Pro Drivers' 10 Favorite North American Tracks

It’s easy to sum up any race track with a circuit outline and a few vital statistics, but that’s about as interesting as experiencing a full race season through a tidy list of the winners’ names and the number of points they earned.

To grasp the magic fully, you’ve got to be there, to smell the air in pit lane before the warmup lap starts, to hear the reverberation of an engine at full throttle as it echoes off the walls of the spectator bridge. An elevation map can show a dip, but it can’t make your guts levitate into your chest cavity as the suspension extends and the tires reach desperately for the tarmac.

We went to some of the big players in our scene and asked them to share their favorite North American circuits with us, big or small. The folks on our list come from a wide variety of backgrounds and racing experiences, but they all have one thing in common: They’ve devoted their lives to the world of motorsports, and they’ve had the opportunity to push the limit at circuits around the world. We ran a list of high-profile tracks in our February 2013 issue, so this time around we asked our experts to dig a bit deeper for sentimental favorites.

Randy Pobst: Atlanta Motorsports Park

FIRST TASTE
“When I heard the rumors of a new track going in around Atlanta, it was exciting–more is always better. The foothills of the Appalachians promised interesting terrain to drape a track over. My first visit to AMP, I went up on a motorcycle and I got a ride in a highly modified Volvo S60 of all things, owned by Zeke Massie. He’s one of the first guys to get a garage at the track–he and his wife, Alicia.”

MAKE THE PASS
“The obvious passing zone is into Turn 1, but it’s really tricky since it goes steeply downhill and it’s blind on the entry. Turn 10 is normally a compromise corner for Turn 11, but if you apex 9 early and carry huge speed through 10, you can dive-bomb through the apex of 11, which is a steep downhill. When you land on the exit, the track flattens and the car grips up. It’s a great setup pass.”

MAGIC MOMENT
“It’s not an easy track to figure out. It’s very hilly with a lot of elevation changes. Many of the corners are blind, which I really like. The track disappears over the crest of a corner five times at least–maybe six. It’s a roller coaster. I’m in road racing because I like the corners, and AMP has a lot of corners. I think a lot of people would call it a technical track, but that doesn’t sound like enough fun!”

PERFECT RIDE
“It’s a great Spec Miata track because it’s so busy. You’re cornering a lot at AMP. I think it’s better for the lighter, more agile cars–Lotus Elises. Corvettes are good anywhere. I think a real race car like a sports racer or formula car would be really well suited to AMP.”

NEWCOMER TIP
“Most of the turns are medium- and low-speed–until you get to the finish, which is a remake of one of the world’s great corner complexes, Eau Rouge at the Spa circuit in Belgium. That means it’s fast, it goes uphill to the left, then it goes back to the right over a blind crest–decreasing radius, off-camber on the exit. My advice to a newbie is to treat that corner with great respect and apex late, late, late. It’s one of the most challenging combination corners that I’ve seen anywhere outside the Nürburgring.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“There’s a long, sweeping, increasing-radius corner that comes before the Eau Rouge complex. I would run a straightaway out of 13 and turn back, make 14 a fast kink, and have a straighter run to 15. Every track has a limited amount of footprint, and they make the most of what they’ve got.”

Andy Pilgrim: Sonoma Raceway

FIRST TASTE
“My first time there was in 1984, in the Renault Cup Series. My first pro win was at Sears Point in 1986 in a Firestone Firehawk Pontiac Firebird. I had some motorcycle road racing experience before I came to the United States, and I raced my actual street motorcycle in road racing–economics dictated the choice. If you’re a cycle racer, you tend to be smooth and you tend to connect corners. To me it was just like running a country road, and that’s where I learned to ride. Connected corners are the most fun–it reminded me of a lot of English tracks. I was immediately at home there.”

NEWCOMER TIP
“Coming up to Turn 2, the classic line is to pinch the apex, but you can use the steepness of the hill to make a late, quick turn to a late apex. Use the hill for braking at the turn-in–it’s basically like a vertical corner. It goes from steep-hill entry to smoothing out and flattening as you exit. Don’t be tempted to early-apex–that’s death going in there.”

