Are these tracks HOTS or is it just me?
Racetracks may look cookie-cutter to the untrained eye, but there is a lot of history beneath that asphalt. Preeminent oval track scholar Van Walling ’77 has coined the term Theory of Ovalution, which helps outline the generational advances in track design. Walling has spent over 40 years studying oval tracks, starting with an independent study project in his senior year as an engineering student at Lafayette. Those years of research are captured in his two-volume oversized soon-to-be published Oval Track Almanac (OTA). The book serves as a one-of-a-kind compilation of geometric design data, aerial photographs, topographical mapping, layout diagrams, and technical notes for more than 900 oval tracks.
Here he lays out that theory and then explains how viewing tracks from a combined historical and technical perspective creates interest and brings the heat.
Walling defines five Oval Track Generations to serve as a framework for OTA’s historical analysis, highlighting development of the sport’s infrastructure over the years. Here are defining characteristics of tracks from each generation.
Can you believe it: As a World War I flying ace, Medal of Honor recipient, automotive designer, military consultant, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and president of Eastern Air Lines, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker is an American icon. Unknown to many, however, his career began as a race-car driver, competing on the 1-mile dirt tracks of his day, including the Driving Park oval near his boyhood home of Columbus, Ohio.
Can you believe it: With its 50-degree banks, Miami-Fulford Speedway was one of the fastest board speedways ever built. It held one race in 1926 and then was leveled by a hurricane later that year. The track was never rebuilt. Instead the lumber was used to help rebuild homes and businesses in the Miami area.
Can you believe it: Occoneechee Speedway held its last race in 1968 but exists today as part of Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail thanks to the efforts of a number of local residents and Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. It is one of only three racing venues on the National Register of Historic Places, the other two being Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Bonneville Salt Flats.
Can you believe it: Originally paved with asphalt, the Dover Downs 1-mile classic oval was resurfaced with concrete in 1995. There is an active harness horse-racing track (a 0.625-mile oval) located inside the speedway.
Can you believe it: Noted speedway designer Charles Moneypenny copyrighted the D-shaped design he used for Michigan International Speedway and Texas International Speedway in 1969. In the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s, others apparently thought enough of Moneypenny’s design to use it for their tracks. In doing so, they were either purposely ignoring his copyright or were simply unaware of it.
OTA’s Theory of Ovalution posits that certain tracks throughout history have been much more influential than others. These four iconic racetracks are deemed to be the tent poles—or more appropriately, the Circles of Influence—within the Theory of Ovalution:
Walling wanted OTA to be more than a directory of every oval track that ever existed. So he established criteria through which tracks had to demonstrate uniqueness; sort of a high-speed honor roll. He called these criteria HOTS, historically or technically significant. This means a track had one or more of the following factors:
Not surprisingly, the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the only facility on OTA’s 900+ track roster that satisfies all 10 HOTS criteria. Most tracks only meet three or four criteria; some just one.