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Rivah Visitor's Guide

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Racing at the Rivah

Story and photos by Alex Haseltine

Peace, quiet and tranquility are all treasured elements of life on the Rivah. Many who come here do so with the intention of getting back to nature, or escaping the hectic pace of an urban existence. Some of us, however, crave the occasional infusion of speed, intensity and burning rubber into our regular diet of rest and relaxation.

For those motor-heads among us, there are several options to get that requisite fix of gear-driven competition. Aside from the boat racing that abounds in our lovely, water-filled corner of the world, there are venues and associations devoted to satisfying the most gas-guzzling of appetites.

Bill Sawyer’s Virginia Motor Speedway

For fast and ferocious dirt-track racing, look no further than Bill Sawyer’s Virginia Motor Speedway. VMS is in Jamaica, on Route 17 north of Saluda, in Middlesex. It boasts a 1/2-mile clay track with 14 degree banking in the corners and 4 degree banking on the front and back stretches.

World of Outlaws Sprint Car racer Tim Shaffer slides into a turn at Virginia Motor Speedway.
VMS hosts a variety of events, including late model, sportsman, modifieds, 305 sprint cars, limited stock car, MACS Super Late Model Series, Carolina Clash Late Models, World of Outlaws Late Models, World of Outlaws Sprint Cars and monster trucks. 

The VMS provides free parking and also allows free on-site camping.  They provide no hookups, however, so your camp must be self-contained. 

Be prepared for some high-octane, dirt throwing, power-sliding racing. Bring a cooler (16 inches maximum, no glass), bring the kids, bring the RV, and be sure to bring some earplugs.

Adult tickets range in price from $10 for a regular weekly event to $30 for larger events. Discounted tickets are available to children, students, seniors and military personnel. Pit passes are available for $20 at most events. A race schedule appears weekly in the Pit Stop column in the sports section of the Rappahannock Record.

Colonial Beach Dragway

A super-pro racer pops a wheelie off the starting line at Colonial Beach Dragway.
Located on Route 205, 10 miles east of Route 301, the dragstrip is a motor-heads treasure, hidden away in the quaint and historic area that is Colonial Beach.

Home to the Southern Outlaw “Run What You Brung” event, CB Dragway is a place where drag-racers of all shapes, sizes and classes can come to test their cars against the clock, and against each other.  Among others, motorcycle, junior dragster, no-electronics and super-pro classes are featured. The winners of each class receive cash pay-outs ranging from $200 to $2,500 and they come from all over the east coast to compete.

Chris Carter of Montross, who races an 850 horsepower Ford EXP for CC Performance, competes at CB Dragway four to five times a year.  For Carter, who calls the dragway one of his favorite tracks, drag racing is a test of nerves and consistency. “Everybody comes here with the same idea: to win,” said Carter. “I basically leave the starting line and hold on.”

imageCB Dragway hosts events throughout the week, but the best time to go is on a Friday or Saturday night, when they host high profile matches and draw the largest crowds.

These cars are loud. You might want to bring earplugs if you are sensitive to bone rattling noises. Bring a camera. Spectators are permitted to walk freely around the pit area, and there are some beautiful cars to see, both classics and newer hi-tech models.

Guests are allowed to bring coolers and alcohol to events, but no glass bottles. Admission is $15 for adults and $7 for children.

Virginia Lawn Mower Racing Association

“People are starting to recognize it and it’s starting to draw the crowds.” Dennis Harlow talks about the rise of lawnmower racing.

The VLMRA is an organization that hosts lawnmower races across the state.  These are not, friends, your everyday mowers. The blades have been removed and the mowers are tweaked and tuned to provide maximum torque and speed.  Drivers lean into turns, kicking up dirt and grass as they reach speeds, in some classes, of up to 45 miles per hour.

According to Dennis Harlow of Gloucester, a 10-year veteran of mower racing, the sport is on the rise.

“It is just starting to grow,” said Harlow.  “People are starting to recognize it and it’s starting to draw the crowds.”

Mower races are held at a variety of venues, such as public campgrounds and county fairs. A recent race, held at Bethpage Camp-Resort in Urbanna drew hundreds of spectators, both residents and visitors to the camp. 

Races are scheduled tentatively, and the best way to keep track of upcoming events is to check the website, http://www.VLMR,com. Be sure to bring an open mind. Check with the venue to get admission prices and to determine if camping and coolers are permitted.

Rookie in the race pit

imageThe faint smell of gasoline. The rumble of idling engines. The beautifully orchestrated chaos of the pit crews as they tweak, tune and tinker, striving to give their drivers even the slightest edge over the competition. 

These are the sights and sounds of the pit. As an admitted novice to the world of motor-sports, I was a bit overwhelmed as I stepped into the pit area at Bill Sawyer’s Virginia Motor Speedway. The crews worked with an unspoken sense of urgency. Surrounding the activity, spectators and journalists hovered at a safe distance as drivers, mechanics and owners prepared for the race.

As I walked from car to car I became aware of the careful attention the crews paid to performing the various preparatory tasks. Bolts were tightened, checked and re-checked. Shocks were tested and tire pressures verified. Chrome was buffed and polished with the care and affection of a family heirloom. 

imageAs the stands began to fill and final adjustments were made to the cars, I timidly made my way to the infield. I found myself feeling humbled and slightly out of place in the midst of countless tons of machinery and thousands of horsepower.

Then they started the engines.

The extent of my experience with auto-racing to this point was occasionally stumbling across a NASCAR race while channel surfing. I was wholly unprepared for the deafening roar of the engines as the time trials began. 

The vibrations resonated through my feet and settled in my stomach as the racers flew by my perch at turn four. The dirt flew and the crowd cheered as the drivers artfully slid into the turns. I felt immensely grateful to the neighbor that loaned me earplugs, insisting that I would be glad that I brought them along.

imageAs the night progressed I developed a deepening respect for the drivers.  Hurtling around a dirt track at breakneck speed was something I might have considered imprudent, or even downright crazy, only a couple of hours ago. Now I found it exhilarating and admirable.

Walking back to my car after the race I couldn’t help but sneer at the tiny 4-cylinder engine under the hood of my VW. It took all my self-control not to redline while shifting gears on the drive home, and more than once I looked down at my speedometer having “accidentally” accelerated to a more than legal cruising speed. With a cringe I would check the rearview for flashing blue lights while gingerly applying the brakes. I had been bitten by the racing bug, and I knew that this was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship.

posted 07.31.2008

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