CAR OF CHOICE
“[Something with] medium horsepower, big downforce. The more downforce you have, the more horsepower you can deal with. But if you have a really good-handling street car with 300 horsepower, you’re going to be probably quicker than a heavier car with 400 or 500 horsepower that doesn’t handle so well.”

MAKE THE PASS
“There’s a good place [to pass] going into Turn 4 that’s not always expected. A very inside late-braking move going into the carousel is one that I’ve had a lot of luck with. You can go a lot deeper if you’ve got the inside line, but you can get into trouble. I’ve used that a lot passing GTS traffic.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“I would straighten out Turn 8 a little bit. If they made it a little less of a turn, the esses would be so awesome. We fly into Turn 8 and have to brake and late-apex, and that always frustrates the heck out of me. Unless you have massive downforce, you have to push through there. I don’t wanna brake!”

Brock Yates Jr: Summit Point Motorsports Park

FIRST TASTE
“In 1995, the One Lap showed up [at Summit Point]. I was driving a little Dodge Shelby Charger and we were sharing the day with the Dodge Shelby Club. Summit Point really impressed me then. It’s got a really long straightaway; Turns 1 and 2 are very interesting; 3 is terrifying until you drive it in a truck or a tall car, and all of a sudden it makes sense because you can see the exit all the way through.”

GET IN THE GROOVE
“I’ve been lucky. I learn race tracks relatively quickly. I pride myself on being able to get around the track. The biggest problem I had [at Summit] was working up the courage to go relatively flat-out through Turn 10. Using the curbing never seemed like a good idea to me: Folks go wide, try to save it, and then all of a sudden they’re in the wall.”

MAGIC MOMENT
“Turns 4 through 8. To me, that’s one of the best combinations in racing, especially in the rain.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“I really have no complaints about Summit. It’s a perfect regional race track. The people in the restaurant are lovely–they do a nice job. Even the showers are good. It would be nice if they had garages.”

MAKE THE PASS
“I’m not that good a racer [to have a master passing point]! Joel Lipperini and I raced there years ago; we found that we could go 50 feet deeper into Turn 5 if we smeared WD40 on the rear brake pads. It worked really well–otherwise, the rear’s not settled down.” [This is where the editors remind you that greasing your own brakes can be profoundly hazardous to your health.]

James Clay: Roebling Road Raceway

FIRST TASTE
“My first time on track at Roebling was my first time on track ever. That was in 1997, I believe, in an E30 BMW M3. I had done two autocrosses before then. Everybody’s first time on track is a wow factor: I didn’t know the car could do that! What a great training ground, what a great place to learn.”

NEWCOMER TIP
“Turn 1 can be deceptive. If you brake hard for 1, you’re gonna upset the car enough that you can’t take it that fast. But if you learn to roll speed through the turn, you can brake super late and not as much as you’d think you need.”

MAGIC MOMENT
“So much speed. There are fast sections that test how hard you’re going to push. [Turn 9] is where I learned that I can take it flat if the car will go, but if I hesitate or get the throttle wrong, it won’t work. That was such a concept for me.”

MAKE THE PASS
“I think my favorite passing zone there is through Turn 3. It’s so fast–not flat in everything, but close to it. The traditional line is to exit to the left to set up for Turn 4–you could always take advantage of the school guys there. Sometimes the race line is the defensive line, sometimes it’s the fast way around the track, and sometimes you just make the defensive line the fast way. If you’re committed to keeping the throttle down all the way out of 3, you can absolutely stuff it on someone in 4.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“It’s not feasible and I don’t think it’ll ever happen, but I would love to have a bridge or a tunnel just to drive in and out of the track.” [Currently, cars are unable to enter or leave the facility during a race, since the main road crosses the front straight.] “It’s not the most modern or awesome facility, but it’s clean, it’s nice, it has character. They repaved it recently, and that took care of some issues. They’ve done a great job keeping such an old track a great place to go.”

