Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Our Top 5 Tracks

By Tammy Kaehler and Steve Ulfelder

TAMMY: I expect that Steve and I will have different perspectives on this, him being a real racer and all. I watch on TV, attend some races in person, and study onboard video. So I'm talking top 5 as in "fun to watch be driven." Because there's only one racetrack I've ever driven on myself ... OK, that's on my list. But Steve and I live on opposite ends of the country, maybe we'll be coastally biased? This could be interesting....
  1. Le Mans, France. Country roads, village streets, a road course with a front straight. Day, night with no streetlights. France, for Pete's sake! And a parade of drivers that takes place through the town of Le Mans, in vintage automobiles, with a backdrop of of a gothic cathedral. Le Mans has the ambiance without the crazy-might-drive-into-the-ocean of Monaco. Full disclosure: I haven't been to either one, but Le Mans is still #1.
  2. Laguna Seca, California. The corkscrew. Epic. That's really all that need be said.
  3. Lime Rock Park, Connecticut. Tight, technical road course in a verdant, wooded setting. A racetrack in a park. Lovely people, as noted previously.
  4. Long Beach, California. Temporary street course, with the best backdrop of any race in the United States: the Pacific Ocean, the harbor, and the Queen Mary (photo at right). I'm not saying it's fun to drive, but it's a great place to be!
  5. Road Atlanta, Georgia. It's got blind uphills, slow, tricky turns, a downhill that takes guts, and esses with a rhythm that feels like you should be dancing. It makes my list because I learned to drive there, and because it hosts epic finishes at the Petit Le Mans each year. (Look, that's me at Road Atlanta!)
I guess I wasn't too west coast centric ... what's your take, Steve?

STEVE: Fun topic. Tammy, I don’t see your list as West Coast-centric; it looks nicely balanced to me. I couldn’t agree more that Laguna Seca, Lime Rock, and Road Atlanta belong on the list. In fact, thanks for including them – you’ve freed up my selections! Here they are. Unlike you, though, I’m going to be difficult and name mine in no particular order:

  1. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium. I’m not a big Formula One guy now, but Jackie Stewart was one of my favorite drivers when I was a kid (Richard Petty and Don Garlits were the other two – how’s that for diversity?), and I recall the blend of respect, adoration and terror with which Stewart discussed Spa. It was a track that put hair on your chest. And while it, like all F1 circuits, has seen many safety improvements that subtract from the fear factor, it still features some pucker-up-and-see-if-you-can-drive-it-flat sections that are, I believe, a racer’s biggest challenge.
  2. Road America, Wisconsin. Road America is this continent’s answer to Spa: elevation changes, gorgeous countryside, unpredictable weather, and fast sections that separate the men from the boys.
  3. Watkins Glen, New York. This is the only track on my list that I’ve driven, and boy do I love it. Smooth but not too smooth, wild elevation changes, a dozen turns per lap, nothing ridiculously slow. Driving up through the Esses in fourth gear, dead-nuts flat out through an Armco corridor that’s disturbingly close, makes me feel like a real race car driver every lap.
  4. Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Yeah, it’s an oval (well, a squared-off oval). But history, pomp and courage count for something, and nobody beats Indy on those counts. The track’s barely banked, 90-degree corners have led some to say that driving it is like going 230 mph – then turning into your driveway. To be fast at Indianapolis, you must run flat out through these corners, which requires guts few of us can even imagine.
  5. Monaco. What, another F1 circuit? You bet. What I love here is the sheer preposterousness of the endeavor. It was one thing to race through the streets of a tiny, elderly city when tires were four inches wide and drivers paid more attention to their ascots than to their helmets. But in today’s terrifyingly fast F1 cars, such a race is silly, unimaginable … stupid! And I say that admiringly.
TAMMY: Well, Steve, you helped me out with adding Monaco and Road America (the Kink is classic). Clearly we needed a top 10! That's our take. What do the rest of you have to say?

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