Lesser-known, but Noteworthy Racing Venues: Willow Springs International Raceway

Ask any race fan to tell you about a well-known racetrack in the United States, and chances are likely they’ll focus on media darlings like Daytona International Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, or depending on what point in the racing year you’re at, just about any of the recent or upcoming venues on the schedule. That’s natural, given the amount of publicity meted out to the tracks appearing on the major motorsports touring series like NASCAR, NHRA, IndyCar, and the like. But there are other lesser-known but equally exciting places in the country where motorsports aficionados can strut their stuff, and Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California, nestled in Southern California’s Antelope Valley, is just such a place.

Willow Springs: A Seven-Track Extravaganza of Racing Excitement

When you think of a particular race track, your mind tends to picture a single race course, perhaps sometimes two or three configurations if there’s a road course within an oval, or a drag strip alongside the main attraction. NASCAR’s Dover International Raceway is one of those single-dimension tracks, a raceway famous for its challenging and demanding one-mile asphalt oval. Indianapolis Motor Speedway features the 2.5-mile asphalt race track, but it also sports a 2.6-mile infield road course that accommodates sports car and motorcycle racing. California’s Sonoma Raceway offers a three-in-one configuration, with a road course having two separate layouts and a drag strip running smack through the middle.

So, while many tracks offer multiple racing facilities, Willow Springs International Raceway is somewhat unique in that it offers seven separate tracks for competitors. From the 2.5-mile “Big Willow”–the main track–to its quarter-mile “Speedway Willow Springs,” the facility can accommodate a wide variety of motorsports classifications. Here’s a track-by-track synopsis of the racing configurations:

  • Big Willow: a seven-turn asphalt course designed to accommodate speed. The track’s literature notes that speeds up to 160 mph can be achieved on its long straightaways, and the interesting elevation changes and turns provide substantial uniqueness.
  • Balcony Autocross and Skidpad: with a skid pad surface measuring 400′ X 350′ and 60′ by 40′, drifting and autocross competitors can burn some serious rubber.
  • Horse Thief Mile: a 1-mile (1.6 km) road course with 11 turns featuring major elevation changes, tight turns, and canyon-like surroundings. Horse Thief Mile is technically challenging, simulating canyon-driving conditions.
  • Willow Springs Kart Track: a .625-mile, 9-turn paved sprint track featuring long straightaways and hairpin turns, this portion of the venue hosts a variety of go-kart competitions throughout the year.
  • Streets of Willow Springs: a 1.8-mile road course with skid pad.
  • Speedway Willow Springs: a 1/4 mile oval track with walls. This part of the facility is typically used for for testing and tuning purposes.
  • Walt James Stadium: a 3/8-mile high-banked dirt oval track with no walls. Like the Speedway Willow Springs section of the property, it is used for testing and tuning purposes.

Some Willow Springs History

The Willow Springs complex has recorded more than a few high notes during its 65-year life. Of particular interest to mainstream motor racing fans is that, according to the Willow Springs website, NASCAR’s first two events west of the Mississippi were held there and the first F.I.M. 500 Grand Prix motorcycle race in America and the first AMA events were staged there, as was the first 24-hour motorcycle endurance race and the first kart road racing in America. Likewise, Willow Springs hosted the first California Sports Car Club racing on a purpose-built road course.

Besides its motorsports pedigree, Willow Springs is known fondly for its role in Disney’s Love Bug movie as “Jackrabbitt Springs,” as well as for serving as a filming location for a number of projects, including the movie Fast Girl (2008) and several other motorsports-themed recordings.

Willow Springs International Raceway is recognized as an Official California Point of Historical Interest.


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