Any new venture goes through its growing pains, but when seemingly anything that could go wrong ends up happening all in one day, what went right can often be forgotten.
That was the exact case over the past Saturday at the brand new Dominion Raceway 4/10-mile oval in Thornburg, Virginia. Most noticeably a major power outage across the entire facility while Late Models were at speed during a green flag period coupled with a controversial finish involving a scoring error and some schedule delays caused one of the most important outcomes of this sport to perhaps end up overlooked.
“What was sadly overshadowed is that some of the racing for the Late Models was absolutely out of this world,” track General Manager, Edwin Pardue, told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We knew that this thing would grow into a nice two-groove race track. We found that out right away. I hope that people don’t forget how good that Late Model racing was.”
Not only was the Late Model feature filled with excitement, but every race on Saturday’s opening night boasted multiple lead changes and passing throughout the field. A new surface can sometimes take multiple years to allow for side by side racing, which shows as a testament to the hard work put in by the track’s designers and engineers. Total car count neared 100 across five divisions with an impressive 32 Late Models on hand.
While the facility overall still has some major tasks to complete, including construction for the property’s road course and dragstrip, there were some items that did go smoothly while others will come with continued improvement. Through it all, Pardue, who was involved with race day operations and served as track announcer at the former Old Dominion Speedway, and many of the staff maintained a very positive attitude despite any of the unforeseen bumps in the road that may have occurred.
“To begin with, parking, the guys got everybody in and out,” Pardue noted. “That was one issue that we were concerned about is getting everybody parked; I’m talking about our fans and everything.
“I think our fans came in thinking what type of facility it would be and it just blew them away. They can say, yeah, we still have the restaurant to open and get some grass growing on the brown parts, but I think as folks come back and each time they are back here we are reopening something new for them I think they will be very excited.”
Eager to see asphalt short track racing return to their area of Northern Virginia, fans flocked to the track on Saturday with a standing room only crowd, which added some logistical and security-related issues that will need to be worked out. In addition, drivers and teams are glad to once again have a place to call home after not having a place to go nearby over the last three seasons.
“There’s a lot of mixed emotions,” Tyler Hughes, who was officially credited as the first ever Late Model winner, indicated. “It sucks that Old Dominion closed. I liked the track; it had a lot of character. But at the same time, this new facility is absolutely gorgeous.”
The new location for weekly racing also provides some added opportunities. Hughes finished third in the final year of Old Dominion Speedway racing, his first in a Late Model, but has been traveling more in order to race regularly since then which put a strain on the pockets.
“I was actually stepping out of a Late Model because we didn’t have the money to race anymore and we didn’t have the sponsorship, and (car owner) Paul Green picked me up and put me in his cars,” Hughes said. “I’m fortunate enough to be in a Late Model and be out here running with these guys.”
While those that witnessed the grand opening may have seen only what went on at the surface, the time invested behind the scenes simply to get the track open for business in time for the public was tremendous. After many months of preparation, despite lessons learned, the accomplishment was gratifying even beyond drivers, teams, and fans.
“It’s our contactors who have done the work here, it’s our marketing and advertising sponsors, and it’s our employees, so you want a great night for them more than anything else because it’s an exciting thing,” Pardue mentioned. “Had we not had an issue with lights everybody would’ve had a great night, and we’re investigating what happened there and as soon as that investigation is complete we’ll let you know.“
In regards to the lights going out in the middle of the race, Pardue made this statement during a phone call to Dominion Raceway on Monday.
“We are investigating and we feel that it may have been a disgruntled employee of a sub-contractor.”
Confidence and optimism remains at a high heading into the next scheduled event on April 30; a precedence set by the Dominion Raceway staff and more on opening night.
“I have a lot of people who are industry folks who were slapping me on the back tonight saying, ‘Man, you guys are going to be incredible.’ We know where it can go.”
In a time where many tracks are in danger of closing or have shut their doors permanently, it is refreshing that the effort from a large group of individuals has come together to build a brand new facility with focus on the long-term. As the entire complex gets closer to completion, Dominion Raceway and the wide variety of entertainment that it will offer have the potential to be something that is unmatched in the racing community.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com