Gone Forever, Part 3: The IndyCar Road (Courses) Less Traveled

Over the years, the various forms of the top open-wheel racing series in the United States — of course now known as the NTT IndyCar Series — have raced on seemingly countless tracks across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South America, Japan and beyond.

But, with time, and the changing tastes of racing fans, needs of corporate sponsors, support of cities and overall finances, many of these locations have fallen off the schedule.

In this series, which we’re calling “Gone Forever,” we go one step further by exploring tracks that have gone beyond losing a scheduled date on the racing calendar – they no longer exist as racetracks at all, gone and all but forgotten in the minds of racing fans even today.

(In case you missed them, read Part 1 of our series, where we looked at some ovals that are no more, and Part 2, where we looked at bygone temporary street and road courses)

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We finish our three-part series focused on permanent road courses that once featured IndyCar but have disappeared. The growth of road racing in the 1950s and 1960s led to a number of permanent road course facilities being built across the world.

The Indy car championship featured road courses as part of the "USAC Championship Trail", which was the top ring of open-wheel racing in North America, but only for a few years in the late 1960s. (The 1968 trail featured 9 races on road courses, for example). Only after the evolution of CART in the 1980s, did road courses again return in force to the schedule.

But like many of the locations featured in this series so far, economics, complexity and changing fan tastes left many of these tracks in peril. The emergence of the temporary street race in the 1980s, which were "cheaper," closer to city centers and didn't require lasting commitment doomed some of the permanent road courses to history.

The good news is that among tracks that have had a lasting impact on IndyCar, most (including Portland, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, Road America and Watkins Glen) are still around and thriving. And while many road course tracks have come and gone from the IndyCar schedule (Mont-Tremblant, Brands Hatch, Zolder, Indianapolis Raceway Park Road Course) they are still open. But since this series is called "Gone Forever," we couldn't include them!

This longevity, while great for the track owners, made this list a bit more challenging, but no less fun to compile. With that, let's take a look at 3 permanent road courses that hosted IndyCar but are no more and what became of their locations.

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Riverside International Raceway (1957-1989) (Approximate Location)

Final track configuration (for IndyCar): 2.62-mile permanent road course

First IndyCar race: 1967 (won by Dan Gurney)

Last IndyCar race: 1983 (won by Bobby Rahal)

Today: Housing development and Moreno Valley Mall

Watch the first IndyCar race from Riverside in 1967:

Watch the last IndyCar race from Riverside in 1983:

Probably the best road course circuit in the Western United States during its prime and with a rich history to match, Riverside International Raceway was a place where famous names were made, and too often, lost.

Riverside was opened in 1957, as an $800,000 venture between Rudy Cheye, who was inspired to create a great racetrack testing facility in the west, and millionaire John Edgar who stepped in to finish the project when initial funding ran dry. And the raceway would reach landmark status — if, at least, in the eyes of the racing royalty that ran there.

Indeed, the famous names to run at Riverside include some of the all-time greats, including Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Richard Petty, Parnelli Jones, Phil Hill, and Dan Gurney, for whom the track was nicknamed “the track that Dan built” after winning more major races than anyone else there.

And, the IROC (International Race of Champions) all-star series, which featured the best IndyCar, sports car, Formula One and NASCAR drivers, was born at Riverside in October 1973.

Watch IROC racing at Riverside from 1973:

But the track also became infamous for the 19 drivers who were killed and many others seriously injured in crashes there. This list includes:

IndyCar would visit Riverside on two separate occasions – as USAC in 1967-1969 and then again as CART in 1981-1983.

Dan Gurney was the first star during the initial run at Riverside, as his two wins in three races were part of his 11 total wins at the track. His 1967 win came on the same day that A.J. Foyt took his then-unprecedented 5th USAC championship and also came in a race featuring Jim Clark, appearing in his only non-oval IndyCar start.

The most memorable part of IndyCar's second stay at Riverside was, you guessed it, a crash. In 1982, Dick Simon took a wild ride there after cutting a tire, vaulting him into an embankment and destroying his car (an extended version of the crash shows more details, but features some adult language, so be advised).

The last race ever run at Riverside was actually an offroad race won by Robby Gordon in 1988 long before he ever took the wheel behind an IndyCar.

Enjoy Robby’s 19-year-old exuberance in this clip from ESPN’s Speedweek:

Although it outlived nearby Ontario Motor Speedway, which was viewed as a threat upon opening but ultimately closed in 1981, Riverside's future lay in urban redevelopment. By the middle 1980s, most of the area around the track that was vacant when built was filling in with homes and businesses.

Due to the challenges of making money on races, and the skyrocketing values of the land the track occupied, the track was sold to developers and closed on July 2, 1989.

The footprint of the track now hosts the Moreno Valley Shopping Mall. Sadly, no sign of the track remains, not even a sign reflecting on what once memorably stood there.