Andy Lally: Watkins Glen International

FIRST TASTE
“The first time I ever watched a race on TV from Watkins Glen, it was the epic battle in 1988 that Ricky Rudd had holding off Rusty Wallace for the win. I didn’t race there myself until 1995, but I won my first two races there.”

MAGIC MOMENT
“I’ve had so many incredible moments there, including three wins in the 6 Hours at the Glen and my first Sprint Cup series start. It’s a magical place for me. I love the high-speed corners. The track flows better than any other track I have ever driven, and the layouts create great battles.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“I can't think of a single thing I would do to Watkins Glen except [add] a safer barrier on the inside of the exit of the Boot. [The current barrier is on the] driver’s left just before braking and has the potential to be a huge impact for anyone on the short course. There needs to be tires, space and then a safer barrier.”

NEWCOMER TIP
“You’ve never taken enough curb on the entry to the Bus Stop!”

Todd Lamb: Thunderhill Raceway Park

FIRST TASTE
“My first experience at Thunderhill was driving a Spec Miata for BiggsB in the 25 Hours in 2007. Andrew Caddell and I were asked to anchor the car for the team, and we ended up winning the 25-Hour in our first attempt. That’s what makes the track special for me. It was a grueling race and by far the longest that I’d run to that point, so the elation of the event sticks with me to this day.”

MAKE THE PASS
“After running the 25-Hour, I’ve seen unexpected passes anywhere and everywhere. I think if I was running a sprint race, setting up the car for the sweeping Turn 2 would be critical to a quick lap time.”

MAGIC MOMENT
“The neat thing about Thunderhill is the Turn 5 jump, or bypass. It’s one of those corners where the approach is critical, because it’s a very steep uphill on entry and a very steep downhill on the exit, topped off with a few moments of flight in between. Thunderhill was designed to run in the reverse direction as well. Very few tracks can pull that off safely.”

NEWCOMER TIP
“Assuming the 25-Hour, bypass configuration, approach the jump with precision. When the car is on the track, the direction it is pointed and the amount of speed and throttle are all critical to sticking the landing on a hot lap.”

PERFECT RIDE
“Thunderhill requires a very versatile car. Handling and horsepower are both critical. There’s only one long-duration heavy-braking zone–Turn 14–so a car that is a little weak on brakes wouldn’t be at a huge disadvantage. Aero would help, as the track is generally medium- to high-speed.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“The only change I’d make would be to move it about 4 hours south to a warmer winter climate!”

Charles Espenlaub: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

FIRST TASTE
“My first experience at Mosport was my third race ever: the 24 Hour IMSA Endurance Challenge in 1996 with Jim and Joe Jordan in the Protomotive Mazda Miata. What a great experience! We overcame a lot of challenges to finish that race. We had the front subframe crack in a bad way. After a few hours of cutting and welding, we got it fixed. All the other drivers had gone back to the hotel, so off I went on what was a great learning experience as Joe Jordan coached me around on the radio.”

MAGIC MOMENT
“[Mosport] was just fast, and back then the walls were a bit closer and the bridge was still in Turn 4. It was a blind, no-lift turn into what looked like a garage with the door halfway open. Too cool.”

MAKE THE PASS
“As we’re going back there for the 2014 Tudor Championship, I would like to take the Fifth on this one!”

NEWCOMER TIP
“Take a track walk with someone who knows Mosport. Back when we ran the Panoz school there, it seemed that was the key to a safe start to the adventure.”

PERFECT RIDE
“The perfect car for Mosport is anything you can race someone else with. Mosport is a great race track, so whether you’re in a B-Spec or a Prototype, the racing is intense. That’s the main reason it’s my favorite track.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“I would put the bridge back in Turn 4. I know safety concerns are why it went away, but man, was that a small garage door.”

Mike Skeen: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

FIRST TASTE
“My first time at St. Pete was in 2011 driving the CRP Racing/Cragar Wheels Corvette in the World Challenge GT series. I qualified less than a tenth behind Patrick Long’s Porsche, and we had a great battle through the first race until a lapped car took us out at the end. We rebounded in Race Two for a podium behind Long and [James] Sofronas.”

