A race track is a special facility constructed for racing of athletes, vehicles or animals (e.g. horse racing or greyhound racing). There also may be grandstands or concourses at the race track. Racetracks are widely used to study the animal locomotion. Another term for motorsport is the speedways.
A permanent facility or building is known as racetrack. The term racecourse means a horse racing track and is commonly used in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. Race tracks built for bicycles are called velodromes. Another widely used term for racetrack is circuit, because of the typical circuitous configuration of most race tracks due to which races can occur over several laps.
A term race course denotes non-permanent tracks for sports, particularly road running, water sports, road racing, or rallying. Many sports events that are typically held on racetracks may take place on temporary tracks, such as the Monaco Grand Prix in Formula One.
The first racetracks were erected in several ancient civilizations. The most developed ones were the hippodromes in Ancient Greece and the Roman circuses that were constructed for horse and chariot racing. For example, the stadium of the Circus Maximus in Ancient Rome could accommodate 200,000 spectators.
Racing facilities existed during the Middle Ages as well. There was a public racecourse opened at Newmarket in London in 1174. In 1780 the Earl of Derby built a horse-racing course on his estate at Epsom. Since that time the tradition of organizing the English Derby continues to these days. While racecourses in the British Isles, called turf tracks, are based on grass, racecourses in the United States are based on dirt.
With the invention of the automobile the racetracks built in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, were designed to meet the needs of powered machines. The first tracks for automobile races were modified horse racing courses opened in September 1896, at Narragansett Park in Cranston, Rhode Island. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway started operating in August 1909.
Since the early 1900s, motorcycle races had been held on high, banked, wooden race tracks known as board tracks. During the 1920s, most of the AAA Championship circuit races were run on board tracks.
These days contemporary racetracks are designed with spectator safety taken into account as in the past there were incidents of spectator and track marshals fatalities. Now racetracks feature run off areas, barriers, and high fencing to prevent injuries.
Racetracks are used for:
- animal sports, such as horse racing, harness racing, greyhound racing, camel racing;
- human sports including bobsleigh, skeleton, cycling, speed skating, track and field;
- motor sports including auto racing, motorcycle racing, track racing (motorcycles),
- stock car racing, drag racing, Kart racing.
Surfaces may be varied and be made of concrete (motorsport), asphalt/tarmac (motorsport, athletics, cycling), grass (horses, amateur motorsport, cross country running), dirt (horses, greyhound, automobiles, motorbike (track racing), stock car, radio controlled off-road racing, cycling), sand (horse, camel, greyhound, rally raid), wood (cycling) (board track racing – now defunct), ice (ice racing on dirt tracks, Bobsleigh, speed skating, ice motor racing), carpet (electric radio controlled racing), artificial turf (electric radio controlled off-road racing).
Some racetracks don't feature permanent infrastructure apart from the track while others may include spectator facilities like grandstands, hospitality or facilities for competitors, such as pit lanes and garages, paddocks and stables. There are even racetracks that are part of the larger venues or complexes, featuring golf courses, museums, hotels, and conference centers. Others are pretty small and are used for indoors sports, such as motocross, cycling, and athletics.
Many racetracks can be used for several purposes, so that different types of sport could be performed on the same track. In some cases a single venue may feature many tracks. Common running tracks are an integral part of general use or soccer stadiums, for example.
Most horse and motorsport tracks are configurable, with smaller tracks built inside larger ones as well as access tunnels and bridges for spectators. Such racetracks like Brands Hatch and some others include a short course and a longer one which uses part of the shorter track, usually the main straight. Other tracks like the Le Mans road race venue are centered on a smaller permanent circuit built inside the complex.
Racetracks are typically designed for competitions that involve speed, that is why there are defined start-finish lines (posts), or a number of defined timing points that divide the track into sectors. Racetracks can have rolling starts, or fixed starts, along with special equipment (starting blocks, cages, wheel traps etc.), as well as a pit lane and timing equipment.
Some racetracks are oval, often banked, so that the spectators could enjoy the best view of the competition or high speed racing (cycling, stock cars). Most racetracks in North America fall into this category. The most famous ones are Narḍ where manufacturers of high-speed cars often test the new makes, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Some oval tracks are tri-oval designed to introduce varying difficulties, for example Talladega. Such racetracks may feature meandering circuits with numerous curves and changes in height, to present a challenge in skill to the competitors, mainly motocross and touring car racing that are popular throughout the world, especially in Europe.
Flatter meandering motorsport courses are also known as 'road circuits' due to the fact that closed-off public roads used to serve as the earliest road racing circuits. In fact, some road circuits are still in use, e.g. the Australian GP run in Adelaide and on Melbourne regular city streets. The most famous of road circuits are, of course, the Monaco GP, and the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
Motorsport has become extremely popular after WW2, when many airfields in Great Britain, for example, were no longer used. The most famous British track - Silverstone – once used to be a WW2 Class A Airfield, as well as Castle Combe and Goodwood Circuit's. The long runways made it convenient to drag strips, for example, as at Santa Pod Raceway. Another vivid example of such track is Dunsfold Aerodrome, in Surrey, England, where the popular motoring show Top Gear is filmed.