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Continental Divide Raceways, Castle Rock, Colorado (1958-1983) (Approximate Location)

Final track configuration (for IndyCar): 2.8-mile permanent road course

First IndyCar race: 1968 (won by A.J. Foyt)

Last IndyCar race: 1970 (won by Mario Andretti)

Today: Vacant land

Watch silent footage of that 1970 Rocky Mountain 150 from Continental Divide Raceway, the only known footage of racing there that exists:

For this one, we had to flip way back into the history books. And I mean, way back. You’ve likely never heard of Continental Divide Raceways (I sure hadn’t), but it had a place on the IndyCar schedule as featured on the USAC Championship Trail from 1968 to 1970.

It was a successful hill climb that inspired Denver billionaire Sid Langsam to create the facility, as part of a complex that would house residential, commercial and other sports facilities and give “orphaned” Colorado sports car fans somewhere to call home.

Opened in 1959, between Denver and Colorado Springs, the complex actually featured three tracks: a 2.8-mile road course, a half-mile oval and a drag strip. Combined, they hosted IndyCar racing, SCCA and USAC sports car racing and the Trans-Am series during its time. Experts at the time called it “one of the most demanding road circuits ever built.”

Like Riverside, the road racing stars of the age raced here, including Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles and Dan Gurney, along with Champ Car legends including Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser.

There were big plans. In 1961, Langsam stepped into the big leagues of racing with the announcement of the formation of an international racing series with the creators of Riverside and Laguna Seca Speedway.

Tragedy struck in 1969 when SCCA racer Jim Mulhall and mechanic Mike Des Jardins were killed at the track when Mulhall lost control of his car on wet pavement, and careened into barrels that were meant as the pit road, scattering them throughout the paddock. Langsam was said to have been heartbroken over the events, and lost his passion for racing soon after.

In 1970, Indy car racing ended its run at Continental Divide, as USAC focused the Championship Trail on ovals with corporate sponsorship from 1971. The races on dirt ovals, and road courses were split into their own schedules, reducing the prestige for open-wheel racing at Continental Divide. That, combined with Langsam’s declining health, meant the beginning of the end of the raceway.

With that, the raceways started to close, with the drag strip first in 1972 (which closed as part of an event that featured Evel Knievel himself), and the road course closed in 1973 after Langsam’s death.

Take a lap and learn more about the history of Continental Divide Raceways:

The track lay dormant until 1978 when it was purchased by an electric vehicle company and rechristened as a test track, and hosted sports cars and limited motocross racing. But the new developers couldn’t make it work and the site was ultimately sold to developers in 1983, who, to this day, have done very little development.

You can still make out the faint outlines of the track area in this satellite view from Google Maps, but most of the track surface has long ago returned to nature.

IndyCar returned to the Denver area for a street race in 1990-1991 with CART and 2002-2006 as an Indy Racing League event, but the race was canceled in 2007. Pikes Peak Raceway also hosted the Indy Racing League on its oval from 1997-2005, but was sold to ISC and shut down in 2005. A new owner reopened the track for club racing, saving the track from Nazareth Speedway’s fate, but it will not be able to host major motorsports again.

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Stardust International Raceway, Las Vegas, Nevada (1965-1971) (Approximate Location)

Final track configuration: 3-mile permanent road circuit

First (and last) IndyCar race: 1968 (won by Bobby Unser)

Today: The Spring Valley community of Las Vegas

Watch a history of Stardust International Raceway:

IndyCar’s history has been, well … complicated. From the failed Caesars Palace Grand Prix to a well-received but short-lived street race, and the Dan Wheldon 2011 tragedy at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that changed the sport forever, the general feelings about the city and IndyCar have been mixed at best. With F1 giving the area another go with a prestige race in 2023, these feelings may change, of course.

Add one more entry from the history books to that total. In 1965, the owners of the Stardust casino opened a 3-mile, 13-turn road course to lure high rollers to Sin City. Early returns said the course could be one of the finer “driver” courses in America. The facility also featured a drag strip, along with the road course, allowing it to appeal to people who liked all kinds of high-speed racing.

Most of the major events were from the Can-Am and Trans-Am series, and the races there featured a Who’s Who of worldwide road racing: Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Al and Bobby Unser, A.J. Foyt, Bruce McLaren, Denis Hulme, Mark Donohue, Chris Amon, Peter Revson, Gordon Johncock and Johnny Rutherford and many others who took turns around the 3-mile track.

However, open-wheel Indy cars raced just once at Stardust, with Bobby Unser winning over a field of 18 (16 started, two others did not start) in 1968.

Rumors of mob ties and tax fraud surrounded the racing. Some of the land was allegedly used to launder money. And ultimately, the property was sold to developers who built the Spring Valley subdivision of Las Vegas.

And now, Vegas' next racing chapter remains to be written.

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Thanks for reading! Did we miss any permanent road course races that you loved to attend? Share your memories in the comments below.