2022 is starting much like 2021. This pandemic thing is still with us and causing all sorts of issues. How those issues play out as the racing season begins to look at green flags is yet to be seen.

However, some of the changes coming to racing within the sport are quite extensive. As January opens, the eyes turn to Daytona and IMSA / WeatherTech. The ROLEX 24 will see some changes in the classes such as GTD Pro instead of GT Le Mans. GT Daytona retains the designation from before. To review the classes and schedule for the upcoming season, check IMSA / WeatherTech online.

Daytona remains in focus, of course, as IMSA rolls out and NASCAR rolls in for the season opener Daytona 500. It is here that 2022 racing will showcase change on a scale unprecedented in NASCAR. The engineering and styling in the move to the 2022 Next Gen car far surpasses the changes that brought in the “Car of Tomorrow” over the familiar late model style. The 2008 CoT brought forth a new focus on driver safety with chassis, seating and cage enhancements. The Gen-6 Cup car that is being retired as of last season brought body shapes closer to manufacturer versions and put other progressions in place such as digital dash panels and more views on safety.

The Next Gen car making its debut in the Cup series is a leap in every way. The styling is meant to further represent manufacturer street versions. The body is now a composite of carbon fiber and plastic instead of sheet metal. Team fabrication shops will be focusing on Xfinity or Camping World series chassis as Cup cars will have a uniform central chassis that is the same for all. The front and rear suspension and drive train are also fairly uniform and bolt on to the common subframe. Independent suspension and rack and pinion steering change up the handling while a 5 speed sequential transmission replaces the 4 speed pattern. Larger brakes mean a step up to larger wheels. 18 inch aluminum wheels with a center axle lug replace the 5 lug steel wheels. This may be the most obvious change to fans as these wheels will look much different than before. The refueling system and wheel changes may resemble the pit stops of the sports cars which just ran a few weeks before at the ROLEX 24. Goodyear Eagles are still the tires on the track but with a wider stance and lower profile than before.

“Next Gen” NASCAR Cup Car new for 2022 – See more at NASCAR.com

Fans should be excited for the new season and the changes. However, hangers on to the past still haunt the sport. Some just can’t get over the wall with the changes that have come along since the death of Dale Earnhardt. They can’t seem to grasp that time and technology have influenced safety and cost beyond the “good old days” and there is no going back. However, NASCAR can and should do a better job of bringing the personalities of the drivers and teams closer to the fans. Many tracks have embraced the concept with expanded access to garages and infield viewing. The fans follow drivers. The drama is not based on the cars but the interaction of the drivers is what pumps the attention of the fans. The tracks that do well have embraced the national aspect of the sport while inviting the local flavor of the fans in the area.

The local short tracks, the ovals from the hard pack dirt to the paved historic starters of the sport, are also gearing up for some performance changes. The fans may not notice but the teams and the drivers have been busy over the “off season” to make sure their cars are up to the match standards set in place for 2022. There are some body allowance rules and some chassis enhancements that will need attention before the first late model green flag drops for 2022. Hopefully, there has been some “catch up” time for the tires to get stocked for the demand. The late season of 2021 had races cancelled and tracks scrambling for tires just to make events on the basic level.

The costs of NASCAR sanctioned late model style racing has been a hurdle for many and low “car counts” at many tracks has been an issue. Fans want a show and 5 cars on track doesn’t really bring it. New rules are trying to address these cost issues but racing is often a money pit that is hard to fill. Tracks are looking at new events and new types of racing to bring in participants and fans. Drivers, tracks, sponsors and fans are facing some challenges but tracks are committed to push on.

INDYCar is putting off major changes to next year. An expanded hybrid engine system is expected. Formula 1 is putting a number of changes in place for 2022. Much like NASCAR, F1 is putting emphasis on competition and expanded safety. Aerodynamic downforce through wing and body shape design should enhance close racing with better stability. Larger wheels and low profile tires should also enhance handling and reduce heat in race conditions. The front wing and nose have a new design and the rear wing has rounded, rolled tips. F1 changes are targeted, like NASCAR, to engage racing from the driver to the fans.

