Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

With the notable exception of human beings, automobiles, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk's jacket, almost everything looks better from space. Tony Borroz and Betsy Mason of Wired.com assembled these satellite images of well-known race tracks. —Ed.

Racetracks pretty much look the same from the grandstands or on television - a vast expanse of asphalt on which drivers do battle. Seen from space, though, you can appreciate their form and the skill it requires to drive them at the limit. We may have left out your favorite, but that's where you come in. Tell us what you'd include and why it should be listed.

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

1. Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Location:
Speedway, Indiana

Sure, it's essentially four left turns. And it is home to the Indianapolis 500. But if you think that's all it is, you are sadly mistaken. IMS is the stage upon which some of racing's greatest dramas have been played out. It is where triumph and tragedy transpire in milliseconds. The Speedway is rare in American motorsports, for it is history. Built in 1909 as a testing facility for auto manufacturers, the Brickyard has been the home to more historic races than possibly any other single track in the world.

That's the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course on the right, with 14 holes adjacent to the backstretch and four inside the "oval."

Photo Credit: GeoEye

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

2. Nürburgring Nordschliefe

Location: Nurburg, Germany

At more than 17 miles long with 170 corners, this track didn't cause Sir Jackie Stewart to dub it "the Green Hell" for nothing. It was long considered the single toughest purpose-built racetrack in the world. The greatest drivers in history, including Juan Manuel Fangio, Tazio Nuvolari and Bernd Rosemeyer, fought and won here. A victory at the 'Ring puts you in the pantheon of greats, and a lap time here remains the benchmark by which performance cars are measured.

Photo Credit: Google/Digital Globe

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

3. Circuit de Monaco

Location:
Monaco

In 1929, racing cars through the streets of the principality only seemed ludicrous. Today it actually is ludicrous. One-time Formula 1 champion Nelson Piquet once said that racing in Monaco is like flying a helicopter in your living room. He wasn't exaggerating. The principality's first Grand Prix was organized in 1929 by local businessman Anthony Noghès, and former winners read like a who's who of racing: Schumacher, Senna, Prost, Hill, Moss … the list goes on for days.

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space


Setting up the track takes six weeks; tearing it down requires another three. It includes the slowest turn in all of F1 (the hairpin at Grand Hotel, where cars slow to 40 mph) and one of the fastest (a flat-out sweeper through a tunnel taken at 160 mph). It's a difficult circuit that rewards skill over horsepower.

Photo Credit: GeoEye, Will Pittenger

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

4. Eldora Speedway

Location: Rossburg, Ohio

Eldora harks back to a time when dirt-track racing was the way a young race car driver in North America made his or her name. If they survived. Tracks like this half-mile clay oval were nicknamed bullrings, not because of their shape but because they were responsible for more shattered bodies than the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. Built in 1954, the Big E hosts the King's Royal, the Dirt Late Model Dream and the World 100, among other events.

Photo Credit: Google/State of Ohio/OSIP

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

5. Circuit de Spa Francorchamps

Location: Francorchamps, Belgium

Spa is wide open, hilly and bedeviled by treacherous weather conditions. That alone would make this track, built in 1920, among the most challenging on the planet.

Ah, but then there is Eau Rouge, a set of corners that almost literally tries to tie cars in knots. Drivers go into the turn downhill and to the left before, moments later, turning it around to go uphill and to the right, often at insane velocities. Get it wrong, and it will be more than just your car in a knot. Get it right and revel in your glory.

Photo Credit: Google/Aerodata International Surveys

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

6. Philip Island Grand Prix Circuit

Location: Philip Island, Victoria, Australia

The Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit may get Formula 1, but Philip Island gets MotoGP, which is just as badass. The first track was built in 1926, but the current track was built about mile-and-a-half away from the original. It's had an on-again, off-again racing history, as maintenance and financing waxed and waned, but it remains Australia's premier purpose-built track. A long high-speed straight, ridiculously fast turns and hair-raising elevation changes provide lots of excitement for riders and spectators like.

Photo Credit: Google/Digital Globe

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

7. Bonneville Speedway

Location:
Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah

How fast can you go? Bonneville Speedway is the only place to answer this question. The salt flats are white as snow, hard as concrete and so vast you can see the curvature of the earth.

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space


First used as a race track in 1912, racing on the salt flats didn't become truly popular until the 1930s when Ab Jenkins and Sir Malcolm Campbell competed to set land speed records. The probable high point of racing on the slat flats was in the 1960s, when Art Arfons and Craig Breedlove spent months one-upping each other for the record.

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space



Photo Credits: Google/USDA Farm Service, BLM, NASA

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

8. Daytona International Speedway

Location: Daytona Beach, Florida

Daytona is more than a track. It is a temple to NASCAR, where 168,000 of the faithful congregate for the biggest race of the season. Yes, NASCAR does at times seem like little more than pro wrestling with fenders. But watching 43 "stock" cars - each weighing 3,500 pounds and putting out around 700 horsepower - trading paint on this tri-oval superspeedway is a sight to behold.

The 2.5-mile banked track, opened in 1959, is one of two on the NASCAR calendar that use restrictor plates to limit the cars' top speeds. Some of the biggest names in stock car racing have won at Daytona, including Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, to name a few. Dale Earnhardt won here, and died here, too.

The track can be configured for sports car and motorcycle racing, but the Daytona 500 remains the marquee event.

Photo Credit: GeoEye

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

9. Circuit de la Sarthe

Location: Le Mans, France

How far can you go in 24 hours? There's only one place to truly answer that question: Circuit de la Sarthe in small rural town of Le Mans. The 24 Heures du Mans is the oldest endurance race in motorsports, and the place automakers go to prove their mettle.

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space


The race, first run in 1923, is run on public roads. The purpose of the race was to concentrate on sporty production cars, though these days many of the cars bear only a passing resemblance to their production counterparts. All of the major manufacturers have raced at Le Mans at some point, and the track has seen some of the great rivalries in motorsports, perhaps most famously the Ferrari-Ford rivalry of the 1960's.

Image: Google/IGN-France

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space

10. Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Location:
Las Vegas

It seems somehow fitting that a city so much larger than life would have a track to match. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is actually four tracks in one - the one-third mile Bullring paved oval, a half-mile Dirt Track clay oval, The Strip drag strip and the 1.5-mile Superspeedway tri-oval. You'll find just about everything from NASCAR stock cars and NHRA drag racers to karts running somewhere at the speedway. And Vegas being Vegas, anyone with the dough can get behind the wheel of something insanely powerful and peel off a few laps.

Photo Credit: GeoEye

Ten Great Racetracks As Seen From Space