MAGIC MOMENT
“For a street course, St. Pete combines a lot of cool elements and really only lacks in top speed. It’s relatively short at 1.8 miles, but it has some pretty quick esses to start the lap; a tight, technical, unforgiving section in the middle; and some fast kinks thrown in for good measure. I think my favorite portion is that tight bit in the back that has nothing but Jersey barriers to keep you in line. It goes around a park, so the fans are always nearby.”

NEWCOMER TIP
“Ceviche has a pretty good lunch and is right beside the track at Turn 8. Seriously, though, use all the road. There aren’t exit curbs and some corners don’t have apex curbing, so you have to drive the car right up to the walls. I usually advise guys to use the painted lines for a reference rather than focusing on the walls. It’s easy if you know there are 6 inches of asphalt past the line–just put half a tire over the paint and ignore the wall altogether. Also, be mindful of the paint in the brake zones.”

MAKE THE PASS
“In the mixed-class racing of Pirelli World Challenge, it’s all about getting through traffic. When there are tons of cars on a short street circuit with few escape routes, you have to plan ahead even more than usual. As a GT driver, sometimes you can set up passes with a pick in the faster sections, where speed differentials are even greater. This was often the case in the back stretch with the kink before Turn 10.”

PERFECT RIDE
“Power and aero aren’t too crucial in relative terms. Mechanical grip and compliance are critical. You have a lot of changing surfaces to deal with throughout the lap, and forward bite out of the slow corners is very important. Stability is also important on a course like this, so the driver can remain aggressive without risking too much.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“Parking! Like any temporary circuit in a city, there’s a lot of stuff going on and not much room for it. The promoters actually do a fantastic job.”

Aaron Povoledo: Circuit Mont-Tremblant

FIRST TASTE
“That first outing was a 1979 Formula Ford Van Diemen. It was just a great experience. Mont-Tremblant rewards bravery and precision and technique. One advantage of Canadian drivers of my era: There are no tracks more intimidating than Tremblant and Mosport, though Watkins Glen comes close. Growing up on those two Grand Prix circuits, Turn 17 at Sebring doesn’t seem so scary–though it is a little!”

NEWCOMER TIP
“Think about where you put your eyes, and stretch your neck a lot. You gotta move your head up and down, left and right. It’s a roller coaster of a circuit. If you’re not well ahead visually, you’re in big trouble. All tracks are like that, but this one especially. Do some slow laps just looking, finding your next apex.”

PERFECT RIDE
“I’d like to go there with a Formula Atlantic, something with high horsepower but the downforce to match it.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“I would make [Mont-Tremblant] more available for pro racing. I’d put it back on the pro circuit.”

MAKE THE PASS
“There are a lot of places where you can make up time, and that’s what I like about the track: There are no real throwaway sections.”

Will Nonnamaker: Nelson Ledges Road Course

FIRST TASTE
“The funny thing is, my first experience was as a kid. My dad would go and race. When you’re a kid, whatever your dad is doing is what you grow a fondness for. My first drivers’ school was at Nelson Ledges. Back then–this was 1992–everyone was saying, ‘It needs this and this done. It’s gonna be closed in a year.’ And yet it’s still here.”

MAGIC MOMENT
“It’s such a flowing track–it’s a wonderful track layout. The layout lends itself to some really high speeds–people don’t realize how fast they’re going. An Improved Touring S car does a 1:14-second lap. That’s a 96-mph average! They used to run Trans-Am there.”

NEWCOMER TIP
“Keep it on the track! You don’t want to go off at Nelson Ledges. It’s pretty bumpy. When you can keep it on the track, it’s got such a rhythm to it. That’s why I love enduros there. You get into a trance–you just keep going and going. That last turn is really tight–it’s like a closer to the lap that clears your mind for the next one.”

IF I WERE IN CHARGE
“I would resurface the track and make it about 5 feet wider. I’m telling you, it would be one of the best tracks in the country.”

PERFECT RIDE
“Oh, a chumpcar, for sure [referring to the class of low-buck endurance racers popular in series like ChumpCar and 24 Hours of LeMons]. It’s just so grassroots. A chumpcar with stock shocks and springs.”