Other series will likely have some changes. NHRA, for example, is expanding some options for engine performance in some of the classes. Rallycross is looking at some format changes to increase competition. Motorcycle racing from superbike to motocross may also make a change or two for the upcoming season but who can tell…? Those 2 wheel racers are a bit off to begin with…

Expectations are high for many. Short tracks, dirt tracks and other small and local racer venues are looking at their own challenges moving into the year. Drivers and teams are digging for sponsors to carry to the tracks but racing will need attendance to thrive. For 2022, racing fans should take a little time and visit the tracks that run every weekend instead of just holding out for the “Big Guns” in the national series to visit a handful of tracks.

Let’s go local. Let’s go racing.

A visit overdue, perhaps. One of the race tracks within an easy distance which has been on the list but not visited has now been crossed off the list.

Natural Bridge Speedway. A dirt track close to the natural formation and park which holds the namesake. Racing has been going on there since the 1950’s. A visit was well overdue and when the track posted a November event, plans were put in motion. Some quick inquiries to the track were made and the visit was set.

The forecast turned from a pleasant Friday to a sunny, but very cool, Saturday. Forecast had evening temperatures in the 30s. OK fine… some gloves and long johns and off we go.

A dirt track is a different animal from the usual for Missed Gear. After this visit there should be more. Not just to NBS but others in Virginia. However, Wythe is 2 hours and Virginia Motor Speedway is even further in the opposite direction. Natural Bridge is around 40 minutes. With that, next season should bring more visits to NBS. If nothing else but to get more acquainted with the cars, styles and drivers of dirt tracks.

The afternoon and evening went off, to be fair, a little rough. A schedule was, apparently, somewhere. Times for practice, qualifying and green flag racing were a little loose for interpretation. However, we did learn that new owners were still working to get the kinks worked out and this race was another chance to roll through an event before the 2022 season.

Like paved ovals, the dirt track ran Late Model, Sportsman, Street Stock, Pure Stock and UCar. Some look the same as the paved track counterparts but the Late Model and Sportsman have very disticntive body styles for sideways power sliding through the turns. Pointed and angled front sections keep the nose down through the turns while the raised and open rear sections allow the cars to get in close in the slides. Overall, it is an exciting form of racing with close quarters and sideways action in every turn.

As of this writing we’re not really sure who won each division. Getting a feel for the action of dirt racing and the layout and flow of the track was a priority on this visit. Knowing the flow of a hot track with infield motion is a necessity for everyone’s safety. For the next visit we’ll be that much more ahead of curve.

For now, a photo gallery of our first visit to Natural Bridge Speedway is below.

It’s always a bit of a blast to go to a car show. The variety in personality of the owners and the cars they bring highlights the styles and individuals in the automotive arena. It’s all about the love of the car… The one you have, the one you drive, or the one you want…

There is no doubt the automotive world is in a state of major change. It’s been there before. Whatever comes of it will be the new basis of alterations and customs. For now, we still have pistons, fat tires, chrome, color, speed and sound. Such was the case on Saturday, October 23rd, at the Berglund Center in Roanoke, VA

Richmond based Spend Trend Society organized the show with RevMatch Clothing and CVA Performance. Funds were raised on site for The Children’s Heart Foundation through entries and a 50/50 raffle.

Interesting vehicles were pulling in for the show as early as 10AM. There were way too many to showcase all of them, however, we did note a few that caught our attention in one way or another.

First – A hot rod Mercedes. Granted, a late 60’s Mercedes is a classic on its own. However, when you drop a Corvette V8 in place of the original diesel power you get a classic that will surely surprise the drag race challenger at the line.

1960’s Mercedes-Benz 200 Diesel with a boost from Corvette V8 power

Second – In a row of turbo-mod imports there was a throwback classic. A big, open engine V8, no fenders, practically square fat rear tires and the rolling shell of a Ford Model T. Yep… a vintage style “T-Bucket”. When asked how many people under the age of 40 asked what it was, owner and builder Phil Harwick simply replied “lots…”.

Technically, it was a gift for his wife but the “T” is always a fun drive to local shows. It’s one of many examples that populates his country garage and his job with MAC Tools lets him network with other “car” people in the area. Phil has some racing history, a builder’s knowledge and an owner’s passion.

