WVR is 3.03 miles long, has 19 turns, and spans 491 feet of elevation change, making it the most vertical racetrack on the circuit, beating out Circuit of the Ozarks' 445.
The front straightaway gently curves to the left, dipping into a long valley at the bottom of which lies the start-finish line. At the line, the valley slowly starts to climb again. The first turn comes after a quarter-mile.
Turns 1 and 2 are called the Hairpin. Turn 1 is a 90-degree right-hand corner that a Prix Car has to take at 80 miles an hour or less. Turn 2 is a 120-degree right-hand corner that ascends at a steeper rate and requires a slight decrease in speed.
The next straightaway, the Backstretch, ascends sharply after Turn 2 then slowly decreases in severity until it is at an almost imperceptible climb.
Turns 3, 3a, and 4 are called the Glen, and together form a 180-degree left-hand bend. Turn 3 is shallow but has a very tight turn radius, followed closely by the more severe Turn 3a. Cars can run full-throttle single-file through Turn 3 but need to brake hard by the time they reach 3a. If they try to go double-wide through Turn 3, someone has to let off the gas or both cars will go wide. Turn 4 is a 100-degree corner that is nearly flat until just before the exit, where cars start climbing sharply. A car that accelerates at a "normal" pace out of Turn 4 would be fine if the turn was wholly flat, but will be thrown from the racing surface into the tires due to the steep incline of the exit.
Turns 5 and 6 are called the Cutting. Turn 5 is a 40-degree right-hand bend with a tight turn radius. The hill is consistently steep all the way up to Turn 6, which is a tight 200-degree switchback that increases in grade as you proceed.
Turn 7 is a hard 90-degree uphill left-hand corner that marks the beginning of the Kentucky Esses. After a short straight, Turns 8 and 9 are a complementary right-left combination at a steady grade up the hill. These three corners are almost identical and almost the size of a regular city block corner.
The Quarry Straight proceeds from Turn 9 through to Turn 11, although there is no straight portion whatsoever and also includes Turn 10. Out of the Turn 9 left-hander, the Quarry takes a long, lazy right-hand bend, only to be pulled back to the left by Turn 10, which is a somewhat tighter left-hand bend. The right-hand portion of the Quarry is a gentle uphill, but by the time cars reach Turn 10 the grade is all but gone.
Turn 11, or simply Charleston, is a deceptive 90-degree right-hand corner, only a bit less severe than the Kentucky Esses. The corner is hidden by a large oak tree that grows out of the apex and overhangs the track. It is protected by a tire net.
Turns 12 and 13 make up the Summit, which includes both the highest point on the racetrack and the very first descent on the entire course. Out of Charleston, there is a quick straight stretch into Turn 12, a lazy right-hand corner much like Quarry. Cars are still going very slightly uphill until the apex of Turn 12, which is the high point of the track. The exit of Turn 12 is a slight downhill along a fairly straight section of track leading into Turn 13, a lazy bend back to the left as the grade slowly starts picking up.
Turn 14 begins the famed Ohio Esses, the most famous and feared portion of West Virginia Raceway. The descent picks up rapidly as cars are thrown into a sudden 40-degree right-hand corner. Turn 15 is slightly sharper and appears to be complementary to Turn 14 until, halfway through the supposed corner, the track falls away into Turn 16, a 100-degree right-hand bend that just keeps falling away from under the cars. It is the later half of Turn 16 that is the steepest grade on the course. Turn 17 is a quick correction to the left at a slightly reduced grade, then Turn 18 bends to the right in a slightly wider and much less steep copy of Turn 16. There is no runoff to the outside of Turns 17 or 18.
Turns 19 and 19a are the Chicane, a notoriously tricky combination to cap the run to the finish line. The grade coming out of Turn 18 is still steep, but not nearly as steep as halfway down the Ohio Esses. This changes almost immediately as cars hit the sharp 45-degree left-hand Turn 19, which is almost perfectly level. Turn 19a is a complementary correction to the right which returns cars to the main straightaway. A car that underestimates the braking zone will be thrown hard into the wide ditch just past Turn 19, and will have a hard time returning to the racing surface.
