Lesser-known, but Noteworthy Racing Venues: Virginia International Raceway
As we pointed out earlier this year in our article on Willow Springs International Raceway, there are many lesser-known but tremendously exciting places in the country where motorsports aficionados can satisfy their need for speed. Although racing meccas like Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway tend to dominate the media at times, the motorsports world is populated by many other fascinating, versatile facilities that accommodate a wide range of competitive interests. Virginia International Race–VIR– is one of those.
VIR is a 60-year old road course that sits in the tiny town of Alton, Virginia (Halifax County), just a half mile north of the North Carolina border. Offering six different course configurations ranging from 1.1 miles (12 turns) to 4.2 miles (25 turns), VIR appeals to professional and amateur competitors in automobile and motorcycle events. The track was built in the 1955-1957 period, opening officially in 1957 with its first official race held August 4, 1957 (won by Ed Hugus driving an Alfa-Romeo). At its start, VIR was operated by Sports Car Enterprises, Incorporated of Virginia. Motorsports icon Carroll Shelby won the feature event during VIR’s inaugural weekend in 1957.
In its first year of operation, VIR hosted the SCCA National Sports Car Championship, an amateur series that saw legendary racer and car owner Roger Penske earn multiple champlionships (D-Modified class, 1961, 1962, & 1963). The series operated until it was replaced in 1964 by professional tours titled United States Road Racing Championship and the amateur American Road Race of Champions.
The initial running of the track is reported to have produced excellent racing events, but did not draw a spectator base larger enough to make it a viable venue. In 1959, Sports Car Enterprises turned the facility over to the Danville Civil Air Patrol, although it continued to be popular with racers and continued to operate for the next 15 years, closing in 1974 and laying dormant until re-opening in 2000.
Since 2000, VIR has hosted the AMA Superbike Championship series, the Rolex Sports Car Series, and the American Le Mans Series American Le Mans Series, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, MotoAmerica’s Yamaha Superbike Challenge of Virginia, along with driving schools, club days for VIR members, vintage sports car events, and private test rentals.
VIR’s Mid Atlantic location makes it a frequent stop for NASCAR teams (Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Trucks) to conduct set-up tests in preparation for tracks like Sonoma and Watkins Glen. One of the reasons for VIR’s popularity with NASCAR teams is the simple fact that a visit there does not count toward their limited testing allotment.
VIR’s Course Configurations
VIR offers six track configurations, of which two can be run simultaneously. The “Full Course” is 3.27 miles in length while the “Patriot Course” stretches for 1.1 miles entirely inside the Full Course. The “North Course” is 2.25 miles long and the “South Course” covers a distance of 1.65 miles. Both consist of a portion of the “Full Course” and short connecting sections that connect to portions of the “Patriot Course” to produce the two courses that can run simultaneously. There is a second pit complex that is used only when running the “South Course”. The longest configuration, “Grand East Course”, is 4.2 miles long, and combines most of the “Full Course” and most of the “Patriot Course” by means of two of the short sections of connecting track used to make the “South Course” and “North Course”. There is also another, seldom run, long configuration called the “Grand West Course” that uses the other two short connecting sections between the “Full Course” and the “Patriot Course.” Car and Driver magazine has an annual test of fast cars called “The Lightning Lap” using the “Grand West Course”. Since the Patriot course is contained completely inside the Full Course, they can be run simultaneously.
The “Full Course” is the most common configuration. One of the most notable sections of the course, second only to “Oak Tree” (T11), are the “Climbing Esses” which consist of an initial left up-hill (T7), followed by a right which crests at the apex then dropping slightly into a left (T8) which again crests at the apex dropping slightly, and then up into a final left (T9). The complexity and difficulty of this section is multiplied by the incredible entry speed because of a straight section leading into the Climbing Esses. This is followed by a cresting blind left hand turn (T10), “South Bend”, that finishes in a steep downward slope. Another signature section is the “Roller Coaster” (T14) which is a scaled-down mirror image to the famed “Corkscrew” at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
There are two main straights on the track. The front straight is approximately 3000 ft long while the back straight is approximately 4000 ft long. While the back straight is 33% longer, the front straight is where higher speeds are reached since “Hog Pen” (T17) leads onto it and is a much faster corner than “Oak Tree” (T11) which leads onto the longer back straight. There is 130 ft of elevation change throughout the course.
Some of the raceway’s other named curves include “Oak Tree”, “Horse Shoe”, “NASCAR Bend” (because NASCAR drivers Richard Petty, David Pearson and Wendell Scott had difficulties there during a 1966 Trans Am race), “Snake”, “Spiral”, “Fish Hook”, and “The Bitch”.