Previously, I posted a rebuttal to the Fast Lane Daily Top Five Most Influential Drivers, and we had a good discussion about it. That conversation got me thinking, though. Drivers weren’t the only ones to have a significant influence on the motorsports landscape. Many of the circuits upon which those five drivers battled with their fellow competitors have a life and history of their own that make a single driver’s career seem insignificant by comparison. Here’s my top five, and I post these in no particular order of importance, merely in order that they come to my mind.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
How can there be any doubt? The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been a cathedral of speed for a hundred years and its pinnacle event, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race continues to be the largest single day sporting event in world. Think what you want of the current state of IndyCar, but one cannot argue the influence and importance IMS has had on motorsport and the automotive industry in general. For decades, Indianapolis lived up to its original design intention, that of a proving ground of automotive engineering. Manufacturers would bring their the best machines to prove their worth on the 2.5-mile rectangle. That aspect of the venue has faded in recent years, but there’s no denying its historic role in the advancement of motorsport.
Daytona International Speedway
Perhaps one of the most interesting of influences that the Indianapolis Motorspeedway has had has been in the inspiration of other venues. Ontario Speedway was built to be a exact 2.5-mile replica of Indianapolis and Homestead originally resembled IMS in 1.5 miles. They Daytona International Speedway didn’t seek to resemble Indianapolis, it sought to supplant IMS as the premier venue and, with its Daytona 500, become the pinnacle of American motorsport. It has certainly come very close! The Daytona 500 and the Daytona International Speedway certainly garnered elite status almost immediately within the field of stock car racing, and it elevated stock car racing to speeds that had been unheard of outside of Indianapolis. That speed brought manufacturers to the sport, spectators to the stands, and drivers from a variety of disciplines to the track. It might not have achieved its ultimate goal, but without Daytona stock car racing wouldn’t be as strong as it is today.
Circuit de la Sarthe
So much motorsports history, both good and bad, have happened at Circuit de la Sarthe. Of course, we think of all the innovation and engineering that was brought to the 24 Hours of Le Mans that moved racing and the automotive industry forward. Even today, Le Mans is an automotive testing ground with Audi and Peugeot proving the worth of their turbo diesel engines. However, there are also some darker influences that the circuit has had on motorsport, some which linger still today. The most horrific accident in all of motorsports history happened at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans when Pierre Levegh ran into the back of the slower Lance Macklin while attempting to overtake Mike Hawthorn. Levegh’s speed and the ramp-like rear of Macklin’s Austin-Healey threw Levegh into the air and toward a spectator area. Pierre was killed in the accident along with 83 spectators and another 120 injured. As a result, motorsports competition was banned in many European countries and remains illegal to this day in Switzerland. The incident did bring to the fore the need for racing venues to pay more attention to the safety of their circuits and to the safety of the spectators. Modern tracks now have barriers and catch fences between the spectators and the racing machines, and spectators are rarely allowed to come within a few 10s of yards from the cars, and areas where a car is likely to go off are usually off limits to spectators. Sorry to be so morbid, and I know there are a lot of other positive things that have happened at Circuit de la Sarthe, including Ford’s smackdown on Ferrari with the GT40, but there has been no more influential event in motorsports history than the 1955 tragedy.
Many circuits, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Monza, were originally created as automotive testing centers and proving grounds. They were places where automotive manufacturers could bring their prototypes and latest production models to test, evaluate, and display their engineering prowess and skill. Now, most manufacturers perform these tests and evaluations at their own private, remote, and isolated testing grounds to inhibit industrial espionage and media spying. There still remains one circuit in the world that continues to be a public proving ground for the public and industry alike: The Nürburgring! The 12.3 miles of pure motoring pleasure and excitement is open to the public and industry alike in addition to hosting a variety of motorsports events. Many automotive enthusiasts use Nürburgring lap times as a way of comparing the worth of the various production cars, and that fact has not been lost on the manufacturers. Many auto makers, including the likes of Porsche, Nissan, and GM, take their best sports cars to the famous public circuit and try to out perform each other for the prestige of having the best Nürburgring lap time. Many tracks can be thought as influential for their past contributions to motorsports, but the Nürburgring continues to influence and be relevant as one of the last remaining publicly accessible automotive proving grounds in the world.
Streets of Monaco
Some venues are influential for famous races, significant events that happened, or how they influenced their own sport. The Streets of Monaco, however, transcends any individual race, series, or event. Monaco is the embodiment of elite motorsports and the glitz and glamor that accompany it. Because of its extremely posh reputation, its has made appearences in various TV series and movies for decades in as divergent productions as the famous movie starring James Garner “Grand Prix” to the anime series Lupin the Third. The current Monaco Grand Prix that is part of the Formula One World Championship might not be much of a race with its tight confines often producing a parade rather than a race, but it is still one of the grandest events in all of motorsport and will always be associated with the ideal of motorsports as the most glamorous, glitzy, and exotic sport in the world.
I really had a hard time not putting Spa-Franchorchamps on this list because its such an outstanding circuit. It is in my opinion the absolute best road circuit in the world, but although there’s been some truly epic races there, they haven’t significantly changed motorsports. I also considered the Baja 1000 trail and the Paris-Dakar rally stages, but although they have established start and stop locations, the middle bits aren’t precisely defined, and I couldn’t really consider those as circuits although both have had a big effect on motorsports. They may be the topic of a future post on the most influential rallies.