Virginia International Raceway History 1957-74
please send me e-mail with any additional info on any VIR History subject
HISTORY - VIR is a product of Ed Kemm, its president. His hard work, confidence, financial backing, and determination brought the course into being and to its present state of development.
FIRST RACE: VIR held its inaugural on August 3-4, 1957, with Carroll Shelby capturing the feature with an average of 78.3 in a Maserati 4.5, ahead of Walt Hansgen, Other overall winners in the various races were Ed Welch, Dick Thompson, Ed Hugus, Bob Holbert, and Bob Kuhn,,
SECOND RACE: The President's Cup was brought out of retirement October 27, 1957, and captured by Walt Hansgen and Charles Wallace in the Cunningham D-Jags, trailed by Ed Crawford and Duncan Black. Other class winners included Gaston Andrey, Dan Muir, John Holmes, Lake Underwood, Brooks Robinson, Wiley Reid, M. R. J. Wylie, Gil Geitner, Bill Burroughs, Leo Butcher, and Harry Carter.
THIRD RACE: In the 1958 Spring Sprint Races Hansgen averaged 77.6 MPH and set a competitive lap record of 80.094 in winning the feature. Crawford was second and Lance Reventlow third. Other overall winners were: Frank Baptista, Crawford, and E. M. Pupulidy.
FOURTH RACE: Again it was Hansgen in a Lister Jag capturing overall honors in the Autumn Festival held Oct. 4-5, 1958. Fred Windridge of Arlington held the lead early before his Lister Corvette went out. Hansgen averaged 77.1 MPH for the 30 laps, his best being No. 12 with 79.3 MPH. Don Sesslar was second with Rich Lyeth third overall--both in their class.
FIFTH RACE: This is it! The Danville (VA.) Shrine Club has taken over sponsorship with all proceeds going to Crippled Children's Hospital work.
STATISTICS - The road course is 3.2 miles in length (17,040 feet). It has a 27-foot wide asphalt road which is wider on the turns. There are 12 distinct turns (the "Dangerous Dozen") on the course, no two alike, and two fine straightaways. One is at the home stretch in front of the Pagoda, measuring 3,400 feet in length. The other comes off the V-like South turn, with gradual incline and dips measuring 3,758 feet, Speeds in excess of 160 M.P.H. may be attained on these stretches. Speeds must be braked as low as 25 M.P.H. on, several of the turns. The pit area runs parallel to the home stretch on a separate level for safety reasons, it is 1,800 feet in length and has a 50-foot paved width.
The infield of the course covers 200 acres, the over-all plant 1200 acres. The Dan River bends around the home stretch, lies about 500 yards north of the Pagoda.
Infield spectator vantage spots have been increased, providing VIR with more and better spectator vantage yardage than any road course in America.
If you ever get a chance, on a Saturday night during the Fall races at VIR, go find some friends who are camping out at the track. There is something about the nip in the air, the smell of the campfire, the excitement of the weekend, the charming companions, and the good whisky that usually brings the conversation around to - Remember When? There, under the bright stars, with the ground fog rolling up from the river bottoms along the Dan, the little group huddled around the fire might bring up questions such as:
