A lot of things come to mind when thinking about Ohio: corn fields, astronauts, presidents, boredom (and this is written by a proud Ohio Native). A road course for racing is probably not on that list. Well, I’m here to tell you that it should be.
Amidst widespread track construction in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Les Griebling had the idea to design a course of his own. "A lot of people were building courses and I said we'll build one that's a little better," Griebling mused. "I wanted it to be difficult and it came out my way. It's very interesting because the driver is busy all the time." His vision resulted in a 16-turn road course in Northern Central Ohio with the first race being run in 1962. These 16 turns were reduced to 15 the following year due to complaints some drivers had about the course being too slow. After the omission of the turn, the track settled at 2.400 miles (3.862 km) in length.
After 20 years, Les Griebling sold the track to Red Roof Inn founder, and successful road racer, Jim Trueman in 1982. Trueman immediately undertook projects to upgrade the facilities, including a huge media and hospitality center, permanent grandstands, a three-sided scoreboard tower, new garages, and amphitheater style seating. Trueman tragically passed away from cancer in 1986, just 11 days after his team won the INDY 500. His wife and daughter, Michelle Trueman, took over management of Mid-Ohio with his daughter being named president of the circuit and overseeing daily operations in 1989. In 1990, a revamp of the track was undertaken, and the track was resurfaced, a retaining wall was added, and the apexes were widened. A straightaway was also added through the chicane that allowed for two different course configurations: the current 15-turn, 2.400-mile track and the new 13-turn 2.258-mile track. Several series including CART adopted the shorter, 13-turn track right away. In 2006 another extensive renovation was undertaken with another full resurfacing and numerous modern safety features being added, including expansion of gravel traps, standardized curbing, and replacing all the old-style catch fencing. The result of this latest revamp was a faster and safer course for drivers and fans alike. In 2011, Truesports (the Trueman family’s company) sold the course to its current owners, Green Savoree Racing Promotion.
Ohio is known for being a flat state, but that’s not entirely accurate. Throughout the last ice age, nearly 2/3’s of Ohio was covered by a Glacier. The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern portion of the state were the only section not covered. While the weight of the glacier did flatten a lot of Ohio, it also left behind glacial moraines along the edge. These moraines are full of a bunch of debris and, while not as steep and rugged as the southeastern portion of the state, have resulted in high elevation and rolling hills. This is right where Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is located, in Lexington, Ohio. Mid-Ohio uses the natural terrain to create a course that flows well with fast turns and some elevation changes; often being called one of the most competitive road courses in the U.S.
All sorts of races are held at Mid-Ohio; with everything from IndyCar, AMA, IMSA, NASCAR Xfinity Series, and other amateur and club races. The first race ever held there was a 168-mile race, won by Ken Miles, as a part of the United States Road Racing Championship. This series ran at Mid-Ohio until 1968, returning in 1972, under the banner of IMSA GT Championship, as a 6-hour enduro race. From 1970-1976 the track hosted the U.S. Formula 5000 series until 1977-1980 when the revived Can-Am series replaced it. A 65-lap race in 1980 was the first time a CART race was held at Mid-Ohio and would continue (minus the 1981 and 1982 seasons) to be hosted until 2003, when it was dropped due to the close proximity of the Grand Prix of Cleveland. In 2001 the American Le Mans Series added Mid-Ohio to the schedule, and they would host that race until they were dropped in 2012. 2013 marked the first year a NASCAR event was held at Mid-Ohio with the NASCAR Xfinity Series. It was initially a 200-mile race that was shortened to 170-miles in 2018. This series was held until it was replaced by the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2022.
The race lap record for the original 2.400-mile course was 1:19.984 set by Roberto Guerrero in 1987 in a CART race. The new 2.258- mile course lap record was set in 2016 by Will Power with a time of 1:05.260 during an IndyCar race.
There are a lot of races to see and things to do at Mid-Ohio. Along with standard races, the course hosts defensive driving/high performance driving classes and holds open test and tunes, where drivers can get out on the course in their street legal cars. Ohio might not be at the top of the list for travel destinations; but for racing fans and motorsports enthusiasts, maybe it should be.