Anatomy of a race track

There are a lot of factors that affect racing. The weather, the type of cars and the teams that compete are all part of the equation. The race track itself is the denominator of outcome. The surface of the track, the shape of the track, and the elevation all play a part of the way the race will go. There are some main features that recur from one style of racing to another. Here is a look at a few of the main track body parts.

Straightaway - exactly what it sounds like, a straightaway is "straight" in nature. This chunk of track is meant to let drivers really push the speed limits of their cars. Seen in every style of racing, the straightaway is often where the start/finish line is located. No matter how long, the straightaway is most often the stretch that is the quickest.

Banking - referring to the degree of the racing surface, banking is common in all types of racing. The higher the banking, the more the cars can stick to the surface due to downforce. However it is not necessary for racing at high speeds. In fact one of the fastest tracks in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has one of the lowest degrees of banking at 9 degrees. Talladega Motor Speedway on the other hand is 33 degrees. Both are fast but demand a different finesse.

Sweeper - different than just a regular turn, a sweeper is gradual, long and large. Seen at NASCAR superspeedways and sometimes on huge road courses. They are often heavily banked and wide giving racecars many opportunities for passing.

Hairpin - Opposite of a sweeper, a hairpin is the tightest turn that can be made. This is only used in road/ street courses. It requires an immense amount of skill when handling the car. If a driver is struggling to turn the car, a hairpin will be their worst nightmare. 

Chicane - Only seen on road/street corners, a chicane is a straightaway what was tickled into a slight S shape. The purpose of this track type is to slow the cars down before an abrupt turn and challenge the driver to navigate the car through a tight flick of the wrists.

No matter what level, track shape plays a huge role in racing. Big, small, banked or not; looking at the shape and types of turns is crucial to pre-race preparation.