VIR - America's Motorsport Resort
Story by Tucker McLaughlin, Jr., Contributing Writer
Photos by Blakely Swanson
VIR hosted the return of the very
popular Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series in April.
Paul Newman loved the place. Richard Petty got stuck
in the mud on a July Sunday afternoon in a Trans-Am race, helping
augment the legend of NASCAR Bend.
Car & Driver magazine raved about VIR’s Grand Course
West, drawing comparisons to the famed German Nurburgring.
Oak Tree Turn lives on.
Virginia International Raceway, celebrating its tenth
anniversary since its rebirth in 2000, has earned international acclaim. The
facility is located at Alton, near Danville in Southside Virginia.
From Cattle to Sports Cars
Connie Nyholm and Harvey Siegel had the vision to reclaim
VIR from its sad state as a cow pasture 10 years ago.
Nyholm, a managing partner of VIR, and general manager
Josh Lief have watched the motorsports country club gain traction in the
past decade as a major factor promoting tourism
and innovative industry across Southside Virginia.
Nyholm says, “When we first started the project, Harvey’s
vision was to be a club track — rent all the weekends to Ferrari Club, Audi
Club, Mazda Club, BMW Club — and if we picked up a few weekdays, we would be
doing better than expected.”
Now, factoring in the math of using two tracks at once,
VIR has 480 rental days a year. The facility is rented part of January, most
of February, and then daily to Christmas.
VIR hosts several professional events, including the
Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series (held April 23-25); the Suzuki White
Lightning AMA Pro Superbike Nationals (Aug. 13-15); and the Bosch
Engineering NASA Octoberfast (Oct. 8-10). The weekend of Sept. 10-12 will
bring the SCCA Pro Sport Car Wars, with the World Challenge GT and Touring
Car circuit, combined with Trans-Am and the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup.
NASCAR Sprint Cup teams test here.
cars are one of the many diverse racing
series at the motorsports country club.
VIR hosts extensive karting activity, including myriad
group events, the very popular Camp Motorsports, drifting competitions on
the Patriot course, and much more.
VIR has two upscale hotels, villas for sale, a growing
industrial park, and a burgeoning research and development facility.
“VIR is seen as one of the elite tracks in
the country. People travel from all over the world to come drive at VIR,”
The weekend of June 4-6 features the Heacock Classic SVRA
Gold Cup Historic Races. The event showcases a revival — from the sports-car
era of the 1950s and ’60s — of the competition between the Lotus and Elva
VIR has six different racetrack configurations, two of
which can be run simultaneously. Those include the full course, run with
events on the Patriot course, or north and south, or the Grand Course East
and Grand Course West.
Car & Driver has recently released its fourth edition
reviewing the “lightning lap of Grand Course West.” The magazine gushed that
in North America, there’s a track — VIR’s Grand Course West — worthy of
comparison to the storied German Nurburgring.
A track with history
The Web site, virhistory.com, contains much of the story
of the old VIR — from 1957 to the untimely closure of the racetrack in 1974.
From the August 1957 VIR race
program: “The rolling Virginia hills have been painstakingly clad with an
ultra-smooth skin of macadam to provide a course of great natural beauty.
The superb spectator visibility is nicely equated to a road layout that will
test the best in racing machines and men.”
From Carroll Shelby in 1957: “One lap here is like 100 at
“Virtually all the big names of the golden era of road
racing, which was the late ’50s to mid ’60s, raced at VIR,” says Lief.
Petty, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Peter Revson, and Carroll
Shelby raced here. Many of these drivers returned to VIR after its
reopening. VIR showcases dizzying speeds, pastoral
beauty and highly technical professional racing challenges.
VIR was a relatively new concept a decade ago, the
motorsports-country club, and its success has sparked a successful national
trend in that direction.
Want character lacking at so many cookie-cutter raceday
facilities? How about the famed Oak Tree Turn? Insurers demanded that the
giant oak tree that gives the turn its name be cut down, but the developers
— at considerable extra expense — saved the oak to preserve a distinctive
slice of raceday history.