THE PRESENT NORTH CAROLINA REGION, FOR ALL PRACTICAL PURPOSES, STARTED IN 1960. BEFORE THAT THINGS WERE A BIT VAGUE AND FAR BETWEEN. THE RECORDS AT WESTPORT SHOWED 43 MEMBERS, BUT HARDLY ANY OF THESE PEOPLE HAD EVER SEEN ONE ANOTHER AS THERE WERE NO MEETINGS, EVENTS ETC. IN THE TWO PREVIOUS YEARS. THE R.E. HAD LEFT THE STATE, ANOTHER OFFICER WAS IN THE ARMY OVERSEAS, AND THE OTHER OFFICERS WERE NOT EVEN MEMBERS OF SCCA! IN SEPTEMBER OF 1960, MEMBER JOE SARGENT FOUND OUT THE SITUATION. HE GATHERED ALL AVAILABLE MATERIAL AND CALLED SOME OF THE MEMBERS HE KNEW AND SET UP A REORGANIZATIONAL MEETING IN DURHAM ON OCTOBER 11. AREA 2 GOVERNOR "TEX" HOPKINS WAS AT THE MEETING AND WITH HIS KNOWLEDGE OF SCCA THINGS BEGAN TO MOVE. NO RECORDS WERE EVER FOUND FOR 1958 AND 1959 AND THE BANK BALANCE WAS $ 36.15 AS OF THAT MEETING. ACCOUNTS PAYABLE AMOUNTED TO $ 220.00 FOR INSURANCE ON A HILLCLIMB THAT HAD BEEN PUT ON BY THE REGION AT GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN. AT THAT GRAND EVENT THERE WERE A TOTAL OF 11 ENTRIES, THE THEN R.E., WHO WAS EVENT CHAIRMAN, NEVER EVEN SHOWED UP, SO THE PARTICIPANTS RAN THE EVENT. IN LIGHT OF THESE PROBLEMS, TEX It HOPKINS APPROACHED THE NATIONAL OFFICE IN WESTPORT, CONN. ABOUT A LOAN TO THE REGION SO THAT IT COULD GET BACK ON ITS FEET. WESTPORT PAID OUR BILLS FOR US AND GAVE US TWO YEARS TO PAY THEM BACK. NOW, WITH A LITTLE LIGHT BEGINNING TO SHOW, THE N.C. REGION BEGAN TO ROLL AND BY NOVEMBER OF 1961 BOASTED 96 MEMBERS AND HAD TAKEN OVER THE TERRITORY OF THE DANVILLE REGION, WHICH HAD FALLEN APART AFTER ED KEMM, THEIR R.E. WHO BUILT V.I.R. IN 1956, GAVE UP THE TRACK WITH A LOSS ESTIMATED AT ABOUT $ 150,000.00.
THE N.C. REGION'S BOOKS SHOWED A SUBSTANTIAL GAIN IN THE FALL OF 1961 WITH A BALANCE OF $ 135.73. THAT WAS ALSO THE YEAR THAT THE N.C. REGION WAS GIVEN THE "MOST IMPROVED REGION" AWARD. IN THE 13 MONTHS SINCE THE REFORMATION OF THE REGION IT HAD HAD 10 EVENTS: 4 AUTOCROSSES, 2 RALLYES, AN ECONOMY RUN, A DRIVERS SCHOOL, A RACE WORKERS SCHOOL, AND THEY HAD ASSISTED THE WASHINGTON D.C. REGION IN PUTTING ON A NATIONAL AT V.I.R. (THE WASH. REGION SPLIT THE NET PROCEEDS WITH THE N.C. REGION). THE N.C. REGION NOW HAD 30 LICENSED COMPETITION DRIVERS, MONTHLY MEETINGS, AND A MONTHLY NEWSLETTER. QUITE AN IMPROVEMENT FOR AN ORGANIZATION WHICH FOR ALL PRACTICAL PURPOSES HAD ONLY 5 OR 6 ACTIVE MEMBERS ONLY A YEAR BEFORE!
IN 1962 THE REGION AGAIN HAD A FULL NON-SPEED PROGRAM AND HELPED THE WASHINGTON REGION PUT ON THE SPRING NATIONAL RACE. THAT SUMMER AND FALL THE N.C. REGION HAD TWO REGIONAL RACES AT V.I.R. AND WAS WELL ON THE WAY TO BECOMING INDEPENDENT AND BY FAR THE MOST ACTIVE REGION SOUTH OF WASHINGTON. IT WAS AT THIS TIME THAT I FOUND OUT THAT THERE WAS MORE TO A MOTOR VEHICLE THAN DRIVING DOWN TO THE LOCAL DRIVE-IN. MY OLD BUDDY LEWIS GUNTER HAD JUST BOUGHT A PORSCHE, SO WE WENT TO A SPORTY CAR MEETING, GOT HOOKED, AND WERE SOON STANDING AROUND EVERY TRACK IN THE SOUTHEAST AND NORTHEAST FLAGGING. ALSO, MY MOTHER JUST COULD NOT UNDERSTAND WHO THIS "JIM KHANA" WAS THAT I WENT TO SEE EVERY NON RACING SUNDAY.
