Top racing series, like IndyCar, race on real roads. So why wouldn’t NASCAR? Their road courses look like real roads, especially those that are over two miles in length. So, it is quite common to wonder if NASCAR races on real roads.
NASCAR does not race on real roads. However, they have expanded their schedule to include more events beyond the traditional oval tracks. One reason for NASCAR’s schedule changes in the early 2020s is because they want to expand their fan base. Further expansion may include a future street race.
Below, we will reveal how close NASCAR is to racing on real roads and the potential locations for such an event. We will also explore whether NASCAR has held events on real roads in the past and the location of those tracks.
NASCAR, as of 2022, does not race on real road courses, even if the road courses on the schedule may resemble them. Instead, all of the road courses are actually located in secluded areas of the metro region in which they are based, or they are in complete seclusion.
Historically, NASCAR raced on two road courses per season, Sonoma and Watkins Glen. They raced on others throughout its long history, but Sonoma and the Glen have been the two primary staples since 1989 and 1964, respectively. NASCAR also held a one-off race at the Glen in 1957.
Starting in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced NASCAR to make adjustments to its schedule, and in 2021 we saw six road courses. Added to the slate were the Daytona Road Course, Circuit of the Americas, Road America, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.
They’re Not Real Roads
If you ever watched these road course races for the first time, you may think they are taking place on real roads with the right turns, hills, dips, and sparser grandstands. However, they’re all closed circuits near a metro area.
An overhead view of the Sonoma Raceway shows that it is in the middle of desert scenery with only a highway running adjacent to it. Watkins Glen sits near a town of 2,000 residents. Road America is in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, with a population of less than 1,000 people.
As you can see from the demographics, although the road courses may belong in a particular metro area of a major city, as Circuit of the Americas is located near Austin, they are all in the middle of nowhere, closed off to the public unless there is an event going on.
Although there are racing divisions out there that take place on real roads (closed to the public during the event), NASCAR has, in its history, rarely ventured beyond the traditional racetrack.
NASCAR doesn’t race on real roads because it poses an intense challenge with logistics between both the city hosting a street racing event and NASCAR itself. The cars weigh over 3,000 pounds and there are up to 40 entrants per race. This would leave very little room for the drivers on a real road.
When you flip over to IndyCar, you may notice that their schedules often include races on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and Long Beach, California. IndyCar has historically run races on real streets while NASCAR has stuck to closed ovals and the occasional road course. IndyCar uses smaller cars, and there are fewer of them on the track. This makes street racing much easier.
NASCAR and IndyCar, given their sheer differences, often draw different fan demographics. NASCAR fans traditionally gravitate toward the oval tracks with the occasional road course, while IndyCar fans often want to see their favorite drivers on more road courses and fewer ovals.
Both organizations must always tailor their racing products to fit the demands of their fanbases. Now, this can change from season-to-season. Starting in 2021, for example, NASCAR put more road courses onto its schedule as newer generations of fans wanted to see more of them.
If NASCAR saw increasing demand for races on real streets, they would at least look into the possibility of adding such a race to the schedule. In the 2010s, fans wanted to see a throwback to dirt track racing, and NASCAR obliged with the Bristol Dirt Race. They also wanted to see throwback paint schemes and NASCAR’s spring race at Darlington gives fans a chance to see the throwbacks in action.
NASCAR’s goal is always the same: Keep the fans happy, and they will continue to attend and tune in to races. So, if the majority of fans want a street race, NASCAR will weave its way through logistical challenges to give fans that street race.
NASCAR held events on the Daytona Beach Road Course. The course started on 4511 South Atlantic Avenue and ran two miles to the end of South Atlantic Avenue. They then made their way north, racing on Daytona Beach. The popularity of the race led to the creation of Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR has a long history. And just like any major North American sport, NASCAR, in its formative days, ran things drastically differently than it does in the 21st century. These days, there are specifications and strict safety requirements that weren’t seen during its inaugural season.
Compare NASCAR’s early days to the NFL’s. NASCAR often raced on small dirt tracks and they rarely ventured outside the Eastern United States. The NFL was in a similar boat, having a bunch of small-town teams in the American Midwest back in the 1920s.
Both sports did some things in the past that would surprise their fanbases in the 21st century. For example, in 1932 the NFL played its first playoff game indoors on an 80-yard field in a matchup between the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans.
Also early in NASCAR’s history, they raced on fairground tracks, and this was somewhat common during the 1950s. Fairgrounds included Vernon, Monroe County, Arizona State, and Altamont-Schenectady, to name a few.
Daytona Beach and fairgrounds were eventually phased out as NASCAR became more established. However, the Winston West (ARCA Menards West) held street races in Tacoma and Spokane, Washington between 1986 and 1988.
NASCAR’s headquarters acknowledged the possibility of racing on streets in 2021 when they discussed the Cup Series schedule. It was the most radical slate of races in over a half-century, with a dirt race at Bristol and four more road courses. If there’s enough demand, a street race could happen.
NASCAR’s fan base expanded substantially over the 21st century. Today, communication and access to new things is easier than it has ever been before throughout NASCAR’s existence. Naturally, this has led to more interest in the sport.
As we move through the 21st century, so will NASCAR’s desire to reach even more prospective fans who have yet to spend time paying attention to the sport. One way to reach more fans is the possibility of adding a street race to the schedule.
This would generate positive rumblings from prospective fans, especially those who believe NASCAR is nothing more than 40 cars driving around in circles for 500 miles. It would be something different and it would draw massive media attention.
Let’s take The Clash at the Coliseum in 2022 as an example. While NASCAR didn’t venture to the streets of Los Angeles, the preseason drew media attention simply because it was held in the middle of a major metropolitan area, which could be classed as a step toward street racing in NASCAR.
NASCAR has realized that the decline in attendance and television ratings, or at best, the stagnation of them, is not sustainable for the sport’s health. In 2021, NASCAR held an iRacing event on the streets of Chicago that may serve as an implication that a street race is near.
iRacing is a racing game that allows Cup Series drivers to get behind the wheel and operate their cars in a virtual setting. They see and experience the same things as if they were literally in the car.
It is clear NASCAR’s experimentation with the schedule, plus their iRacing event held on the streets of Chicago in 2021, imply a street race is close. So, if you are a fan looking to see NASCAR in an unfamiliar territory, you may get your wish.
We live in a society where change is always met with mixed reviews. Some fans embrace change and others resist it. The same thing holds true with NASCAR’s fan base. The younger generation has been eager to see NASCAR deviate more from the traditional ovalto more unfamiliar territory.
However, traditional fans who grew up watching Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt are more reluctant to see NASCAR racing on more road courses and adding the possible street race. Other fans have mixed views, supporting some new races on the schedule but opposing others.
NASCAR executives realize how sacred some of the traditional events are and have vowed to protect them. They specifically mentioned the Daytona 500 and the 600 at Charlotte as protected races. You can probably guess other tracks that won’t be going anywhere.
While some fans love the changes and others are hesitant, NASCAR wants to expand, and not change, its fan base. Therefore, the traditional oval tracks will always remain precedent in NASCAR. But that doesn’t mean they won’t continually try to draw interest by racing at different tracks.
NASCAR does not race on real roads, but they have raced on beaches and fairgrounds in the past. Traditionally, NASCAR has raced on oval tracks, but to expand their fan base they have since branched out to host dirt races and throwback events. With the expansion, a street race may be on the horizon.