Third – A mix of classic hot rod and modern design. The body is based on a 1939 Ford Coupe with modern touches from the interior to the chassis. It’s a candy red head turner. The owner, Troy Cook, is no stranger to style. His Roanoke based business specializes in lighting, furnishings and specialty fabrications with a national reputation.

1939 Ford Coupe – Owner: Troy Cook (Renaissance Contract Lighting)

Check out a larger sample of the Speed Trend Society show below and keep an eye open for more area car shows down the road.

It was a bit of a wait from August. As it happens, Virginia International Raceway in October is actually quite fantastic. It may have been a “one off” as the 2022 schedule has the date for VIR and the IMSA weekend back in the throws of August. For 2021, the date was moved to October as Le Mans (yeah, the French one) was moved and conflicted with some IMSA drivers to drive. To accommodate IMSA involvement with Le mans, the VIR date was shifted.

For next year (2022) the date is back to August. For this one, October brought cooler temperatures across the weekend. Rain, always a possibility, brought a threat and did fall on some practices and qualifying late Friday and early Saturday but did pull back for the racing.

The IMSA WeatherTech Micheln GT put a bit of a boxing match on for GTLM. The Corvettes and the WeatherTech Porsche threw bumpers and fenders at each other as the #79 Porsche pushed to the front. Kevin Estre in the Porsche could not sustain the lead against the recharge of Nick Tandy in the #4 Corvette. The Porsche later lost traction and skidded off to finish behind the Corvettes. The GTD class started with what looked like a run away for the Turner BMW #96. In the closing laps, the #3 GTLM Corvette went a bit loose when getting past the Turner BMW which bumped the #96 off allowing the #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche to get on the GTD lead and take the win in the class.

Sunday could have been “Stevan McAleer Day” as he ran in the Prototype Challenge and the Michelin Pilot Virginia is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix. McAleer went wide at “Oak Tree” on the final lap in the #43 Robillard Racing Duqueine D08 which opened the path for Rasmus Lindh in the #6 Motel 6 Ligier JS P320. Some side by side down the back straight put McAleer off at and out at turn 14 while Lindh went on for the #6 win. In the Michelin Pilot race, McAleer was in the #23 Notlad Racing / RS1 Aston Martin and racing out front but Jan Heylen managed to get the #16 Wright Motorsports Porsche around him for the lead and win.

CLICK HERE for Full Gallery of photos from Saturday October 9 at VIR

CLICK HERE for Full Gallery of photos from Sunday October 10 at VIR

Racing Through The Summer with the Southern Virginia Motorsports Council has already run through two profile events. South Boston Speedway and Virginia Motorsports Park were part of the three event ticket with late model and drag strip racing earlier this Summer. The third event at Virginia International Raceway ran the weekend of September 23-26.

Formerly known as the Heacock Classic, the weekend combined the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association with Trans-Am, F3 and FR open wheel racing plus a classic and exotic motor show. The schedule was full of track and off-track activities for a variety of fans and enthusiasts.

A dozen SVRA groups took to the track with vintage racing and sportscars across a wide range of styles and classes. The open wheel Formula 4 United States Championship and the Formula Regional Americas Championship gave fast racing a show with the Andy Scriven Memorial Race weekend. The F4 and FR series brought racing for developing drivers in an international format.

Trans-Am racing featured spec built racers, familiar sports car chassis and American muscle cars in classes of racing that has evolved from classic sports car racing going back to the 1960s.

All of this track action surrounded a “Cars & Caffeine” car show sponsored by Hagerty Insurance on Saturday.

This event leads into even more highlight events in October at VIR. Grassroots Motorsports HyperFEST is coming the weekend of October 1-3 with the re-scheduled IMSA WeatherTech series events coming up October 8-10.

More events coming to Virginia International Raceway

The weekend with the VIR Speed Tour combined so many styles of racing and classes of cars that it was a fine showcase all the best the track has to offer. It was a great event to close out the “Racing Through The Summer” ticket.

PHOTO GALLERY from the VIR SPEED TOUR BELOW

Nobody saw it coming – Not even Landon Pembelton as the crew made the early tire decision to gain position later. Pembleton, a rookie with his first laps at Martinsville Speedway, thought he may have a top 10 but came away with the win in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.

