Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Geometric Oddities

Remember when you were in high school math class trying to calculate the area of a triangle?

It goes something like area = 1/2 (base x height).

Now that a rush of painful memories are flooding back for many of you, it’s impossible not to think about triangles as the NASCAR world is descending upon a tricky one this weekend.

Pocono Raceway’s unique layout offers race fans and geometry wizards alike a unique glimpse at a rare form of auto racing — that, of course, being triangle racing! The Tricky Triangle, as it is known, is a nice change from the monotony of oval-shaped racetracks which overwhelmingly make up the majority of tracks on the NASCAR schedule. Within the area of the Pocono triangle (which I am not going to dare calculate) is great camping, beautiful views and, of course, phenomenal racing.

Surprisingly, NASCAR has had an array of tracks that have defied the sport’s typical geometric oval and road course standards, not just Pocono’s three-turn triangle.

The easiest example would be to look at another modern track. The egg shape of Darlington Raceway’s footprint has made it one of NASCAR’s most storied venues, as the different circumferences of each end of the racetrack make it difficult for teams to prepare an evenly balanced racecar.

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OK, so Darlington might be close to an oval, but Trenton Speedway was certainly not. A stalwart on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule in the 1970s, Trenton’s kidney bean shape was unlike anything in the auto racing scene at the time.

Drivers took the green flag one a straightaway and the first turn that resembled a slightly larger New Hampshire Motor Speedway. However, when drivers got to the back straightaway, they were forced into a right hand bend that then took them into a wide, sweeping, 230-degree turn that resembles a corner at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Oh, and pit road was located in turn 1.

So we’ve already seen kidney beans and eggs. What about some more familiar shapes … like circles? No, not ovals. Perfect circles.

We stay in the Northeast as we visit the infamous Langhorne Speedway. This suburban Philadelphia track was literally a perfect circle where drivers were constantly in a left-hand turn peering around their A pillars to see what lie ahead never able to relax and let the steering wheel drift back to the right. It’s what made this circuit the most dangerous track in NASCAR history.

Hosting races from NASCAR’s beginning, Langhorne hosted races that saw many Hall of Famers like Tim Flock, Herb Thomas and Curtis Turner capture victories. Although the perfect 1-mile circle drew in massive crowds for its day, numerous fatalities were a direct catalyst to its closure and demolition in 1957.

Circles return numerous decades later. This time, it was in Louisville, Ky. Louisville Motor Speedway hosted a pair of NASCAR Xfinity Series events in the late 1980s and five NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events in the 1990s. Unlike Langhorne, Louisville was a tiny little circle at just 3/8 of a mile in length.

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The Xfinity and Truck stars made use of the tight confines to provide fans with great beating-and-banging-type racing, but the true short-track style of circle never caught on. Thus, like Langhorne, the track was bulldozed in 2001 in favor of an industrial park.

And if you are a fan of rectangles, you probably loved Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While stock cars still compete at its road course, Indy’s rectangle hosted NASCAR from 1994 to 2020.

While Indy is not actually a true rectangle (as its rounded corners thankfully do not come to a point), it the only track in NASCAR that has straightaways between all four corners. This means there are four acceleration points instead of the typical two.

Unfortunately, NASCAR does not have any trapezoids or parallelograms (yet), but we must say that the sport, despite popular opinion, isn’t just ovals. A true geometric wiz would have a field day analyzing the sport of NASCAR.

About the author

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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Check your Langhorne history. It was not really a perfect circle and it did not close in 57. While it didn’t have any straights, it was really more of a slightly squished circle. The original one mile dirt oval operated from the 20’s till 1964. In 65 it was reconfigured and paved to create another strange layout. A straight replaced the old curved backstretch and a short straight was added to the east turn, creating a “D” shaped oval made up of 4 distinctly different turns. The front stretch formed the beginning of a long sweeping turn 1, and lead into the tighter turn 2, without any straight. From turn 2 a straight lead to turn 3, the tightest turn of the new layout, and a short straight connected turn 3 to turn 4. Turn 4 was a sweeping turn of slightly more radius then turn 2.

The first race I ever went to was at Langhorne, and was there for the last one in 71.

Another strangely shaped NASCAR track was Nazareth, PA. Nazareth was a tri-oval made up of 4 different turns (some said 5), that also featured elevation changes, creating a sort of oval/road course hybrid, or the first roval. I miss both tracks.

Last edited 10 months ago by gbvette
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