Track Time: Oregon Raceway Park

The northwest’s—newest and gnarliest—racetrack

Photos: Xqsmephotography.com

Laguna Seca has the Corkscrew. Barber has its Alabama Coaster. Road Atlanta had the Gravity Cavity. Now we’d like to nominate two new names for the list of America’s most legendary racetrack features: Pucker Factor and the Half Pipe, both found at Oregon Raceway Park.

We hadn’t heard of ORP, which opened in November 2008, until Portland-based motorcycle designer Michael Czysz recommended the venue for our exclusive test of his MotoCzysz E1pc electric superbike last summer. Portland International Raceway was booked and, short of a long haul to Seattle or Northern California, ORP was our only choice. Beautiful and uniquely challenging, it also turned out to be our best choice.

Located 130 miles east of Portland in the tiny ranch town of Grass Valley, ORP was born when Team Continental, a group of Portland-area auto-racing enthusiasts, wanted a more convenient alternative to Seattle or Thunderhill. After two years of searching, the team located an available, 463-acre wheat farm high on a ridge. What the site lacked in accessibility it made up for in scenic beauty, with clear-day views of Mounts Hood and Rainer. The venue is so spectacular that Volvo was filming a commercial the day we were there.

Built over two years at a cost of $3.2 million, ORP is also one of the most exhilarating and technically demanding tracks we’ve ridden. Measuring 2.3 miles in length, the layout incorporates 14 turns and gains over 400 feet in elevation per lap—twice as much as most tracks in America. That extreme topography creates numerous blind and off-camber corners that keep you awake and fully engaged.

Sections like Pucker Factor and The Plunge live up to their names. The first is a downhill, mercilessly off-camber left/right combination that will have you begging for more edge grip before dumping you into the narrow gully that leads to Valkyrie Hill. The Plunge is a short, downhill chute that connects the g-force-inducing North Bowl with the aptly named Half Pipe—another left/right combination, this one positive camber and banked at 14 degrees. "You never get tired of the Half Pipe," ORP Business Development Director Jonathan Clark says, grinning. He’s right.

The track is race-certified by the Sports Car Club of America and the International Karting Federation, with a motorcycle sanction anticipated by the end of 2011. Already the facility has hosted a variety of track-day organizations, as well as Jason Pridmore’s STAR School. Clark said at press time that ORP was about to finalize an agreement for an on-site motorcycle school as well.

Facilities are still in-progress. The paddock is paved and a fueling station has been installed, with permanent bathrooms and garages scheduled for the 2011 season. The Field of Dreams business model is panning out, with plenty making the trip to test their skills against this uniquely challenging layout. You should too.

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