They set the tire change earlier than most which allowed a restart up front at the lap 150 mark following a scheduled full track pit. Race veterans were already having some issues that were keeping their cars from performing at the usual pace. When Pembleton took the lead he mostly took off with it. Other late race cautions gave others a chance at it but they couldn’t pull the #0 of Pembelton off the lead for long. Mike Looney, the 2016 winner, gave it a challenge on the final restart but Pembelton pulled him back for the lead and the win. The 16 year old driver took the checkers with his first run at the historic short track.

For the most part, the race was on for the younger drivers more than seasoned veterans. Daniel Silvestri, a young driver with a CARS Tour win earned the pole from qualifying the night before. Bobby McCarty, a two time CARS Tour champion, was also on the front row. The rest of the drivers had to run the heat races for position on Saturday before the main event.

Veterans like Peyton Sellers and Mike Looney started barely within the top 10. Other long time drivers such as Timothy Peters and Stacy Puryear started mid pack. Philip Morris had terrible luck in his heat race with a tire and crash incident that put him out of the main completely.

For the most part, even with this being the late model return to Martinsville since 2019 and the Covid cancel of 2020, the race was relatively mild for cautions. There were spins and some other contact driving but it seemed to be much less than previous late model contests here.

Sellers was anxious to go for his first ValleyStar 300 win as he was just named the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series National Champion. He has won the “Triple Crown” but hasn’t notched the Martinsville Clock. For the 2021 Triple Crown (combined best finishes at South Boston, Langley and Martinsville), it was front row starter Bobby McCarty taking the honor.

The top 10 finishers for the race at Martinsville: 1-Landon Pembelton 2-Mike Looney 3-Layne Riggs 4-Sammy Smith 5-Jared Fryar 6-Bobby McCarty 7-Jacob Borst 8-Justin Johnson 9-Daniel Silvestri 10-Kaden Honeycutt

Next up for Martinsville Speedway is the NASCAR Cup weekend of October 30-31. Camping World, Xfinity and CUP will all be running before the season finale the following week in Phoenix.

Full Photo Gallery Below – 2021 ValleyStar Credit Union 300

The Late Model racing season is coming to a head this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 will draw drivers and teams from around the region to compete in what is billed as the largest late model race to run. The “Virginia Triple Crown” will take the points from the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 at South Boston and the Hampton Heat 200 at Langley Speedway and push that into the results at Martinsville.

The race returns after the Covid hiatus of 2020 as tracks on the regular season were down across the region. Returning 2019 winner Josh Berry is expected to race carrying a bit of a streak into the weekend. He also won the NASCAR Xfinity race at Martinsville earlier this year.

Peyton Sellers, recently named National Late Model Champion in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, will also be chasing his first win in the “300”. He has run it many times and has been a repeat “Triple Crown” winner but has not been able to take the checkers on the final lap.

Timothy Peters is another name which is no stranger in winner’s circles. His connection to Martinsville and Southside Virginia racing has put him in the spotlight with NASCAR national series races and is another local favorite that could repeat a win at the VSCU 300.

Bobby McCarty and Ty Gibbs will also be drivers to watch. McCarty has the Thunder Road win and Ty Gibbs is expected to show with experience in ARCA and Xfinity.

Motor Mile Speedway just ran their Champions weekend and drivers Kres VanDyke and Ryan Wilson should be on hand to showcase their skills under the big lights. Other tracks from all around the region should also be represented by fan favorites taking their shot at Martinsille.

Previously, there have been full days of practice at Martinsville a week or so before race weekend. This year the format has been compacted into Friday and Saturday. Friday , the 24th, there will be a 4 hour open practice session before qualifying at 8:00pm Friday night. The top two qualifiers will make the 200 lap main event on Saturday night. The rest will race it out in four 25 lap heat races to make the main. The heat races begin at 3:00pm Saturday with gates open at 12:30pm and track walks / autograph session on track until 2:30pm.

The NASCAR Playoffs are set for Martinsville with Camping World, Xfinity and NASCAR Cup all racing October 30-31st. However, all eyes are on the Late Models under the lights coming up this weekend (September 24-25) for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.