Is Speedway And Raceway The Same? [Expert Guide!]

When you think of America, speedway probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But with the 50th anniversary of the modern-day racetrack just around the corner, it’s time to revive the memory of those glorious days when drivers could blaze down the straightaways at incredible speeds.

You may know that NASCAR was originally known as the “National Association for the Prevention of Casualties from Motor-Vehicle Collisions” – a fitting name given the dangerous nature of motor racing at the time. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the sport really started to grow in popularity, with the rise of cable TV news shows that followed every major race and all the excitement that came along with it. Since then, millions of Americans have flocked to the track to witness the power and speed of vehicles in close proximity to one another.

But what happens when you take the nostalgia out of the equation? Do all motorsport tracks, the IndyCar series included, still qualify as “speedways”?

In this article, we’ll examine the differences between traditional and modern-day raceways, and how these distinctions affect the type of driving you can expect at each one.

Traditional Vs. Modern-Day RACETRAILS

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’s important to first distinguish between traditional and modern-day racetracks. While there is some crossover between the two, they are not identical. As the name implies, traditional tracks were originally constructed for horse and buggy racing, and it was only in the early 20th century that cars took over the role of the horses. But even then, the majority of tracks didn’t have the stringent safety measures we have today, which is why there were so many casualties back in the day – especially when you compare that to the present day, when racing cars are generally safer and more stable than ever before.

Traditional tracks are also significantly narrower than modern-day tracks, which makes for a more intimate spectator sport. While you may get used to the expansive turnarounds that can be seen from the back of a couch, there is something incredibly unique about physically being in the arena, with the cars zipping past just inches away.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, modern-day tracks are broader and much taller than their traditional counterparts. Not only does this provide the drivers with more space to execute tricks and turn-arounds, but it also offers some incredible sightlines for attendees. Thanks to the advent of wide-screen TVs, the grandstands no longer have to be built around the track to provide a good view of the action – they can be built anywhere with a good TV signal!

Like many professional sports, racing in the modern era has also diverged from its roots, with many tracks incorporating features that were originally designed for road courses, such as the white-knuckle turns and long straights that are characteristic of a speedway. This sort of driving demands an entirely different mindset, as you have to be precise in the way you approach each turn, knowing exactly what line you should take in relation to the corner.


So how do these differences affect the type of driving you can expect at each one?

We’ll start with the most traditional of all the types of tracks, the dirt one, which can be found at both sporting events and amusement parks. Despite their name, dirt tracks nowadays are rarely associated with any sort of “dirtiness” – they are predominantly made of clay or concrete, and often covered in grass to reduce the amount of wear on the track surface. This type of track is the closest to what you might find on a typical farm in Europe, aside from the occasional tumbleweed rolling by!

Dirt tracks are the perfect choice for amateurs who want to get a taste of professional racing but don’t have the budget to support a full-fledged race team. They are also ideal for taking a bike ride with your family after the races are over, as there is rarely any risk of a crash because of the lack of safety measures.

It is, however, the single most dangerous type of track due to the uneven surfaces and unpredictable weather conditions that can impact the integrity of the asphalt or concrete track. These tracks are also very unforgiving when it comes to car troubles, as it’s easy for racers to get stuck in the mud if the track surface becomes wet or slippery due to rain or sweat.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the extremely popular IndyCar series, which includes the Indianapolis 500. This sort of track is primarily used for open wheel racing, and it was originally designed for two-wheel drive vehicles. IndyCar tracks feature a mix of pavement, rough terrain, and even “bone yards”, which are used to construct rollercoasters and scary monsters for kids’ parties!

IndyCar tracks are built entirely out of concrete, with the exception of the iconic Indianapolis 500, which is paved. These types of tracks offer the perfect blend of excitement and danger, with the combination of quick turns and long straightaways making for some exhilarating racing conditions. Even though the cars are built to handle pavement, it’s still considered a bit dangerous to drive at high speeds due to the tendency for them to hydroplane – especially in wet conditions or if a car is pushing too hard.

Which sort of track you will race at is entirely dependent on the type of driving you are doing. If you are driving for leisure, it’s generally best to go for an IndyCar track, as they are wider and more accommodating than a traditional one. But if you are taking a more professional route, then it’s usually better to stick to a traditional one, as they are safer and more predictable.


It wasn’t until the 1970s that NASCAR, the heavily-patched offspring of the original “National Association for the Prevention of Casualties from Motor-Vehicle Collisions”, really started to take off. If you watch old racing movies from this era, you will see the cars zipping down the straightaways at breakneck speeds, with crowds of excited fans hollering and grabbing at the bumpers as the vehicles whiz by.

Before the 1970s, racing was a largely male-dominated affair, with participants wearing matching outfits and driving using human power alone. But during this time, women began to take an active role in the sport, with many teams and drivers choosing to wear pinkish-colored outfits to express their support for breast cancer awareness. This, in turn, led to unprecedented levels of participation, as women made up 48% of the licensed drivers in the U.S. by 1975.

It wasn’t only about supporting breast cancer awareness, though; the more open format of the early 1970s made it easier for average citizens to get involved in the sport. This, in turn, led to the rise of a new generation of fans who were inspired by what they saw on TV and in the movies, as well as the cars themselves, which were becoming increasingly more aerodynamic and streamlined. These factors all contributed to the growth of NASCAR, with the TV shows and films of this era, such as Death Race and Smokey And The Muscle Machine, helping to create an entirely new fan base for the sport!

There are several differences between traditional and modern-day NASCAR tracks. If you were to visit any old-school racetrack, you would see wide turnarounds, which are part of the original design for the tracks. These were created to reduce speed, as horses were not permitted to run twice around the track in the same race, limiting their effectiveness and, hence, the speed of the vehicle. The remaining difference between the two is in the type of cars that are allowed to race at each track. While traditional cars had to be flat-bottomed and had to fit within certain guidelines, modern-day NASCAR cars must be either right- or left-hand drive, under four-feet tall, and must have an interior that is not too low or high. These differences affect not only the type of car that can run on the track but also the way spectators can engage with the races. People who grew up watching old-school racing on TV will feel at home at any traditional track, while modern-day NASCAR fans will feel right at home at an IndyCar track.

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