Graphic Design in Motorsport: Race Track Logos

John Mears
John brings together his passions for design and fast cars by sharing four rules of race track logo design.
Race track logos thumbnail

I’m a designer and nerd (if that wasn’t redundant). I was into F1 before Netflix made it cool, and building model cars and playing racing sims have been a couple of my favorite hobbies for more than two decades. Each hobby has made the other more interesting. Models have taught me a lot about how race cars work in the mechanical sense, and sim racing has helped me appreciate what goes into competition at the driver’s level - the racing line, changing conditions, when to defend, when to send it, and the nuances of different tracks that appear on Sunday morning races.

I love the fact that graphic design is a hybrid discipline, a healthy mix of art and science, left-brained creativity and right-brained data. I think auto racing is similar – a combination of human athleticism and technical engineering - which probably explains my interest in the latter. And when they come together, I can’t help but take notice.

Corporate brand identities, data visualization, motion graphics - it’s all there in a typical race broadcast.

There are lots of opportunities to geek out on the intersections between graphic design and motorsport: racing liveries, the barrage of brand identities, and information graphics. But I wouldn’t be a true nerd if I didn’t zoom in on one of the lesser-studied aspects - the branding design of race track logos - and how some do a better job than others at communicating what they’re like.

What is a race track logo?

Race track logos are a little bit of a special use case. Unless they’re visiting a track in person, a spectator is more likely to see the logo for an event (like the Indy 500) than they are for the track (the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) when they watch a race. Drivers, in the real world and in virtual space, probably encounter tracks’ branding more often. In racing sims, you’ll see them when browsing the track catalog or setting up a racing session.

In the design context, track selection in Gran Turismo is a contrast nightmare, but over time one forms a connection between on-track experience and each circuit’s logo.
iRacing is still busy, but a little easier on the eyes. This collection starts to give an impression of the design language you encounter with track logos.

Every track has a backstory, physical characteristics, and a personality that can be captured in a visual identity (to varying degrees of success). In addition to real-world circuits, many games also feature fictional tracks that only exist virtually - complete with their own brand designs, which I judge no differently. As I’ve experienced more tracks, either in-sim or in-person, and noticed trends among their logos, I’ve formed some rules for what separates the winners from those that could use a tune-up. For the non-racing-fans out there, I’ll do my best to help convey what actually makes these places special and how it translates to a branding challenge for logo designers. Which brings us to…

John’s Four Rules
of Race Track Logo Design

Rule #1 – Nail the fundamentals.

You’ve got to prove you can avoid the melee in iRacing’s rookie class before leveling up to more challenging levels of competition and horsepower.

Logos are a foundational element of any brand’s visual identity. And racing-related or not, the fundamentals of good logo design remain the same.


The simpler the mark, the more legible and memorable it can be. Logos need to work at a variety of sizes in a variety of situations. Do they need to be black and white? That’s debatable in 2023, but too much detail can just create noise.

Which of these do you think you could draw from memory? I love seeing an alligator in a race track logo, but shrink it down and the recognition is lost.


A logo needs to be distinct to be owned. Simplicity is often at odds with uniqueness, but that’s part of what makes balancing the two such a fun design challenge. Knowing your audience and what makes a brand special are crucial to breaking ahead of the pack.

One of these is not like the others. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of recognizable symbols within a niche sport like racing, but it can mean leaving more interesting and distinctive ideas on the table.

Rule #2 – Look fast.

It should go without saying, but race cars, you know, looks pretty cool.

The logo for a race track shouldn’t look like the logo for a law firm or a petting zoo. Racing comes in many flavors - be it 2- and 4-wheel, sprint and endurance, drag and circuit - but it’s always a competition of speed, performance, engineering, and athleticism.

As the setting for that competition, track logos should reflect the spirit of racing. But, they can do so without relying too much on tropes of checkered flags, car silhouettes, pistons and flames. The technology and cars on tracks change a lot more often than the tracks themselves, so I would avoid their use. Racing can be evoked through expressive use of color, typography and shapes, not just by taking some red text, slanting to the right, and adding a checkered flag.

Mid-Ohio definitely speaks to its audience (who should be familiar racing flags) but its logo makes me think of military service ribbons more than the verdant, almost golf-course-esque circuit it should represent. It lacks any unique or ownable features.
COTA benefits from being a relatively recent, purpose-built circuit, so it launched with well-crafted visual identity. I’m not sure what the flames represent (aspirations to host the Olympics?) but the typography is big and wide - which says Texas to me. I dig it.
Connecticut’s Lime Rock is one of my favorite circuits to drive online. It’s relatively small and quick to learn, but hard to master, rewarding finesse and momentum. The logo’s inclusion of cars (IMSA/Group C prototypes?) is distinct, but locks it in a narrow era and class of racing that doesn’t represent the circuit’s full character.

