Who Owns Nazareth Speedway? [Fact Checked!]

One of motorsport’s most intriguing tracks is up for sale. Can a religious community purchase the land that hosts one of the most famous race circuits?

Nazaré is arguably the most famous racetrack in the world. Located in the rolling hills of northern Israel, the facility has played an integral part in the country’s motorsport history. However, its latest iteration—the Grand Prix Circuit—is up for sale and has been billed by some sources as the ‘most iconic piece of real estate in the country’.

To put that into perspective, the average house price in Nazaré today is around US$2 million. With such high property values, it is no surprise that rich individuals and institutional buyers have their eye on the unique piece of land. While there is a chance that it could be preserved as a public park, the most avid of motorcycle racing fans might not want to lose the opportunity to own a piece of motorsport history.

The Genesis Of Nazaré

Although there is evidence that motorcycling was part of the country’s culture since the early 20th century, formal motorsports didn’t emerge quite yet. That is, until the 1950s, when the Israeli Grand Prix—which later became known as the ‘Tilghman Race’—was established. The first race was held in 1952 and was contested between cars, bikes and even a few tracks made out of wood, rope and cloth. That year, Israel was a part of the emerging ‘green revolution’, so the tracks were very muddy and there was a lot of dirt flying around. But despite the primitive nature of the tracks, some of the most legendary names in motorcycling contested that first race, including England’s Sir Jackie Stewart and France’s Roger Mathet.

Around this time, the municipality of Nazaré decided to expand the track. Work began on an as-yet-unfinished oval in 1957 and it was opened two years later, on 4 September 1959. Dubbed ‘Motorsport City’, the newly opened track was a major boost for the country’s fledgling motorsport community.

Nazaré’s first ‘national’ race—the prestigious ‘King Solomon World Championship’—was held there in October 1960. The event, which was sponsored by a brand of beer, was won by Australia’s Jack Brabham.

Nazeré’s fame eventually spread beyond the country’s borders, too. During the 1960s, the track developed a sizeable European following and several famous motorcyclists, such as Englishman Barry Sheene and German Hannes Alfrich, were regular visitors. Alfrich, in fact, purchased a house in the nearby city of Nazareth and was a regular face at the track until his untimely death in 2005, at age 69. The endowment fund for his family’s estate was valued at around US$2.4 million at the time of his death.

The Elusive ‘Final Lap’

In more recent times, Nazaré has seen a number of high-profile deaths as a result of competitive motorcycling. Englishman Freddie Spencer was killed there in 1989 due to a freak accident involving a car. He was returning from a night out in Haifa when he skidded on a patch of ice and was partially decapitated by the vehicle. Spencer had been a regular presence at the track since its inception and was involved in a number of crashes there over the years. However, his tragic death in 1989 was truly a matter of ‘desperation driving’.

Another prominent figure who lost his life there was American Dave Mirra. In 2006, at the age of 49, Mirra was killed when he crashed into a wall on the final turn of the Grand Prix Track. Although he was wearing a helmet at the time, Mirra sustained fatal head injuries. The American’s widow, Debbie, donated his brain for scientific research and it was valued at around US$500,000 at the time.

The Last Lap Of The Last Lap

In recent times, Nazaré has been home to all manner of motorsport events, from motorcycle races to car meets and even drone demos. However, with the emergence of alternative racing circuits such as Hockenheim and Le Mans, the attraction of big-name motorsports has declined. Despite the declining interest in large-scale events, the town continues to hold a special place in the hearts of motorcyclists around the world. The uniqueness of the location, the people and the experience make it a mecca for motorcyclists—an ‘introspective’ community that is ‘reminiscent of the good old days’, as one visitor put it.

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