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Lost Circuits - Phoenix Rising


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#1 Mike Argetsinger

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Posted 03 October 2000 - 04:53

This thread may interest noone other than Ray Bell and myself - still I hope a few others may be intrigued. It is relatively rare when an apparently "lost" race circuit is reborn - even rarer when it comes back to life virtually intact in shape and spirit from its original. Yet this is the case for Virginia International Raceway (VIR) located in southern Virginia only a mile or so from the North Carolina border. The closest large town is Danville, Va. and the closest major airport is Raleigh/Durham. I will not atttempt here to give more than the highlights because interested parties can learn all they want from VIR's very well done web site, which is http://www.virclub.com The track was built in 1956 and opened in 1957. Carroll Shelby won the inaugual race in a 450S Maserati against some first rate competition. The web site has a full history and many wonderful photos. At any rate, after an excellent history which included hosting Trans-Am racing (in its glory years!) the track closed in 1974 and virtually disappeared in to the Virginia countryside. It literally became a cow pasture. About two years ago (you can obtain more precise details on the web site)someone with a lot of energy and imagination came along and brought it back. But I mean really brought it back. The new emphasis seems to be in marketing it as a country club for race enthusiasts but they are hosting many race weekends at a range of levels. The attention to detail and the obvious sensitivity to merging the best of the original era with contemporary standards is absolutely first rate throughout. I raced there for the first time about two weeks ago (Sept. 16-17) in the Motorola Cup which was the first professional race to be held there since its rebirth. I came away very impressed - with the circuit as a challenging driver's course - for the beautifully maintained facilities and for the gorgeous surroundings. Either as a competitor or a spectator this track is well worth a pilgrimage. Having sung the praises of this gem of a track, I will allow myself one minor comment of disappointment. Throughout the press materials and the web site there is reference to Carroll Shelby (allegedly) saying after his 1957 win, "one lap here is like 100 at Watkins Glen." The point here is obviously to build up VIR at the expense of the Glen. The amusing thing however is that when Shelby is alleged to have said this (1957) he had never even been to Watkins Glen. What is more Shelby never did race at Watkins Glen! (even though he was later there - never as a driver). Ah yes, the PR process in the raw. But it is such a shame to see this sort of thing done. Just what is the point? If Shelby ever said it - what does it say about Shelby? But I personally believe he never said it. Well VIR is indeed a wonderful circuit and a great challenge to any driver and I am happy to report that despite my obvious (and admitted) bias toward Watkins Glen. Anyway the point here is that VIR is a great place well worth your visit and for those of us consumed with the history of race tracks it is a rare story indeed. By the way Ray - this marked the 52nd different circuit I have raced at. As I mentioned when you and I first had this conversation - this does not include tracks I have only tested at or been at otherwise in a non-race context.

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#2 Barry Lake

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Posted 03 October 2000 - 11:43

Mike
I think there are more people than just you and Ray interested in this subject.
This reminds me of a couple of fellow competitors in the 1977 London to Sydney Marathon in a Chevy of some sort.
One of them owned a race circuit somewhere in America - a small club-level circuit, I gathered.
When I come acros their names I wil get back to you. I can almost remember them, but it was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then...

#3 Ray Bell

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Posted 03 October 2000 - 12:15

Would that be the Vega crew... Thomas Delashmutt and Carlo Niederhauser?
Namedropper....
Is it also the green of the Virginia grass that is reflected in your face, Mike? I can certainly understand your ire at the alleged Shelby quote, and it gather you went to some pains to find that he never raced at the Glen, too.
Some of the pics show it to be inviting, even with a bit of Elkhart Lake about it, and 3.27 miles makes it a substantial circuit... elevation changes, plenty of turns.... wish there was one like that around here!
I think I like people who resurrect circuits more than people who resurrect cars...

#4 Don Capps

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Posted 03 October 2000 - 19:10

Mike,

I wish there were more such stories to report. Great stuff, it looks fabulous, very much like the tracks used to before the barriers and so forth became so intrusive.

I will have see about attending a race there again soon. My last visit was either 1972 or 1973 to assist with an SCCA school. It looks better than it did back then!

Spoke briefly with your Dad this morning. Great talk and looking forward to chatting with him again some time.

This is a great topic. Thanks!!

#5 Ray Bell

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Posted 03 October 2000 - 22:30

Another namedropper...
I should see that tape for the first time tonight or tomorrow, Mike... it's been a long time waiting!

#6 MattFoster

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Posted 03 October 2000 - 22:35

Looks like a brilliant track, anything with elevation changes like that gets my vote every time.

Cheers
Matt

#7 Ray Bell

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Posted 03 October 2000 - 22:56

You're just easily pleased, Matt... probably like early Sunday morning drives out past Healesville and up to Yea... even in an Alfa.

#8 Barry Lake

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Posted 03 October 2000 - 23:13

Originally posted by Ray Bell
Would that be the Vega crew, Barry... Thomas Delashmutt and Carlo Niederhauser?

Yes Ray, you got it. Saved me from moving a few piles of boxes to get to my London-Sydney stuff. But I think it was Carlos, not Carlo.
Does anyone know of the race circuit?

#9 MattFoster

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Posted 03 October 2000 - 23:18

Ray,

Am I that transparent??? :)

Going over the black spur on the way to Eildon in my Sud was the most satisfying driving experience I have had.

cheers
Matt

#10 Ray Bell

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Posted 04 October 2000 - 06:12

Matt... can't have been, they're front wheel drive!
Barry... Just had to get out the issue of RCN carrying the 'on the spot' report from Max. I'll ask him if he remembers when I see him tomorrow.

#11 MattFoster

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Posted 04 October 2000 - 22:42

Ray for a front wheel drive the Sud was a great car to chuck around.

cheers
matty

#12 Ray Bell

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Posted 05 October 2000 - 18:05

Now I have to tender my apologies... to Barry, I forgot to ask Max, to Matt... that you can think a front wheel drive is great.
(cringe)

#13 MattFoster

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Posted 05 October 2000 - 21:32

Well I did say the Sud was great to chuck around but I will never rate a FWD over a RWD.

Cheers
Matt

#14 Ray Bell

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Posted 05 October 2000 - 23:36

Glad to hear it...

#15 david_martin

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Posted 10 October 2000 - 19:34

Man, all this antipodean talk of great drives in Victoria is making me home sick - The black spur is right up there with some of my favorite blatts around Main Ridge (including the climb up Arthur's Seat) and the best bits of the Great Ocean road. My current address in Northern Finland is as flat as a tack and the only exciting drives are at the local cart track.

#16 Ray Bell

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Posted 11 October 2000 - 00:18

Without meaning to sound too disrepectful.... my nose bleeds for you!