NOW THAT’S LOVE
“I told my wife, ‘When I die, I want my ashes spread around Nelson Ledges.’”

Join Free Join our community to easily find more articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
Kreb
Kreb UltraDork
10/24/17 2:49 p.m.

No Laguna Seca?

Jaynen
Jaynen SuperDork
10/24/17 3:39 p.m.

Yeah these don't seem to be based on the criteria I would expect from the title.

 

In my book the generally regarded three best tracks in North America are Laguna Seca, VIR, and Watkins Glen in no specific order

WildScotsRacing
WildScotsRacing Dork
10/24/17 3:50 p.m.

For the record, Paul Newman's favorite track to drive was Hallett. Or so he supposedly said...

racerfink
racerfink UltraDork
10/24/17 6:43 p.m.

Having just run Hallett for the first time this past weekend, I could see that.  A really fun track in the right car.  

LanEvo
LanEvo HalfDork
10/24/17 7:25 p.m.

I see both Tremblant and Mosport made the list ... which are my two favorites.

It’s a little weird to see Summit Point and St  Pete, but no mention of VIR, Mid-Ohio, or Road Atlanta. 

Nitroracer
Nitroracer UltraDork
10/24/17 7:28 p.m.

Nelson Ledges has been resurfaced as one of the guys from the article was asking for.  I haven't been back since the work was done, but I've been hearing lots of good things.

Huckleberry
Huckleberry MegaDork
10/24/17 7:36 p.m.

Lies!

Brock Jr is on to something but the rest of these guys just forgot to say Mid-Ohio. I accepted food and a shower to race someone else's Spec E30 and by NCAA rules that makes me a pro. So, listen the berkeley up!

Mid-Ohio

 

 

Jerry
Jerry UltraDork
10/24/17 8:09 p.m.

This article is over 3 years old. Would that explain any of these choices?

Jaynen
Jaynen SuperDork
10/24/17 9:02 p.m.

"

“If there is a heaven on earth, it is VIR.”

— Paul Newman"

 

http://virnow.com/about/driver-testimonials/

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
10/24/17 10:37 p.m.

Bridgehampton is by far the best track I have ever run. All the others seem tame compared to the Bridge.  I think it is the only track that I really respected. You had to come to an understanding with that track and respect it otherwise it would bite you big time. 

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
10/25/17 12:24 a.m.

If it makes anyone feel any better, this article caused a lot of friction around the office, too. 

No Road Atlanta?

No Sebring?

No VIR?

No Road America?

No Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca?

Maybe if we had asked four more people we'd have gotten those answers. But, as it sits, we can't fault anyone for their rationale.

I'll throw in a couple plugs for what I feel are criminally underrated tracks:

1. Hallett. Someone mentioned it before. Great track, and amazing in both directions. Great track to test on or race on.

2. Pacific Raceways. Just a throwback to a day when you had what you had and you made it work... and sometimes it worked brilliantly. The whole back section feels very European between the terrain and the track shape.

3. Las Vegas Speedway Outside Road Course. Yeah. I like it. So sue me. Lots of great "trap" corners that reward experimentation and committment.

accordionfolder
accordionfolder HalfDork
10/25/17 12:58 a.m.

I don't think Laguna is that good, the corkscrew doesn't feel as interesting as it photographs. Turn 6 is the fun one, but it's just a power track. Maybe if I drove faster cars I would change my tune.

dculberson
dculberson PowerDork
10/25/17 6:53 a.m.
Jaynen said:

Yeah these don't seem to be based on the criteria I would expect from the title.

 

In my book the generally regarded three best tracks ..

"Favorite" isn't very specific criteria and it doesn't say "best."

KyAllroad
KyAllroad PowerDork
10/25/17 7:25 a.m.
Jerry said:

This article is over 3 years old. Would that explain any of these choices?

NCM is newer than the list. 

Our Preferred Partners
tciSg8rlGPH1URKhoLOcLHt5FzmHvfOVhugfNqTrybQPxkDSjhRIzsORjUh1F1Ci