1963 SAW THE LAST ECONOMY RUN THE REGION HAD AT VIR. MOST EVERYONE WAS TRYING TO CUT 3 MINUTE LAPS ALONG WITH A MULTITUDE OF OTHER PROBLEMS. AUTOCROSSING WAS THE BIG THING AND THESE EVENTS USUALLY DREW UPWARDS OF 100 ENTRIES. JOHN BONITZ, 1963 AUTOCROSS CHAIRMAN, THREW THE CHAMPIONSHIP EVENT AT THE GREENSBORO COLISEUM THAT YEAR. THE COURSE WAS ABOUT A MILE LONG, THERE WAS A DRIVERS SCHOOL AND PRACTICE ON SATURDAY AND WE HAD ENTRANTS FROM AS FAR AWAY AS SOUTH CAROLINA, TENNESSEE AND WEST VIRGINIA. BILL CANNON OF GREENSBORO WON THE AUTOCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP THAT YEAR. THIS YEAR AT OUR MARCH DRIVERS SCHOOL HE AGAIN SHOWED GOOD FORM IN HIS BLUE ELVA WITH A TERRIFIC DICE WITH CLINT ABERNATHY IN THE 911 PORSCHE. OTHER AUTOCROSSERS WITH THE REGION AT THAT TIME INCLUDED PAUL AND DINY FLEMING IN THEIR BLACK CORVAIR SPRINT AND ALPINE, HAYDEN BEATTY DRIVING A HILLMAN MINX, PROF. BOB VOITLE IN A TR-3 AND LEWIS GUNTER IN HIS FIRST VW SPECIAL. BESIDES THE COLISEUM IN GREENSBORO, OTHER FAVORITE AUTOCROSS SITES WERE THE KINSTON GO KART TRACK AND THE SMITHFIELD GO KART TRACK. HIGHLAND SPORTS AND TOURING CLUB IN FAYETTEVILLE, COASTAL SPORTS CAR CLUB IN HAVELOCK, AND THE PINETREE SPORTS CAR CLUB IN JACKSONVILLE WERE ALL RUNNING ACTIVE NON-SPEED PROGRAMS AND CLUB RIVALRY WAS THE THING OF THE DAY. ONE TIME AT KINSTON LEWIS GUNTER HAD JUST PUT A 16005 PORSCHE ON HIS VW PLATFORM, OOH BOY, POWER LIKE YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE, BUT EVERY TIME YOU PUNCHED IT IN A TURN THE FRONT WHEELS WOULD LEAVE MOTHER EARTH. PROBLEM. SOLUTION: FILL THE FRONT WHEELS WITH WATER! IT KEPT THE FRONT WHEELS DOWN, BUT THE HANDLING WAS OUT OF SIGHT. THAT'S WHEN WE FOUND OUT ABOUT DISCONNECTING THE TORSION BAR. ANOTHER INTERESTING AUTOCROSS SPECIAL AT THAT TIME WAS EVERETT SMITH'S SUPER SAAB. THIS CONSISTED OF A DISEMBODIED SAAB (EXCEPT FOR THE HOOD) THAT WAS SHORTENED ABOUT TWO FEET, HAD A SAAB GT ENGINE AND WAS ABSOLUTELY UNBEATABLE.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 1963 THE N.C. REGION PUT ON IT'S OWN SPRING NATIONAL AT V.I.R. AND MOST EVERYBODY SAW FOR THE FIRST TIME CARROLL SHELBY'S CREATION, THE COBRA. DON DEVINE AND AUGIE PABST CAME DOWN FROM WISCONSIN WITH A CHAPARRAL AND A SCARAB AND BLEW EVERYBODY'S DOORS IN THE MODIFIED RACE. THE "MEISTER BRAUSER RACING TEAM" HAD ARRIVED! AT THE 1963 JULY REGIONAL N.C. REGION MEMBER EVERETT SMITH WAS ALL SET FOR BEAR IN HIS NEW RS PORSCHE SPYDER, WHICH HE PROMPTLY SCATTERED ALL OVER THE BACK STRAIGHT. RUSS NORBURN HAD A HONKING LITTLE FIAT ABARTH, GRAHAM SHAW WAS THERE IN HIS LISTER CORVETTE AND PETE VAN DER VATE WAS DRIVING PATTY MERNONE'S SEBRING SPRITE. SATURDAY NIGHT I S PARTY WAS CLOSE TO INDECENT, AS PER USUAL. LATER THAT SUMMER THE REGION HELD AN OVAL TRACK RACE AT BOWMAN GRAY STADIUM IN WINSTON SALEM. MEMBER JACK O'BRIEN WAS THE STAR OF THE SHOW WHEN HIS WEBERIZED CROSSLE ENGINED SPECIAL TRIED TO SACRIFICE ITSELF AS A BURNED OFFERING ON THE GRID, BUT JAKE MCLAUGHLIN TOOK HOME ALL THE MARBLES IN THE INGLE RACING TEAM MERLIN MK 6.