VIR has its own unique history, starting with the famed
Here’s that story, courtesy of virhistory.com: “Four
NASCAR stars drove but didn’t have much luck — David Pearson blew the engine
in his Dodge Dart during practice. Curtis Turner blew an engine in his
Mustang but taped over the hole and was the last car running at the finish.
Richard Petty went off twice and got permanently stuck in mud. Wendell Scott
spun and then broke his Mustang’s suspension crossing a drainage ditch
trying to return to the pits. Turn 3 got re-named NASCAR Bend as a result of
the difficulties encountered there by Pearson, Petty, and Scott.”
VIR also paid homage to Carroll Shelby, one of the
leading figures in the automotive and sports car arenas in this country in
the past half-century.
The track recognized Hurley Haywood, the Chicago native
who went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1977, 1983 and 1994. He’s also
had major success at the 24 Hours of Daytona and drove in the 1980 Indy 500
and IMSA, representing that circuit four times in the International Race of
VIR has attracted racers of all stripes and professions.
Motorsports luminaries who have been connected with VIR include IndyCar,
NASCAR and Indy Rolex Grand-Am team owner Roger Penske, one of the most
prominent motorsports and business figures in the USA; Marco Andretti, a
leading performer on the IndyCar circuit; Patrick Dempsey, road-racing
enthusiast and a Hollywood movie and television star; and Chris Economaki,
one of the nation’s leading motorsports journalists.
The list of VIR luminaries also includes Boris Said, one
of the leading drivers for hire when NASCAR goes road racing; former Sprint
Cup regular and Grand-Am champion Scott Pruett; Rolex DP veteran David
Donohue and his dad, the late Mark Donohue, members of an American racing
family with its own slice of VIR history; Mat Mladin, arguably the best ever
in the highest level of professional motorbike racing in the land, the AMA
Pro Superbike circuit; Ben Spies, now blasting through the Moto GP in
Europe; and Nicky Hayden, another past winner at VIR in Superbikes and now
in Moto GP and more.
Halifax County’s Ward Burton, the only Virginian to win
the Daytona 500, practiced here during his Sprint Cup career. Denny Hamlin,
Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Juan Pablo
Montoya, and other NASCAR notables have turned laps at VIR, honing their
road-course prowess and exploring various technical issues.
Lief points out that VIR has hosted an off-road
motorcycle race, and there are more efforts underway to promote off-road
Kevin Harvick Racing loves the karting facilities, and
other NASCAR figures blow off steam here in their rare off-days, competing
on the karting track. Camp Motorsports USA has also proven very popular.
Drifting, another racing style, has found a new home with seven open
drifting events, with the finals set for the Patriot course.
VIR has featured race-day variety: AMA Pro Superbike,
Grand-Am, Trans-Am, Skip Barber Racing, the ARCA truck series, IMSA, the
North Carolina Region, SCCA Charge of the Headlight Brigade, 13-hour enduro
(Oct. 30), other versions of SCCA pro and amateur racing, and WERA
motorcycle racing, to name several.
And one cannot minimize the impact of club racing — with
considerable interest from regional Porsche and BMW groups — at VIR.
A Stunning Variety
To grasp a sense of the rush at VIR, you have to pay
homage to a stunning variety of sports cars wheeling around VIR any given
As VIR notes, the “Cars are the Stars” here.
That’s only a start. It’s no stretch to suggest on any given Vintage
motorsports weekend here, VIR’s paddock gleams with some of the most
expensive and treasured automotive masterpieces in America.
VIR’s South Bend features the Oak Tree Tavern, including
Connie’s Pub, a full-service restaurant and pub serving the region. And,
regardless of its “Clubhouse” standing, the Tavern is open to the public for
dinner, with reservations suggested.
When the weather is most cooperative, VIR can hold its
own with its own distinctive tailgating-party style.
Nyholm says, “I think we’ll see our events grow larger
and larger. Each year we’ll see more spectators come. And if we can get them
through the gates once, then we’ll get them again, and they’ll bring their
“We’d like to see our spectator events grow and bring
more and more people to the area, which of course brings more new money into