The facility's spectacular beauty masks a humble beginning. Legend has it that the course
Virginia International Raceway is one of America's most spectacular road courses. It's nestled in the rolling hills of southern Virginia, practically on top of the North Carolina border. The problem with VIR is that outside of the racing community, a dozen or so NASCAR Nextel Cup teams that test there, and some hard-core fans, nobody knows the place exists.
The track has a history as interesting as the countryside where it's located. In 1955, four sports car enthusiasts from North Carolina wanted a place to race their own cars, so they started to look for property to build a race course. They found 1,200 acres just across the state line from Milton, North Carolina, and started to plan the track. The popular story says that after much discussion, they jumped into a pickup truck loaded with a lime marker, like the ones used to mark football fields, and started driving through the fields to lay out the track. When the truck stopped, they had "designed" a 3.2-mile course that rambled up and down the Virginia hills.
The first racing weekend was held in August 1957, with Carroll Shelby driving a Maserati 450S to the feature win. Afterward, he commented, "One lap at VIR is like 100 laps at Watkins Glen."
Events sanctioned by the SCCA are regular parts of the VIR schedule.
For the next 17 years, VIR put on a varied program of racing ranging from SCCA events, to the fourth-ever Trans Am race, to the inaugural IMSA Camel GT race, to motorcycle and Kart races, and even a MARC (now ARCA) race in 1962. Finally, in October 1974 after an SCCA enduro, management at VIR locked the gates, and for 25 years the facility served as a pasture.
In 1998, a new group of investors, headed by Harvey Siegel, took over VIR and updated the course by widening it and installing modern safety features, while keeping the original configuration of the course. The group proceeded to turn it into a showplace, and two years later America's first motorsports country club opened. A motorsports country club, in case you don't know, is a racing facility that has members who pay a proscribed fee to have access to the track. Sure, a lot of racetracks have that, but to really be a country club you have to have the amenities that will draw members to it; VIR wrote the book on that aspect.
Besides the race course, there is the Clubhouse, which is an 1840s plantation house that has been restored into a first-class restaurant, complete with a bar, a billiards room, and a pool. Tennis courts are also being added. There is already a 27-room hotel overlooking the racetrack with plans for condominiums to be built, a micro-brewery nearby that brews a special beer for the track, a kart track, and an ATV course. Add to this a driver school, and a safety and security training center that provides anti-terrorist training to private corporations, the U.S. government, and foreign governments. There is also a motorsports industrial complex. In short, VIR is offering a total package that rivals Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte.
Then there is the race course itself, or should I say race courses? There are actually four courses at VIR. The Full Course is a 3.2-mile, 18-turn, lightning-fast jewel, but there are three other courses incorporated into the design. The South Course is a 1.65-mile tight circuit with long straights and three hairpin turns. The North Course is more technical, taking most of the long straights out, cutting the elevation changes in half, and incorporating a series of quick right- and left-hand turns that bisect the full course. Then there is the short 1.1-mile Patriot Course, which is perfect for the beginning racer or for a series like the ARCA trucks, which ran there on Labor Day weekend.
One fascinating aspect of the VIR complex is that some of the courses can be run simultaneously. The North and South courses can be run at the same time, and so can the Full Course and the Patriot Course, which makes it perfect for running several corporate events on the same day.
While VIR was the first country club race course, the concept has been copied across the country. More are being built, but they will have to struggle to keep up as VIR is constantly moving onto new ground for spectator comfort, member services, and premium racing events. Every race fan out there should make a trip to VIR to see what real road racing is supposed to be.
The track offers some unusual vantage points.
A vintage stock car club runs VIR several times each year.
Karting events are also a regular part of the VIR schedule.
It's not all finesse on the road course. Sometimes a little rubbing occurs.
A 27-room hotel overlooks part of the facility.