THE FALL OF 1963 BROUGHT US OUR REGIONAL "GOBLINS GO" AND VIR'S SECOND FATALITY. BACK THEN OPEN AND CLOSED WHEEL CARS RACED TOGETHER THE FEATURE RACE OF THE WEEKEND HAD BUCK FULP ON THE POLE IN A 3 LITER FERRARI AND GRAHAM "TOMBSTONE" SHAW NEXT TO HIM IN HIS LISTER CORVETTE, WITH ASSORTED MODIFIEDS, BIG FORMULAS AND PRODUCTION CARS BEHIND THEM. ON ABOUT THE THIRD LAP ONE OF THE FORMULA DRIVERS ATTEMPTED TO PASS A CORVETTE JUST BEFORE THE 'COKE BRIDGE', AND HOOKED HIS REAR WHEEL INSIDE THE CORVETTE'S FRONT WHEEL, WHICH SLUNG THE FORMULA CAR INTO A TREE. THE CORVETTE THEN SIDESWIPED A TREE, EXPLODED AND BURNED. THE RACE WAS 'RED FLAGGED' AND STOPPED AS THE TRACK WAS NEAR IMPASSABLE DUE TO THE DEBRIS. THE CORVETTE DRIVER, A DOCTOR FROM DUKE UNIVERSITY, WAS NOT HURT, BUT THE FORMULA DRIVER FROM PENNSYLVANIA WAS KILLED INSTANTLY. IT WAS INDEED A DREARY CROWD THAT LEFT THE TRACK THAT FALL EVENING. SCCA NATIONAL THEN MADE A RULING AGAINST FORMULA CARS AND CLOSED WHEEL CARS RACING TOGETHER.
THE APRIL 1964 N.C.R. BULLETIN SHOWED THAT BOB STOK WAS FINALLY SELLING HIS LONG PRIZED 1952 JOWETT JUPITER; THE REGION WAS THROWING IT'S ANNUAL HILLCLIMB/PARTY AT V.I.R., AND THE RESULTS WERE PRINTED FROM THE NATIONAL IN WHICH MARK Donohue HAD BEAT OFF THE PACK IN His 289 COBRA WITH AN AVERAGE SPEED OF 80.64 MPH.
THE FALL '64 REGIONAL WAS HELD IN THE MIDST OF A TOTAL DOWNPOUR. ALL OF THE HOT CARS WERE CHANGING THEIR GOODYEAR T-7 BLUESTREAKS FOR RAIN TIRES OF ANY TYPE. DON YENKO WON THE SP RACE IN HIS CORVETTE WHICH HAD A BEAUTIFUL SET OF WHITEWALLS HE WAS USING FOR RAIN TIRES AND HE MANAGED A FAST LAP OF 2:30.4. IN THE SAME RACE, ED LOWTHER IN A C MOD COBRA TURNED IN A FAST LAP OF 3:29.3. THE INFIELD AND TRACK CONDITIONS WERE UNBELIEVABLE, EVERYTHING WAS ABOUT 41' DEEP IN WATER, BUT THAT'S SCCA RACING - PRESS ON REGARDLESS.
AT THIS POINT I AM STOPPING ALL MY NOSTALGIA. FROM HERE ON IS FAIRLY CURRENT, AND BESIDES I AM TIRED OF WRITING. LET'S EVERYBODY JUMP ON HAYDEN BEATTY AND GET HIM TO WRITE ABOUT PRE 1960 DAYS, WHEN SHELBY, HANSGEN, HALL AND SUCH WERE THE CROWD PLEASERS AT VIR
please send me e-mail with any additional info on this or any other VIR History subject