Of course the best, safest, and possibly cheapest way to speed in the U.S. is to get on a racetrack. No soccer-moms in 6000lb tanks coming the other direction or people eating breakfast, shaving, and talking on a cell phone in the lane next to you. If you spin-out, very little chance of serious damage to you or your car. Unfortunately we can't just drive up to the track entrance, stick a $10 bill in the gate, and take a lap like they do in Europe.

However, there are several ways to get on the track in California. The SCCA and NASA are two of the biggest organizations that has access to tracks for street drivers. NASA seems to be slightly easier and cheaper, but everybody requires a helmet, and if you have a convertible you're going to need a roll-bar as well.

Below are some brief descriptions, maps, and photographs of the major tracks in California, and you can check out the links page to find several companies and organizations that routinely schedule track time for a fee.

Maps are from Thomas Bros.
Satellite photographs are from Earthviewer.
 
LAGUNA SECA / MAZDA RACEWAY
www.laguna-seca.com

Laguna Seca is probably the best known road course in the state. Many races are held here each year, including the Pebble Beach Concours historic races as well as several ALMS competitions.

Located just East of Monterey it has a very nice setting, although it isn't exactly right next door to SoCal and it can get pretty hot here in the summer (granted Buttonwillow and Willow Springs can be much worse).

Because it is so popular with the major racing organizations it can be much harder to get time on this track than many others in the state. Several of the tracks listed below are much more popular with the club racers or day use drivers.

I had the opportunity to drive this track recently as part of a BMW Driving School. Between watching televised races as well as attending one in person, and of course lots of practice on Gran Turismo A-Spec, I had the visual layout of the course pretty well memorized. Of course nothing can really prepar you for the real thing, but at least I knew which corners followed each other.

I was expecting to have the hardest time with the famous corkscrew, but once I had been through it several times and the driving instructors pointed out "The Tree" as a reference point It wasn't that hard. Out of the 11 turns at Laguna Seca, the hardest for me was actually turn 5. For some reason the sightline and layout heading up the hill made it hard for me to hit the apex.

My favorite turns (and as it happens the most dangerous at the track) are turns 6 and 9. Turn 6 looks like it is a slow, hard kink to the left, but you actually accelerate as soon as you turn in instead of after the apex like most corners. Turn 9 is a blind, high-speed sweeper coming out of the corkscrew, but once you learn the line you can really build up some speed.

If you ever get a chance to try out this track I highly recomend you take it.


  
 
  
 
  
 
 
WILLOW SPRINGS RACEWAY
www.willowspringsraceway.com

Willow Springs is one of the two popular tracks for Southern California. Outside of the speedways in the Los Angeles basin, it is the closest and most accessible. It is also popular with club racers and driving schools, in part because it is actually two tracks in one; the original track (#1 on photo) and the Streets of Willow Springs (#2 on photo).

The following description is taken from the Willow Springs web page.

"Willow Springs International Motor sports Park is a 600-acre complex of six racetracks embracing nearly every conceivable motor sports discipline. The park is located about an hour north of Los Angeles, California near Lancaster."

"Willow Springs International Raceway is a super fast 2.5-mile / nine-turn road racing circuit, patterned after the great courses and road racing traditions of Europe, and is unchanged from its original 1953 configuration. With its substantial elevation changes and high average speeds, Willow Springs is one of the fastest and most challenging tracks in the country. Also known as the Fastest Road in the West, this track is one of the safest road courses in the world, despite its high velocities. Cornering speeds on this track range from about 70 mph to over 170 mph, with straightaway speeds nearing 200 mph possible with fastest cars and motorcycles."

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
 
BUTTONWILLOW RACEWAY PARK
www.buttonwillowraceway.com

American Federation of Motorcycles www.afmracing.com has a good description of the track . . .

"Buttonwillow is multi-configurational, with the longest track (Big Track) being 3.0 miles... the AFM will run the long track clockwise with a few jog/detours added to make it "nicely turny". Since there are many options for running different sections or different directions (clockwise vs anti-clockwise), there may be some experimentation at some point in the future. The course is in the flat cotton-fields but has some man-made elevation changes to make things more interesting... and challenging. The overall elevation changes are small at around 10-15 feet. Almost the whole course can be seen from the pit area, which is well laid out and with excellent facilities. This is another new facility which will be evolving as time goes by."

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
 
THUNDERHILL MOTORSPORTS PARK
www.thunderhill.com

American Federation of Motorcycles www.afmracing.com has a good description of the track . . .

"Thunderhill (as AFM has run it) was originally 1.81 miles long, although more track was added in late '97, making it now over 3 miles with a couple of course layout options. The course is in the low foothills and is laid out following the terrain. There are elevation changes, but the overall change is small at around 15-20 feet. Almost the whole course can be seen from the pit area, which is good since there are presently no access roads surrounding the course. This is a new facility which will be evolving as time goes by and the new track section is the latest step in it's evolution; AFM has been running the long course since '98. The SCCA has designed the course to best use the terrain while creating some interesting turns reminiscent of favorite ones from other facilities."

 
  
 
  
 
  
Track image from Thunderhill's web page.
 
 
INFINEON RACEWAY Formerly Sears Point
www.infineonraceway.com

American Federation of Motorcycles www.afmracing.com has a good description of the track . . .

"Infineon is 2.51 miles long (traditional "long course") and includes a multi-configurable roadcourse and 1/4 mile drag strip. The roadcourse follows the terrain to give numerous elevation changes and "blind turns". The steepest portions of the track are at a 15% grade and there are five pedestrian bridges crossing the track to allow spectators to easily access all turns. The roadcourse has only two straight sections of any length, giving few places for riders to relax.

