"Virginia is for Lovers!" Local billboards proudly proclaim. In early July Volvo afficiandos (Volvistas??) from across the country proved VIRginia is for Volvo Lovers, with the Fourth Running Of The Vintage Volvo Gran Prix. VIRginia International Raceway, that is.

Sharp-eyed readers of european car will recall Vintage Volvo Grans Prix in 1996 (Blackhawk Farms Raceway, Rockton, Ill.) 1998 (Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.) and 2001 Watkins Glen International Raceway (Watkins Glen, N.Y.).




This year, historic VIRginia International Raceway (www.virclub.com), near Danville, Virginia, hosted Volvo racers as part of a weekend of vintage racing sanctioned by HSR (Historic Sportscar Racing, Ltd.; www.hsrrace.com). A hundred or so vintage Volvo lovers also turned out for a concours and club meet sponsored by Volvo Sports America, the car club for older Volvos (http://vsa.org/).

The track was founded in 1955, at a time when post-war sports car racing was popular across the country. Watkins Glen International was built in 1952, and Road America in 1955 as well. VIRginia International had been a 1,200-acre family farm in the rolling country outside Danville, Vir. Open for business in 1957, VIR hosted racing luminaries and significant races, its challenging course layout, elevation changes, and high-speed sections demanding the best of drivers. In the early '60s, Carroll Shelby is reported to have observed, "One lap at VIR is like 100 at Watkins Glen."

The track Web site, however, notes its location on the border of North Carolina and southwestern Virgina means VIR is encircled by NASCAR fans and activity, and the course never attracted the big crowds necessary for financial success. My personal observation confirms this. No question. Guess the locals never could quite figure out why anyone would want to turn both left and right.

Under a succession of owners and managers, the track continued to languish, until the fuel crisis of 1973 rang a death knell, and the facility was shuttered in the fall of 1974, returning to farmland for some 25 years.


But in 1998, the skies parted, a beam of light shone down, and the property was leased and revived by New York real estate developer and vintage sports-car racer Harvey Siegel. Together with partner Connie Nyholm, Siegel has brought VIR to a truly remarkable motorsports facility, today. Racing returned in 2000, with a repaved and widened circuit which faithfully follows the original course centerline.

The facility has received international acclaim as one of the world's most beautiful and challenging circuits, and continues to push the envelope of what a racetrack can be.

Today, VIR is the cornerstone of VIR Club, America's first motorsports country club; the VIR Raceplex Industrial Park; the VIR Gallery, which is a showroom for high-end collector and racing cars; the VIR Safety and Security Institute, which provides specialized training for U.S. Government and military groups; and the VIR Euro Rally and Corporate Motorsport Experience, which features four rally stages plus a kart track, motocross track, ATV and SUV training grounds.

Under construction is The Lodge at VIR, a 27-room hotel overlooking the track, and the Oak Tree Tavern, a full-service restaurant located within a lovingly restored circa-1840 Plantation Clubhouse.(For more extensive history of VIR, go to www.virclub.com/track_info/track_history.html)

Continually reading such glowing coverage of VIR in the motorsports press prompted me to put the track on my "to drive" shortlist, and I was delighted to learn that the Volvo Gran Prix would be held there, this year.

On Tuesday afternoon, loaded to the gills with racing stuff, off I rolled for the 18-hour drive to VIR. Fellow racer Duane Matejka had acquired some body parts for his P-1800 Volvo on eBay some years earlier, and they happened to be in a Chicagoland suburb. I took possession on his behalf, saved the stuff for him through several Chicago winters and a major household move, and this race event was to be our first opportunity for the handoff. So the race trailer looked to all the world like the Clampett's leaving West Virginee. Only Granny was missing in her rocker. How appropriate.

Next day, somewhere around Nitro, (!) West Virginia, the load loosened up and I nearly lost all the Clampett's possessions. Near disaster! But one strap held, I caught it at a gas stop, and Duane eventually got his parts. Guess the call of West Virginee is stronger than anyone might have thought.

Crossing Kentucky and West Virginia, I gained an appreciation for the great horse farms so well known in these areas. Acres of lovely grass, seems like miles of white fencing, and of course, exquisite horses. What a foretaste of surroundings to come at VIR.

At first glance, the place reminds you of nothing so much as those Kentucky horse farms, with acres and acres and acres of carefully manicured grass. And somebody has to mow all this! But the care in creating a superb motorsports park does not end there. For participants and spectators, the obvious efforts to create a truly enjoyable experience are everywhere.

I found thoughtfully planned spectator spaces, shaded snackbar and shaded false grid for the racers. Sitting fully suited up in race gear on the false grid in 90*F weather while a spill or stall from the prior session is removed, drains your body fluids and concentration. VIR's shaded grid area is a real help to drivers. Air-conditioned washrooms, showers and driver's changing areas, all simply unheard-of--elsewhere. I've found no other racing facility to compare, including Road America, which is certainly the Mid-west's finest track.

So my initial reactions to the facility were very positive as I arrived, registered, completed Tech and set up in the paddock area on Thursday afternoon. Tech, by the way, was quite straightforward, under the auspices of HSR. One of the Tech Inspectors remarked, "You Volvo guys really turn out for these things. I took my Jaguar to Road America when we were the featured marque, and just a handfull showed up!" The Volvo types were coming out in force. Some 19 drivers had pre-registered, coming from as far away as Southern California.

Since I wasn't going on track until Friday morning, I took advantage of a bit of free time to visit the American Armoured Foundation Tank Museum in Danville. This is a MUST SEE! In preparation for your on-site tour, visit www.aaftankmuseum.com

By Jack Babcock
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