Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: A Look at Tracks Shared by Formula 1 & NASCAR

In the world of motorsports, NASCAR is the most popular version in the United States, while Formula 1 is the most watched globally.

So the comparisons are inevitable, especially considering that there is typically minimal crossover from one to another.

Would a successful driver in one series be able to excel in the other? Speculation tends to run rampant simply because there isn’t a lot of factual history to provide an answer. Most fans can only name a small number of, if any, racers who have competed in both. One can’t really blame them since there aren’t many.

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But while the drivers who have started a grand prix and a NASCAR Cup Series race could probably all ride to the track in one car together, the history of tracks being used by both sanctioning bodies is much more lengthy. This weekend’s Cup visit to Circuit of the Americas is merely a continuation of that history.

Current fans will likely know that both levels have raced at COTA because of how recently it has occurred. F1 started using the Austin, Texas, track in 2012, and NASCAR joined in nearly a decade later. No driver has competed in both levels at the track, but that could always change in the future.

One of the more recognized tracks in this category is Watkins Glen International. Both levels of racing have a substantial past at the winding course in upstate New York. F1 utilized the track for the U.S. Grand Prix from 1961 through 1980. NASCAR didn’t share the track much though during that era, only running there in 1964 and 1965.

By the time Watkins Glen had been permanently added to the Cup schedule in 1986, F1 had moved on to street courses in cities like Long Beach, Dallas and Detroit. The ever-increasing speed and rigidity of the F1 cars proved to be more dangerous on the high-speed closed course at WGI than temporary street circuits. A pair of gruesome fatal accidents in 1973 and 1974 put the future of the facility in doubt. Then, a failure by the track to make an $800,000 payment to the teams following the 1980 race turned out to be the final nail in the coffin.

From 2000 to 2007, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course hosted the U.S. Grand Prix. Of course, NASCAR hit the bricks back in 1994, but that was on the 2.5-mile oval. Technically, F1 has run on the oval as well. The Indianapolis 500 was considered part of the series’ world championship from 1950 through 1960.

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It was a peculiar association, considering no competitors from Indy participated in any other F1 events. Only one regular F1 driver, Ferrari star Alberto Ascari, started any Indy 500 races in that span. Ascari finished 31st in 1952, the only world championship event that year that he did not win.

NASCAR did eventually take to the infield road course at IMS, primarily in an attempt to breathe new life into the stagnant Brickyard 400. By this point, however, F1 had moved on. A disastrous USGP in 2005 certainly numbered the days for IMS as the host facility, with the event largely considered to be one of the worst F1 races of all time. Thus, the opportunity for any overlap went by the wayside after that fiasco. Again, as with Watkins Glen, by the time NASCAR showed up, F1 had already packed up and moved out.

So why don’t the two use the same courses more often? Well, the cars utilized by F1 and NASCAR are so different, so specialized, that there aren’t many racing facilities suited for both. The slower, sturdier stock cars can use narrow circuits with longer straights and sweeping corners. The ultra-light, much-faster F1 machines have superior cornering, allowing them to navigate tight turns. They also benefit from wider surfaces, as any contact will typically be race-ending.

It appears that both have finally found a place to share in Circuit of the Americas.

About the author

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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