Left, Right and ROVAL™: The History of NASCAR’s Road Courses
The NASCAR Cup Series has hosted races on 14 road courses since its inception in 1948. A recent addition, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 17-turn, 2.28-mile ROVAL™, encapsulates everything there is to love about road racing. Sweeping, banked corners, tight chicanes, wide left- and right-hand infield turns and treacherous elevation changes offer drivers a challenge like no other.
Said seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson after a ROVAL™ test session in 2018: “The likelihood of there being contact between second place and first, late in the race, is high.”
Prophetically, Johnson was in second place on the final lap of the inaugural Bank of America ROVAL™ 400 when he overshot the Turn 16 chicane and spun into leader Martin Truex Jr., eliminating both from contention while Ryan Blaney won what is arguably the most unforgettable race in NASCAR’s road course history.
Before the green flag falls on the third Bank of America ROVAL™ 400, here’s a brief look at the 13 other road courses NASCAR’s top series has visited:
AUGUSTA INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY: Augusta, Georgia, was the home of championship golf and NASCAR road racing for one brief year. Augusta International Raceway’s three-mile road course hosted its lone NASCAR Cup Series event, a 417-mile affair, on Nov. 17, 1963, as part of the 1964 season. Richard Petty led a race-high 59 of 139 laps, but Glenn “Fireball” Roberts took the victory. The track is now the site of the 300-acre Diamond Lakes Regional Park.
BRIDGEHAMPTON RACE CIRCUIT: A 12-turn, 2.85-mile road course in Sag Harbor, New York, Bridgehampton Race Circuit hosted NASCAR Cup Series races in 1958, 1963-’64 and 1966. Jack Smith, Richard Petty, Billy Wade and David Pearson collected victories at the facility, which also hosted Can-Am, World Sportscar and IMSA events. Bridgehampton held amateur club races through 1997 before it closed in 1999.
DAYTONA BEACH & ROAD COURSE: The forerunner to Daytona International Speedway, the Beach & Road Course in Daytona Beach, Florida, held 10 NASCAR Cup Series races from 1949-’58. A 4.1-mile course connected the paved Highway A1A with the sandy beaches of Daytona’s shore. Tim Flock and Marshall Teague laid claim to two victories each, but depending on what time the track’s races finished, nearly every competitor in the field could lay claim to piloting a Tide Ride.
DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY ROAD COURSE: Renowned for its annual 24-hour IMSA sports car race at the end of January, the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway played host to its first NASCAR Cup Series race in August. Chase Elliott, the defending winner of the Bank of America ROVAL™ 400, continued his road course mastery by beating Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. to win the Go Bowling 235.
KITSAP COUNTY AIRPORT: Imagine witnessing the biggest names of the NASCAR Cup Series competing on an airport runway that’s a short track and also a road course. It happened on Aug. 4, 1957, when Kitsap County Airport in Bremerton, Washington, transformed into a 9/10-mile road course to serve as the site of racing legend Parnelli Jones’ first Cup Series victory. It’s now known as Bremerton National Airport and is decades removed from motorsports.
LINDEN AIRPORT: The first official road course race in NASCAR history took place on a two-mile temporary course at New Jersey’s Linden Airport in 1954. Al Keller earned $1,000 for winning a 50-lap duel over Joe Eubanks and Buck Baker. Keller took the checkered flag in a Jaguar, marking the first and only time a Jaguar has won a NASCAR Cup Series race. The airport, still in operation, also held the New York round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in 2010.
ORANGE COUNTY AIRPORT: Designed as an Army training field when it was constructed in 1942, New York’s Orange County Airport hosted a battle of NASCAR Cup Series stars on July 17, 1960. The first-and-only Empire State 200 saw Rex White beat Richard Petty around a two-mile course in front of 5,000 spectators. The airport – one of New York’s busiest general-aviation airports – held the only NASCAR race in the Hudson Valley.
ROAD AMERICA: Held in high regard by fans for its annual NASCAR Xfinity Series and NTT IndyCar Series events, Road America is one of the fastest road courses in the country. A 14-turn, 4.04-mile circuit located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Road America held its first – and only – NASCAR Cup Series race on Aug. 12, 1956. Tim Flock’s Mercury outlasted all comers in a 63-lap, 258-mile race that took a whopping three hours and 29 minutes to complete.
RIVERSIDE INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY: Built for $625,000 in 1957, California’s Riverside International Raceway offered priceless NASCAR action on its nine-turn, 2.62-mile course. The venue was good for fans, with a number of exciting finishes thanks to a wide, right-hand Turn 9 offering passing opportunities. It was also kind to first-time winners, as Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue, Tim Richmond and Bill Elliott scored their maiden Cup Series victories at Riverside. Team owner Rick Hendrick competed in the track’s final Cup Series race in 1988.
SONOMA RACEWAY: California’s wine country has heard the roar of stock car engines for more than 30 years, with Sonoma Raceway’s 12-turn, 2.52-mile circuit thrilling fans of all ages with classic moments since NASCAR’s inaugural foray in 1989. While luminaries including Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin have enjoyed the spoils of victory at Sonoma, no one has been more successful than Jeff Gordon – who ruled the road course to the tune of a record five wins.
TITUSVILLE-COCOA AIRPORT: Bringing new meaning to the old racer’s term “good on takeoff,” the runway at Florida’s Titusville-Cocoa Airport became a 1.6-mile road course for one NASCAR Cup Series race on Dec. 30, 1956. Fireball Roberts triumphed in a Ford owned by Peter DePaolo, the winner of the 1925 Indianapolis 500. Now known as Space Coast Regional Airport, Titusville’s one-time NASCAR track remains the nearest commercial airport to the Kennedy Space Center.
WATKINS GLEN INTERNATIONAL: Tucked away in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes region, Watkins Glen International is one of the country’s most historic road courses. Known for hosting Formula One’s United States Grand Prix from 1961-’80 and a slew of endurance sports car events, “The Glen” has captivated fans with NASCAR Cup Series races since 1957. Its eight-turn, 2.45-mile “short” course has hosted Cup Series events since 1986, when Tim Richmond out-dueled Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott over 90 electrifying laps.
WILLOW SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL MOTORSPORTS PARK: The oldest permanent road course in the United States, California’s Willow Springs International Motorsports Park is a 2.5-mile track featuring the same layout as when it was built in 1953. NASCAR’s stars visited the track in 1955 and ’56, when Chuck Stevenson and Marvin Panch took the only checkered flags for Cup Series races. The series now known as ARCA Menards Series West last competed there in 1986, when the ageless Hershel McGriff scored the win.
About the Writer: A 2010 graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne University, Aaron Burns is the director of social media for A.E. Engine and a motorsports public relations and journalism practitioner, most recently with Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR Pole Position and SPEED SPORT Magazine.