There are also other exciting new additions, including a complete go-cart track, many new grand stands on the hillsides and a huge grandstand tower by Turn 1 where almost the whole course can be seen from, and a number of other things in the works."

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
 
 

First, the good news. There are places in this country that you can drive of the open highway as fast as you want (well, almost). The bad news is there aren't any such places in California as of yet. Hopefully that will change in the future, but until then we will have to drive to Eastern Nevada to enjoy these events. On the plus side Nevada isn't really that far away, and out of the 8 events currently scheduled on an annual basis, 6 of them are in Nevada. The other 2 are farther away, and we won't deal with them here Of course they aren't free, or even cheap, but if you really want to go fast without fear of a ticket, this is the way to go.

Just about all of these events work the same way. Anybody old enought to have a driver's liscense can participate in any safe vehicle. Everyone is broken into classes that set your target average speed. Each class has a maximum "tech" speed. For example if you average speed for the event is 105mph, your tech speed would be something like 130mph; go faster than that and you're disqualified. Cars are started with the fastest groups first (except Unlimited), followed by even increments of time down to the slowest class.

These are rally events, NOT side-by-side races. If you crash, it's your fault for driving too fast. But that really isn't any different from driving anywhere else. This may not be a substitute for track time, but it sure is a great way to spend a weekend.

 
MKM RACING PRODUCTIONS
www.openroadracing.com

MKM has three events each year in Nevada; the Pony Express 100, Bonneville 100, and the Gambler's Run. Entrance fees run between $300-$500 depending on your class.


SILVER STATE CLASSIC CHALLENGE
www.silverstateclassic.com

SSCC also has three events in Nevada each year; the Gold Rush Challenge, Nevada Open Road Challenge, and the Silver State Classic Challenge. Entrance fees run between $395-$680 depending on your class.

 
  
 
 

#1
GAMBLER'S RUN - Hwy 22
MKM Racing Production
Late August

We invite you to participate in our most challenging racing event, the Gambler's Run Twin 50 Open Road Race,. This event is run on scenic State Highway 225 out of Elko, NV, and is the second of our two exciting "two-way" events this year. This beautiful and challenging highway runs north out of Elko for 50 miles. On the first leg, racers will wind their way through a fast, curvy road demanding their complete attention; then, after a short turnaround, the racers head back south towards Elko. If you are racing as a team, you can each take a turn at the wheel, as driver changes are allowed at the turnaround. Straightaway speeds on this road are expected to exceed 200 MPH for the super-fast Open Division cars!

Text from MKM's web page.

 

 
  
 
 
#2
BONNEVILLE 100 - Hwy 93A
MKM Racing Production
Mid June

We invite you to participate in our newest event, the Bonneville 100 Open Road Race. This event is run on Highway 93A out of Wendover, NV, home of the famous Bonneville Salt Flats, and is the first of our two exciting "two-way" events this year. This beautifully maintained and very fast highway runs southwest out of Wendover for 50 miles. On the first leg, racers will climb almost 2000 feet in altitude; then, after a short turnaround, the racers head back towards Wendover, racing full throttle downhill! If you are racing as a team, you can each take a turn at the wheel, as driver changes are allowed at the turnaround. Straightaway speeds on this road are expected to exceed 220 MPH for the super-fast Unlimited cars!

Text from MKM's web page.
 
  
 
 
#3
GOLD RUSH CHALLENGE - Hwy 278
Silver State Classic
Early September

Nevada Highway 278 is a shorter and more challenging open road racing venue which is run in both directions. Although there are no "Narrows" such as are found on 318, there are more challenging curves, hills, and a long straight-away before the Finish Line that will delight all you top speed lovers! The entire course is in Eureka County which is a much more pastoral setting then found on 318 with low rolling hills which create more elevation changes on the roadway. Although the course is only 55 miles in length the driver and navigator will probably be expending as much effort as they do on the 90 mile 318 course due to the increased turns and other challenges of this exciting open road event venue. Although we don't expect to see average speeds over 200 mph on this road, such speeds are not out of the realm of possibility. This venue is combined with a run on 318 the following weekend with many automotive activities in between in the City of Ely, all combined into a unique open road racing event covering over 200 miles known as Silver State Speed Week.

Text from Silver State Classic's web page.
 
  
 
 
#4
PONY EXPRESS 100 - Hwy 305
MKM Racing Production
Late July

We invite you to participate in our Signature event, the Pony Express Open Road Race. Based out of Battle Mountain, NV on State Highway 305, this 83.55 mile road course is a fast, challenging road with long, smooth straightaways and exciting canyon turns. The current course record is over 194 MPH in the Unlimited class.

Text from MKM's web page.
 
  
 
 
#6
NEVADA OPEN ROAD (Mid May) &
SILVER STATE CLASSIC (Mid September)
Hwy 318
Silver State Classic

The Nevada Highway 318 events are identical, differing only in the time of year. They begin just South of Lund, at White Pine County just north of mile marker 9, head South through Nye County, and finish at Lincoln County mile marker 7. The journey traverses 90 miles of two lane highway which has recently been repaved and is in excellent condition, with long straights, twisty sections, and dips, which for the faster participants, may result in an airborne experience. Entrants receive a set of Course Notes and a video tape to help them prepare for the event. The cars are run in classes at five mile per hour increments, from 95 mph to 180 mph, with the class determined by the vehicle's safety equipment, the driver's experience level and the driver/navigator comfort level. There is also an Unlimited Division for very experienced drivers with full race-equipped cars. Vehicles are started at one minute intervals and 30 second intervals, beginning with the 150 mph class and working back to the 95 mph class. Once the last 95 mph class vehicle clears the course, the Unlimited Division and the higher speed brackets over 150 are run as the final group.

Text from Silver State Classic's web page.