FROST: Tracking The Race Tracks

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Tim Frost.

WILMETTE, Ill. — Each week fans travel to race tracks from coast to coast to witness numerous types of racing.

These venues that host this plethora of motorsports activity serve as gathering places for camaraderie and competition.

The majority of racing takes place on the grassroots level and millions of fans cheer their favorite drivers and teams in their quest for victory.

Racing occurs at oval tracks, drag strips and road courses on dirt or paved surfaces. These tracks are often located in rural areas or on county fairgrounds.

Many early facilities had short-life expectancies as they were crude, carved-out venues in farmers’ fields, while others were temporary circuits using airport runways or tracks at local athletic stadiums.

New information about active and closed tracks is updated and researched on social media by groups such as TrackChasers and SuperFans.

The exact count of tracks is difficult to determine, but famed racing historian Allan E. Brown details many in his book — “The History of America’s Speedways — Past and Present.”

The number of race tracks through the years counts more than 9,000.

The number of active tracks varies from decade to decade. The total is reflected by the popularity of the racing era, such as barnstorming, board tracks, midgets, jalopies and stocks cars.

The peak time for racing venues was during the 1950s. There were more than 2,000 oval tracks in operation at the time, reflecting the post-war boom, rising popularity of stock car racing and the participation of a  number domestic manufacturers.

The oil crisis of the 1970s affected the muscle car era and the oval-track count declined to around 1,300. It leveled out for the next few decades with the technology advances in open-wheel racing.

Each year there are market corrections in operating facilities. It is more of a slow. steady trickle than a deluge.

Historically, there have been about 10 to 20 new tracks built each year with a similar number closing or going into hiatus, leaving the total number somewhat stable. That trend has changed as more oval tracks are closing than are being built. There has also been limited growth of new permanent road courses, as they meet demand for track time.

The ongoing balance of supply and demand is impacted by declining attendance and car counts, the rising cost of racing and competition for the entertainment dollar.

The investment in and construction activity at motorsports facilities is noteworthy. Many tracks are constantly renovating or repurposing seating areas. This reflects the importance of extending the Motorsports Fairness and Permanency Act legislation.

Many dormant venues are being redeveloped for residential and commercial properties as land values have risen for alternative uses.

According to the 2019 edition of the “National Speedway Directory,” there are about 1,357 active racing facilities in the United States and Canada. This includes oval tracks — dirt and paved (65%), drag strips (23%) and road courses (12%).

California has the most tracks with 73. The Golden State is followed by Texas, Iowa, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Racing takes place across the country and will continue well into the future, so it is important for fans to get out to a race and support their local tracks.

National Speedway Directory Track Survey

United States

Ovals — 815
Dirt — 610
Paved — 205
Drag Strips — 268
Road Courses — 143
Total Tracks — 1,226

Canada

Ovals — 71
Dirt — 30
Paved — 41
Drag Strips — 43
Road Courses — 17
Total Tracks — 131