The runoff of Turn 19, aka the Channel, deserves its own mention. Unlike all other runoffs at West Virginia Raceway, which are grass, the runoff area of Turn 19, better known as the Channel due to its shape, is full of red volcanic dust imported from the lava fields of Oregon. Any racer who goes into the Channel is sure to pick up a huge coat of red dust on the nose of their car, which is nicknamed the "'Stache". Much like the Darlington Stripe, "Ploughing the Channel" or "Getting your 'Stache" is a rite of passage at West Virginia Raceway.
As soon as the cars exit Turn 19a, the grade picks back up. After a short straight section, the straightaway bends slowly to the left, still descending, but beginning to flatten out. The start-finish line is located at the exit of the bend and is the lowest point on the track. As soon as cars exit the bend and cross the line, they begin their ascent back into the West Virginian Appalachians toward the Hairpin of Turns 1 and 2.
West Virginia Raceway has been called a mishmash of several famous racetracks, and can be broken into five sections: the downhill out of Turn 18 through to the Backstretch; Turns 3 and 3a through to Turn 6; Turns 7, 8 and 9; Quarry Straight through Summit; and finally the Ohio Esses.
The first section strongly resembles Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca's first corner in shape and feel, except ascending to the right instead of descending to the left.
Turns 3, 3a and 4 strongly resemble Dubai Autodrome's increasing bends, and Turns 5 and 6 resemble some of the same track's uphills.
The final three sections of the track can feel like three different racetracks--the uphill through the Kentucky Esses, the relatively flat Quarry and Summit, and the steep downhill Ohio Esses--but in fact, all three sections are modeled loosely after Mount Panorama Circuit: the uphill resembles the run from Griffin's Bend through the Cutting into the Quarry sections of Mount Panorama (terms also used for different sections of West Virginia Raceway), while Quarry and Summit resemble the run through Sulman and McPhillamy Parks to Brock's Skyline. Finally, the downhill esses are a tribute to Mount Panorama's feared Esses sequence, which include such famous corners as the Dipper and Forrest's Elbow.
Finally, the chicane--Turns 19 and 19a--are West Virginia Raceway's own unique touch. They are unlike any other corners found in motorsports, although they have been likened to chicanes found at Silverstone, Nurburgring and Monza, as well as a reverse-engineered Corkscrew from Laguna Seca. However, no comparison can do these two corners justice as even experienced drivers greatly overestimate the speed they can carry through the corner and find themselves flying off the track. Coupled with the rite of passage that "Ploughing the Channel" holds, the Chicane stands out as West Virginia's own contribution to motorsport legend.
Webber in Charleston
In the 2013 Grand Prix of West Virginia race, Anthony Webber lost control entering Charleston and flipped over the outer guardrail, eventually coming to a stop in a forest nearly 200 feet down the hill. A catchfence was temporarily installed, but it fell onto the racetrack during high winds in late 2015, and was never replaced. Instead, the guardrail was made higher and a long section of wall was added partway down the hill to stop cars from heading into the forest.
The Great Pileup
Following a late-race restart in the 2018 Eastern Cup race, Denny Sheridan and Dorean Gates collided entering the Ohio Esses, and clogged up the track in Turn 16. 14 cars were involved in the pileup, the track was blocked, and the race was called two laps prematurely due to all the carnage.
Underhill Tries to Go Under the Hill
On the first lap of the 2020 Grand Prix of West Virginia, TK Underhill completely failed to brake for the Chicane, blowing straight through Turn 19 and going airborne through the Channel. His car nosed down hard into the red sand and stopped violently, throwing debris and sand everywhere. As a prank, some of his competitors spray-painted his front fascia and grill a dull red just prior to the next GP America event at the Grand Prix of Ohio.