As the name suggests, Virginia is the ‘Virgin’ state and fans of motor racing know that it is most famous for its automobile shows at the end of each year. But what exactly is Virginia Motor Speedway and how did it become so well-known? Let’s find out more in this article.
History Of Motor Speedway In Virginia
The venue that is now known as ‘Virginia Motor Speedway‘ was originally established in 1939 and was originally called ‘Richmond Raceway’. It was originally built as a 1.25-mile course that was the proving ground for automobile manufacturers like General Motors and Ford. In 1950, the racetrack underwent a major renovation and was repaved. In addition, the grandstands were torn down and replaced with permanent steel bleachers which remain in place to this day. Since its inception, Richmond Raceway has been home to some of the greatest races in American history including the 1955, 1956, and 1967 editions of the Virginia State Fair. In October of this year (2018), Richmond Raceway will be 70 years old and is still going strong.
The Birth Of A Classic
Although the name ‘Virginia Motor Speedway‘ was not officially adopted until the early 1960s, the 1.25-mile course had been referred to as such since its inception. The reason for this is that in addition to being the home of the Virginia State Fair, Richmond Raceway is also where the Virginia High Schools track and field championships are held each year. The name ‘Richmond’ will always be associated with motor racing in Virginia because of this venue’s important place in the state’s history.
The Early Years
‘Richmond’ is a city that is located in the far north-eastern region of Virginia and it is home to ‘American Tobacco’, which is one of the largest tobacco companies in the world. So it is not surprising that the city is associated with motorsports in some way because of its long history. In fact, prior to the Richmond Raceway’s establishment in 1939, the city was also home to a public golf course that was used for practice rounds by the pros back in the day. It still exists today and has been maintained as a public golf course since it first opened its gates in the late 1800s. In addition, the city is also the hometown of legendary racecar driver Steve McQueen and it was here that he gained fame and notoriety for his participation in some of the most prestigious races in history including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Daytona 500, and the Indy 500. The track was also the location of some of Steve McQueen’s most memorable scenes in the James Dean movie ‘Giant’.
One of the most important things to mention here is that Richmond Raceway is a very flat track and it was designed with safety in mind. In addition, it has run a full schedule of NASCAR events from the beginning and it still does today. This is one of the main reasons why NASCAR came to call this track ‘the church’, as it is such a safe haven for the sport’s drivers. One of the most iconic photos ever taken at the Richmond Raceway was Andy Griffith’s winning photo from the 1955 Southern 500. Unfortunately, this was also one of the last races that Andy Griffith ever participated in because of health issues. He passed away just two days later on May 2, 1955 at the age of 62.
Grand Championships And Contests
One of the most important annual events that still takes place at Richmond Raceway is the Virginia State Fair. This is an event that was first held in 1906 and it continues to this day. The fair is open for ten days in October and it is one of the largest and most attended events in the state. In addition, the Virginia High Schools track and field championships are also held here each year and this is a competition that was started in the early 20th century among the state’s public high schools. The tradition continues today and the city of Richmond gets behind the schools with a large crowd. In fact, as of 2018, there are 29 individual championship events that take place with trophies being awarded to the top-three finishers in each race. These events make up what is known as the ‘AAA Flat Track Championships’ and they take place in August at the Richmond Raceway. This is one of the biggest events on the NASCAR calendar and it is a great opportunity for local high schoolers to showcase their talents.
NASCAR In The 60s
The late 1950s were a decade of change in sports and this was especially the case in the world of motor racing. The early years of the decade were dominated by Jim Crow laws and legal segregation, which meant that blacks could not participate in sporting events including baseball, basketball, and football. This was also the case in NASCAR racing and many tracks would not allow African-Americans to participate back then. However, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s eventually led to major changes and the rise of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed all forms of discrimination in public places including sporting events. In addition, the federal government passed legislation known as the ‘Housing Act of 1968′, which made it easier for Americans of different colors to live together as neighbors and this in turn led to greater acceptance of minorities in general and African-Americans in particular in American society. This all led directly to the Richmond Raceway opening its doors to anyone regardless of color and in 1969, they held their first ‘open to the public’ race, which was won by Richard Petty.
The Growth Of NASCAR
Although there were some tracks that remained closed to the public due to segregation, the vast majority of NASCAR tracks were now open to everyone and it was one of the major steps that the sport took in an effort to attract a larger audience. This strategy worked and NASCAR grew leaps and bounds in the 1960s, with tracks across the country holding fund-raisers, instituting guest lists, and inviting celebrities and royalty to races. Some of the greatest drivers of the 1960s, like Jim Clark, were also known for making generous donations to their local fire departments and this tradition continues to the present day. Many tracks were also built in an effort to attract more spectators including the famous Bristol Motor Speedway in 1960, for example. This strategy also worked and NASCAR grew by leaps and bounds in the next decade. By the end of the 1970s, the sport even had its own breakfast cereal, which helped promote the cause of diversity back in the day.
Today, Richmond Raceway is a 1.25-mile oval that is commonly used for NASCAR and IndyCar races because of its forgiving nature compared to other tracks. In fact, it was voted the ‘Most Popular Track’ in the country by NASCAR fans in a 2007 survey. In addition, the annual NASCAR ‘Whelen’s Modified Tour’ stops here every summer, which is one of the most prestigious events on the racing calendar and it is also the biggest single-day event at the track. This multi-day event features modified racing cars and trucks and it is named after Bud Whelen, who was one of the first promoters to embrace the idea of adding races to the American motorsport landscape back in the 1950s. In 2018 alone, the Whelen’s Modified Tour will be running six nights and seven days and it will feature over 100 car and truck races from coast to coast. This race is particularly important to fans of NASCAR in the Southeast because it is the only national-level race that they get to see every year.
As for the future of the Richmond Raceway, it is now a 1.25-mile oval and it is still owned by the same company that purchased it back in the 1940s, which is Norfolk Southern Railway. In November 2018, the track will be holding several major events including the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ‘Weeden’s Mini-Sprint’, which will be a part of the NASCAR weekend here. Although this is just one of the biggest events on the track’s calendar, it is an important milestone because it marks the halfway point of the season and it will be the first time that we see the cream of the crop in action. This is also one of the final events of the year and it will be a good opportunity for fans to say goodbye to the year and have some fun. This is also one of the biggest events of the season and it will be packed, especially since it marks the halfway point of the season. The next NASCAR race is the ‘Aaron’s 499′ here in April, which will also be televised nationally by ESPN.