Rule #3 – Evoke a sense of place.

From a driver’s perspective, the layout of a track is what gives it most of its character. But that layout is usually the direct result of the terrain where it was built. Some are parking-lot flat, built on old airfields. Others snake their way through hilly forests. Some are dirt, some are asphalt. All these differences suit different types of racing and different drivers’ sensibilities. When designing a track’s logo, the designer should consider qualities like terrain, climate, size, signature features and overall mood. It’s helpful to imagine the atmosphere around the track during an event.

We saw Daytona’s logo earlier. I said it was big.

A track’s logo should communicate more about what it’s like to be there than the shape of the tarmac. Don’t take the easy way out by using a map of the track. Many tracks have different configurations, and can be reshaped dramatically over the years as racing and safety regulations change. Let’s look at some examples:

Sebring’s logo looks fast and flowing. And while the flat Florida circuit does have some high-speed turns, I think its defining features are its long, rumbling runway-straights. If it were up to me, I would look to flatten the shapes and give the logo a harder edge all around - but try not to lose the legacy charm of Optima, a pretty odd typeface choice in the world of motorsport.
Sebring’s S actually makes me picture “The Corkscrew,” turn 8 at Laguna Seca in California. Laguna Seca’s mark has the added challenge of incorporating a title sponsor, with its own brand identity, but the track’s mark should still seek to capture more of its unique California desert setting. The horizontal stroke connecting the R and Y actually makes me think of a long straight - a motif more appropriate for Sebring.
Australia’s Mount Panorama circuit is one my favorites. I’d compare the track to a roller coaster, each lap incorporating a grueling hill climb up the mountain and a no-margin-for-error plunge back down. The logo’s shapes mimic this topography and the chosen colors evoke the pre-dawn light of the circuit’s most notable race event, the Bathurst 12 Hour.
There’s always an exception that proves the rule. The Nurburgring’s size and complexity are its defining features, so the simplified track map does feel like a unique, ownable visual in this case. I wish the track outline and typography were a little more integrated, but overall, the logo dos a good job of distilling a very complex track (170 turns in its largest configuration) with a long history into a simple, forward-looking logo design.

Rule #4 – Embrace change.

In the process of putting together this post, I saw that a few tracks had under gone a rebrand and gotten new logos. Most have made the leap from just having an amateurish, outdated mark to embracing a modern, sophisticated brand system. But, I couldn’t help feel some are too slick for their own good. I don’t think every race track logo should be as stripped-down and iconic as the glyph-like logos of Target or Nike. Sometimes, a lack of sophistication is what gives a logo its charm and memorability. Taking into account a legacy logo’s idiosyncrasies and recognition among fans should be a part of any rebranding brief. Let’s look at some final examples:

It feels like Sebring tried to cut corners and adopt one logo for both the track and its signature event, the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race. Hence, the hidden 12, which isn’t hidden at all, and in my opinion, is quite awkward. Is it SEBIZING? SEB12ING? It’s clever, and not an issue for fans in the know, but cleverness shouldn't come at the expense of legibility.
Lime Rock abandoned almost everything about their old logo except for the color red. The new logo is certainly more versatile (a square icon feels ready for all sorts of digital applications) but nothing about it feels unique to the venue. There are some other new branding elements in use on their website, so I’ll be interested to see how the identity evolves.
Silverstone, England’s famed racing mega-circuit, has also undergone a major refresh that encompasses more than just the logo. I like the energy and intrinsic British-ness of the old logo, but it’s clear the circuit wanted a more contemporary, digital-first brand for a venue that does a lot more than just host a few car races on the weekend.
Last but not least, another mega-circuit and one of my favorites to drive in sims. “Old school” is the word I hear most often when commentators describe Suzuka, so attempts to modernize its brand are at risk of removing what makes the circuit so popular among drives and fans. I was always a little mystified by Suzuka’s blue-green logo, a checkered flag morphing into abstract shapes that seem to take flight, but that’s also what set it apart from its more grounded peers. I don’t feel any of that magic from the new logo, but I give it some points for the move away from slanted type.

I could keep going, but there’s another race starting. See you at turn one!