Track racing is a form of motorcycle racing where teams or individuals race opponents around an oval track. There are differing variants, with each variant racing on a different surface type.
The most common variant is Speedway which has many professional domestic and international competitions in a number of countries.
Administered internationally by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), the sport became popular in the 1920s and remains so today.
Nature of the sport
Track racing involves between 4 and 6 sometimes 8 competitors riding around an oval track in a counter-clockwise direction over a set amount of laps - usually 4 to 6 - with points being awarded to all but the last finisher on a sliding scale.
These points are accumulated over a number of heats, with the winner being the team or individual who has scored the most overall.
The machines used are customised motorcycles, these have no brakes and are fuelled with methanol. Speedway also uses motorcycles with no gears or rear suspension. The use of methanol provides an increased compression ratio to the engine resulting in higher speeds (approx 80mph when cornering) although the skill of Track Racing lies in the overall ability of the rider to control his motorcycle when cornering and thus avoid losing places through deceleration.
Competitions take place on tracks which are defined by the FIM as being of the following:
- Speedway - a track with a top surface in granite, shale, brick granules or similar unbound material rolled in on the base ground
- Long track - sand, shale or similar unbound material rolled in on the base ground
- Grass track - firm, level turf with minor undulations
- Ice Racing - ice with a minimum thickness of 10 cm
Variants of the sport
Speedway racing takes place on a flat oval track usually consisting of dirt or loosely packed shale, competitors use this surface to slide their machines sideways into the bends using the rear wheel to scrub-off speed while still providing the drive to power the bike forward and around the bend.
FIM regulations state that the motorcycles used must have no brakes, run on methanol, use only one gear and weigh a minimum of 78 kg. Races consist of between 4 and 6 riders competing over 4 to 6 laps.
Originating in New South Wales, Australia in the 1920s, there are now both domestic and international competitions in a number of countries including the Speedway World Cup whilst the highest overall scoring individual in the Speedway Grand Prix events is pronounced the Speedway world champion.
Flattrack racing looks similar to Speedway racing but is in no way related. Flat track motorcycles can be either 2 or 4 stroke in amateur competition. 4 strokes dominate pro competition and depending on the venue, can be single or multi-cylinder. Flat track bikes have front and rear suspension, and rear brakes. The brakes are what make it completely distinct from speedway, as the brakes allow for a different cornering technique.
Grasstrack (also known as Grasbahn) racing takes place on a flat oval track usually constructed in a field. It is similar to Speedway with races usually taking place over 4 laps from a standing start. Unlike Speedway, which has 4 riders per race, Grasstrack racing can have many riders in each heat and the circuit is normally longer, allowing higher speeds. The motorcycles are also different in that they have the addition of two gears, rear suspension and are larger in length overall. Like Speedway, the sport uses bikes with no brakes except in the UK, where brakes are required under ACU rules.
Longtrack (also known as Sandbahn) is a variant of Grasstrack held on tracks up to 1000 - 1200 meters in length and with speeds reaching 90mph - 100mph. The machinery and rules used are the same as for Grasstrack.
The sport is popular in Germany, possibly more so than Speedway. This means that the majority of tracks are to be found in that country, although tracks can also be found in the Czech Republic, Finland and Norway. Occasionally, Longtrack meetings are held in Australia and the USA, but these generally take place around converted horse trotting arenas.
Ice Racing includes a motorcycle class which is the equivalent of Speedway on ice. Bikes race anti-clockwise around oval tracks between 260 and 425 meters in length. The race structure and scoring is similar to Speedway.
The sport is divided into classes for full-rubber and studded tires. The studded tire category involves competitors riding on bikes with inch-long spikes screwed into each tread-less tire, each bike has 90 spikes on the front tire and 200 on the rear (or more).
In the studded tire class there is no broadsiding around the bends due to the grip produced by the spikes digging into the ice. Instead, riders lean their bikes into the bends at an angle where the handlebars just skim the track surface. This riding style is different from that used in the other track racing disciplines. This means riders from this discipline rarely participate in Speedway or its other variants and vice-versa.
The majority of team and individual meetings are held in Russia, Sweden and Finland, but events are also held in the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, and occasionally other countries.