With over a century of motor racing history now in the rearview mirror, many iconic racetracks, both old and new, are fast becoming destinations in their own right.
In the early days of motoring, racetracks were hastily mapped out on public roads, salt pans, where horses raced and even along the beach: The track simply needed to be as flat as possible to allow drivers to test the limits of man and machine. Count Jules-Albert de Dion won the world’s first automobile race—a 79-mile road contest from Paris to Rouen held in 1894—but was later disqualified because his steam-powered vehicle required an assistant to stoke the boiler. Just three decades later, in the 1930s, motor racing had already been transformed into a huge variety of specialist events. Some competitions required flat-out speed while others demanded outstanding handling, lightning-fast reflexes or heroic feats of endurance.
Many of the original tracks built at the dawn of the 20th century, like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana and Le Mans in France, are still in use today, hosting all manner of events, from drag races to MotoGP to NASCAR to karting. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway even has four holes of a golf course in its infield. And just as golf aficionados revere Scotland’sSt. Andrews as hallowed ground, some racetracks are deemed every bit as sacred by motor-sport fans. A few, like Nürburgring in Nürburg, Germany, have earned fearsome reputations. The 13-mile loop of 172 corners through bucolic German countryside is so complex, even the best drivers find it impossible to memorize every turn, earning the course the nickname Green Hell.
Though many classic racetracks have been immortalized in video games that offer turn-by-turn accuracy and astounding graphics, nothing compares to strapping into a racing harness and feeling 600 hp roar to life. Here, our ten favorite places in the world to put the pedal to the metal. Buckle up.