing, sprint car racing, and forms of open-wheel racing currently sanctioned by the Indy Racing League or IRL.

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race in the United States was the Indianapolis 500 (an open wheel race), but among some pundits this has been largely superseded by the Daytona 500 (a stock car race).

Track classification

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.

By size

The definitions used to determine track sizes have changed over the years. It should be noted that while some tracks use terms such as "speedway" or "superspeedway" in their name, they may not meet the definitions set in this article.

Short tracks

A short track is an oval less than 1 mile (1.6 km) long. Short tracks are often used as a starting point for drivers seeking careers in oval track racing.

Speedways

Speedways (also known as "intermediate tracks") to in length. Since their size makes allows them to compromise high speeds with sightlines, they have become commonplace in major racing series that utilize oval tracks.

Superspeedways

Superspeedways are at least in length , featuring only left turns. The most famous superspeedways are Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway. These tracks were built in 1909 and 1959 respectively. Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built as a facility for the automotive industry to conduct research and development. Daytona International Speedway was built as a replacement for the Daytona Beach Road Course, which combined the town's main street and its famous beach, the track holds the Daytona 500, NASCAR's most prestigious race.

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).

Other superspeedways used by NASCAR include the Auto Club Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, and Pocono Raceway.

Shape

While many oval tracks conform to the traditional symmetrical design, asymmetrical tracks are not uncommon. Pocono Raceway, for example, has the shape of a scalene triangle with rounded corners. Darlington Raceway was built with an egg-shape to accommodate a near by minnow pond. Tri-ovals have become preferable to track builders as they offer superior sightlines. However, the recent construction boom of 1 ½ mile tri-oval shaped tracks has given these tracks a “cookie-cutter” label. A tri-oval with a "double dogleg" is often called a "quad-oval".

Rovals

A "Roval," sometimes referred to as a "Combined road course," is an oval track racing facility that features a road course in the infield (or outfield), that may or may not be directly linked to the oval circuit. A roval allows the facility to be used for road racing (Formula One, sports cars, motorcycles, etc.) Some forms of racing never race exclusively on ovals, and therefore would not have the ability to otherwise compete at some of the most famous speedways in the world.

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

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.

Comparison with road racing

Oval track racing requires different tactics than road racing. While the driver doesn’t have to shift gears as frequently or brake as heavily as in road racing, drivers are still challenged by negotiating the track. A road course usually has one preferred line. An oval can have several depending on banking, the radius of the turn, the width of the track, and the age of the surface. Each type of racing places physical demands on the driver. A driver in an IndyCar race at Richmond International Raceway may be subject to as many lateral g-forces as a Formula One driver at Istanbul Park.

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.

See also

References

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