By Tom Fielitz
We in the South East Michigan Region are very fortunate to hold our driver’s schools at one of the most classic race tracks in the country, Waterford Hills, which was formed and first paved in 1958. In the early days of racing, the corners at tracks had names and not just numbers. Do you know the names of the Waterford corners and how they got them? Turn one is named Gulch because it circles the gully or gulch on the property. Turn two is Bluff Bend because it turns right as it approaches a small bluff. Turn three is Skeethouse because before the track was formed, the Oakland County Sportsman’s Club, which is the parent club, had skeet shooting towers to release the clay pigeons and they still remained after racing had begun. Turn four is Waterford Bend as the track turns away from neighboring Waterford Road. Turn five is the signature turn of the course, Hilltop, named for obvious reasons. Turn six is Pelton Bend named for the bordering Pelton Road. Turn seven is Big Bend, again for obvious reasons. Turn eight is known as Archers because of the parent clubs archery range. Archery competitions are still held in that vicinity. Turn nine is Paddock Turn, next to the pit area or paddock as it would be called in England. Turn ten is the Esses for their S shape. Turn eleven is Swamp as it circles a shallow swamp complete with turtles and the occasional duck or goose. In the early days the swamp was more of a shallow lake and a boat and diver were on duty during the races. Amaze your instructor and your friends with your new found knowledge the next school you run at Waterford!
Grattan is nearly as old as Waterford, but did not name most of the corners. There are five corners that are memorable enough to warrant a name. The first significant corner is called the Off Camber Downhill which pretty much describes what the road does. Next is the Jump Hump, which is just as it sounds. The next turn is called the Bowl because it is steeply banked and sharp. The next long bend is named Rego’s Rounding for reasons I have never discovered. One of the most difficult corners on the track is simply named The Far Corner and has an acute right hairpin that drops sharply.
Gingerman Raceway is relatively new, founded in 1996, with only three named corners and straights. The short chute between turns two and three is called Jill’s Hill and it is the highest point on the track. The trickiest corner on the course is a decreasing radius left called Deep Demon. A series of right then left turns that might be described as the Esses is actually named Wiggly Field, probably named by the track owner who hails from Chicago. The long back straight is named Phoenix Flat since it parallels Phoenix Road. The last corner is named The Dunes and there is a rather large mound of sand to stop those who run out of brakes down the long straight.
Tracks around the world all have corners that pay homage to famous drivers such as Mario Andretti, Sterling Moss, and Graham Hill, whose names are used in circuits both in corners and straights. Other tracks have corner names for features that were removed over time such as Monaco’s Station Hairpin, which used to have the city train station and Tabac, which used to have a tobacconists shop at the center. Le Mans still has a corner named White House but also has the Porsche Curves, Dunlap Curve and Ford Chicane. Because it is still made up of public roads some corners bear names of nearby towns such as Arnage and Mulsanne. The Nurburgring has 172 curves most of which have very long German names, such as Schwabenschwartz, but other straights have names such as Flugplatz, which is German for airfield since cars often go airborne over its nasty hump. All race tracks in England name their corners, but my favorite track for names is Silverstone which has corners named Copse, Maggotts, Becketts, and Stowe, named for nearby farmer’s fields. The Spa racetrack in Belgium used to be a long public road circuit with corners named for nearby towns but it still retains a few famous corners such as Eau Rouge, Raidillon, La Source, Blanchimont and Stavelot.
American tracks also have some famously named corners. Mid Ohio has one of my favorite corner names, a hilltop turn appropriately named Madness, but it also has the Esses and Carousel along with Thunder Valley and The Keyhole. Road America was a public road based course at first with lots of corner names for bridges, houses and crossings. The permanent course has a signature corner called The Kink but retains some colorful corner names such as Hurry Downs, Kettle Bottoms and Canada Corner. Laguna Seca has its signature Corkscrew but also the Andretti Hairpin, Rainey Curve and Rahal Straight.
Chances are that if a race track has a particular feature that distinguishes it from other tracks it will have a distinctive name for that corner or straight. Part of the interesting nostalgia and character of a track is to learn some of the names that make up the circuit.