Dirt tracking racing has been a thrilling passtime for adrenile junkies throughout the past hundred years. Tracking its origins can lead to some heated discussions among American and British racers, but the true beginning dates back to 1920's Australia.
Australia's Johnnie Hoskins had a passion for dirt track racing that motivated the organization of the modern speedways everywhere. Hoskins served as the secretary of the West Maitland Agriculture show in 1923. During the yearly agriculture event, Hoskins set up a side-show featuring an oval dirt track beneath big flood lights. Australia fell in love with that first speedway and soon the idea spread to British racing enthusiasts.
Hoskins vision for dirt track racing sent him across the ocean on his way to the United Kingdom in 1927. English towns were excited to give the concept a try and Camberley held the first race. Without access to Australia's dirt-style tracks, they used sand which was not quite as successful. Droselyn near Manchester picked up the idea and staged a race on a sand track. High Beech in Epping Forrest held the first notable race on February 19, 1928 with a record audience of over 30,000 spectators. This High Beech racetrack is still considered that birthplace of modern British racing.
Dirt track racing also became popular in the United States during the 1920's. While Australia and United Kingdom racing consisted predominantly of motorcycle racers, the United States had a surge of automobile races. Two kinds of race cars dominated the tracks, the open wheel racers and stock cars. Open wheel cars were popular in the Northeast and Western regions of American, while stock cars captivated Southern racers.
America still has a very active participation in dirt track racing. There are around 1,500 tracks all over the country, run by locals. Many racers participate in dirt track racing and short asphalt track racing in alternating seasons.
Most American tracks today are still oval shaped and vary from a half mile to a mile in length. The longer track feature higher speed races, which increases distance between cars, but increases the chance of injury or death in crashes. Today's tracks are made with a variety of soils, but the best ones usually have a clay base. Operators keep the clay tacky by periodically sprinkling water over the track during races. Some choose to keep the track flat, according to old track style, but others bank up the sides in a Nascar-type fashion.
Modern tracks in the United Kingdom have been converted to grass tracks. They focus on shorter range tracks, usually under a half mile. The grassy surface makes racing a safer sport more conducive to family fun, where young children can even attempt a short race. The rest of Europe has mostly followed the UK lead, and converted dirt tracks to grass. Some have replaced the old dirt with softer sand.
Changes in tracks and cars has left a fantastic passtime for car enthusiasts. Many are looking up old parts and crashed cars and restoring them into killer vintage racing machines. These beauties can be seen at car shows around the country, and carry a piece of world history.
Dirt track racing is a fun family sport, usually on a smaller scale than Nascar. Today's obsession with racing has the old dirt tracks to thank, and we would be remiss to forget our heritage back in the days of homemade dirt tracks.