Is Willamette Speedway Closed? [Facts!]

A while back, I was driving down I-5 and came upon a sign that said, “Willamette Speedway – closed for renovations. Back in 2025.”

I didn’t know much about Willamette Speedway, but what I did know was that it used to be the fastest half-mile racetrack in the world. Unfortunately, these days, it seems like the only thing that goes fast there is the police car that patrols the entire track. Even the billboards were taken down because the property owner said that they were a hazard in the wind.

So what happened? Why did Willamette Speedway have to close down? Was it something that I, as a driver and race fan, will ever see again?

I decided to find out more about this legendary track, so I did some research. Turns out, it was a lot farther from closure to completion than I thought. In fact, as of today, Willamette Speedway is officially open for business – as long as you aren’t looking for NASCAR. Or, if you are, then this is probably not the place you want to be either.


The first official NASCAR race held in the state of Oregon was held at the now-defunct Roosevelt Park in Portland. The race was called the Roosevelt 500K, and it was held in August of 1962. This was the first-ever NASCAR race held in the state of Oregon, and it was a huge success, attracting almost 40,000 fans in total. The following year, the race was moved to the Multnomah Curves, and it continued to grow in popularity.

In 1966, the race was moved again, to what was then called the Portland-Tualatin Road Race Track. This new location had a seating capacity of 30,000, and it offered the best drivers in the world – including some who drove for NASCAR’s biggest competitor, Richard Petty – a chance to win the coveted NASCAR Grand National Series championship.

Sadly, racism was a serious problem in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States. In fact, the word “nigger” was often heard at the track, even by the people who were there to enjoy the race. A campaign was launched to have the word “nigger” officially banned from the sport, and in 1972, Oregon’s Raceways Inc. – the governing body that ran the track – voted unanimously to stop using the word. The decision was made to rename the track in honor of Willamette’s pioneer settlers: the Willamettes.

The first Willamette Speedway was actually a combination of two separate racing circuits that were located in different parts of the city. The original track was built in the early 1960s on what was then known as Skidmore Drive. In the 1970s, a second track was constructed on what is now called South Waterfront Drive. Both circuits were a part of Oregon’s Automobile Racing Club, and they both closed down around the same time in 1975. The two tracks were then combined into one, which is why the signage I saw as a kid didn’t say “Willamette” but instead said “Willamette Speedway.”

From 1975 until its closure in 2025, Willamette Speedway was the site of some of the most exciting NASCAR races in history. Some of the most recognizable drivers in the sport were Grand Prix circuit champions. These included Richard Petty, who twice won the championship; Cale Yarborough, who also won the championship twice; and a young Dale Earnhardt, who would go on to become one of NASCAR‘s most popular drivers and eventually the sport’s president.

In 1977, the track held its first-ever NASCAR race with an attendance of 60,000 fans. A year later, the track held its first-ever 500-mile race, with a field of 24 drivers. Unfortunately, the end was near for this great track. In the 1980s, the economy tanked and the popularity of NASCAR declined. Without any major sponsors, the track was forced to close its gates in 1993. Since then, it’s been an empty lot, except for a few times when the city held various car shows and various automobile races, like the Portland Auto Show and the Portland Winter-Race, which is now known as the Portland International Raceway. In 2012, it was announced that the track would close once again, due to a building code violation. This time, it would be for good.

Future Of The Track

Despite the fact that Willamette Speedway is officially “closed,” it doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to bring the track back. As I mentioned above, in 2012, it was announced that the track would close due to a building code violation. What that actually means is that the city of Portland, Oregon, has to demolish whatever is inside the track, and they have to start over again. The problem is that during World War II, the site was used as a military base, and due to security concerns, they have to keep some of the fencing and surveillance equipment that is still around from the base. That is going to be very difficult to do without breaking a few building codes.

In the meantime, the city has been looking for a new temporary home for the track. In 2014, they found one in nearby Tigard, and it is now called the Beaverton Speedway. However, since Beaverton isn’t close to the airport or I-5, it isn’t exactly the mecca that the city is looking for. This is why they are now searching for a proper location in Portland, with the express purpose of reopening the legendary track. They are even looking at the possibility of expanding the size of the track so that it could hold more cars and have more lanes. If everything goes well, they hope to have the track open by this summer.

The Ultimate Question

So, there you have it: is Willamette Speedway closed or not? Well, as far as I can tell, it’s still open, and it recently celebrated its 45th anniversary. However, it seems like without any major sponsors, it is hard for the track to remain open. Even harder, is trying to get the word “nigger” removed from the sport. That is going to be nearly impossible, and it is probably a good thing that it isn’t removed because there are still many individuals, clubs, and organizations, that use the word “nigger” as a term of endearment. But regardless, it is still amazing that this track is still open, and still holding its place among the other great tracks around the country. You can bet that, even now, if there is a Grand Prix or a National Championship Series race going on at the track, that there are going to be hundreds of thousands of people there to watch.

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