The name Dover International Speedway conjures up images of cars whizzing by at incredible speeds, hairpin turns, and packed family suites. If you grew up watching the Grand Tours on TV, then you probably know all the excitement that the iconic English race track brings with it each year.
But what is really going on behind the scenes at Dover? And where does it all start? Let’s take a look.
The History Of The Track
The origins of Dover International Speedway actually lie in the town of Folkestone, which is located on the northern coast of England and is not far from the French border. In 1922, motorcycle racer Stanley Woodburn acquired the rights to host a motor cycle race in Folkestone. The first leg of the new Woodburn Family Memorial Trophy was a road race that attracted over 25,000 bikers. A couple of years later, the event was expanded to include cars and became known as the Dover International Air Race.
After World War II, interest in motorcycle racing waned, and the track mostly closed down. However, it reopened in the 1960s as a drag racing strip. This new generation of racers was captivated by the close-knit community that surrounded the track and the passion that the drivers had for fast cars. In the early 1970s, the track hosted its first international race, which was won by America’s Don Shickley.
Since then, Dover International Speedway has become one of the most popular motorsport venues in the world and is best known for its ‘homebred heroes’ – drivers who were born and raised in the area – and its unique atmosphere. The track is also known for its bumpy surface, which is the result of asphalting during the 1970s. This surface is a challenge for anyone driving a front wheel drive car, and it can be quite unforgiving for those on motorbikes too.
An Incredible Attractiveness
Perhaps the most interesting part of the story behind Dover International Speedway is how it all started. The track was originally built for motorcyclists, but since then it has attracted a wider audience. Why? The answer is simple: the track is just plain beautiful. It features long straights, lush green fields, and packed terraces. In addition, the stands are spread out and not dominated by massive speakers, which you typically see at sports arenas.
The combination of these factors mean that you have a unique opportunity to really focus on the racing rather than the background music or the surroundings. This is why so many fans have been drawn to the track over the years. But the fact that the track is so attractive has also put off potential visitors. Fewer people want to visit a place full of cars and motorsport than those who want to visit a traditional English village. The image of bikers riding down the main street shouting ‘welcome’ certainly doesn’t do the village of Folkestone any favors. In fact, the locals might just ask you to keep the noise down.
The Layout Of The Track
If we are to believe Wikipedia, the original layout of Dover International Speedway consisted of a main straight, which was about a mile long, and a smaller ‘back straight’, which was a mile shorter. A bit like the inside of a racquetball court. In fact, if you look closely, you will see that the back straight is more like a T-junction, although the road is mostly straight. In the early 1970s, a brand new grandstand was built, effectively splitting the track in two. This new landmark allowed for better viewing distances and also made it easier for fans to move around. It was decided that the shorter back straight would be renamed as the ‘straight’ and the longer main straight would become the ‘banking’.
Even today, drivers will typically run a lap or two on the banking before heading down the shorter ‘straight’ to pick up speed. In addition, many corners feature a lot of banking, which is where all that speed is usually found. As a result, even though the track is relatively short, it can be very demanding on the car driver. This is the type of track that wears you out faster than any other – both on and off the bike. For those who have only witnessed stock car racing on TV, this might seem strange. After all, aren’t NASCAR tracks supposed to be flat and built to slow down the cars?
Well, yes and no. While most NASCAR tracks are indeed slow and pretty much the same in every racing series (with the exception of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup), Dover International Speedway is an exception. To put it bluntly, this is a very technical track that favors front wheel drive cars. That’s right, the type of car you are less likely to find in a grocery store.
As a result of this, many drivers will often do a quick drive around to get pace laps before each race. This way, they can familiarize themselves with the track and work on their pacing before the race even starts. As you would expect, the cars are highly sophisticated and almost imperceptible at high speeds. With drivers practicing all the time, it rarely happens that the same race ends with a different winner each time. This is because teams will work out all the kinks in practice.
The Atmosphere At The Track
You might be wondering what is that special atmosphere that you feel at Dover International Speedway. Well, it’s easy to define: the atmosphere at the track is the sense of brotherhood that surrounds motorsport. And it is a unique atmosphere because, let’s face it, you are not going to find a lot of family life at a place like this. The fans and the teams bond over the years and become incredibly close – which is evident from the fact that they will regularly come together to support each other and show their pride.
When a motorcyclist starts his engine, you can immediately hear it over the entire track. This is because the engine is not muffled by the soundproofing that most cars have these days. As a result, it becomes the focus of attention for everyone around. And when a driver crosses the line first, you can bet your bottom dollar that the entire team is going to give him a big hug. This hug will be a combination of relief and joy, because they finally managed to get that one lap down.
In addition to this special connection between fans and drivers, there is also the history that the track has accumulated. The teams and the fans get a chance to relive iconic moments from the past as the cameras catch them on film. Even if you didn’t grow up with motorsport in Britain, you will still appreciate the passion that is demonstrated by all the riders and spectators at Dover. This is because you have seen it all before in other sports. Be that as it may, the adrenaline rush that you get from watching racing at full tilt will be something new for you.
What To Watch
So what should you watch for at Dover International Speedway? Well, for starters, you should expect fast cars. These are typically front wheel drive cars, and that’s what you will be seeing on the majority of the circuits. This means you should look out for the big V8s, the 7.0 liter engines, and the likes – because they represent the ‘old school’ approach.
However, today’s cars are much closer to the ground than previous generations, and that’s why you will rarely see them rise above the tree line. As a result, you will see a lot of tarmac-surfing and aero-car behavior. This is because even modern cars have retained some of the characteristics of their forebears – namely, ground clearance and stability at high speeds.
Traveling To And From The Track
Are you planning on going to Dover International SpeedWark this year? Or do you know when the next race is on? If so, then you will have to deal with traffic. While the roads are in good condition, traveling to and from the track can be very congested. And this is especially the case on match days, when there are usually a large number of fans from both teams traveling to the venue. On road days, when less fans typically go to the track, then there is less traffic, which is often a blessing. Still, if you are going during a matchday, then prepare to wait. In addition, parking at the venue can be a monumental task. There is usually very little free space, and it costs a lot. If you are lucky enough to find a spot, then you will have to pay a lot for the privilege.