Virginia racing does have some weight to throw with big names in fast cars. Natives like Denny Hamlin, Elliott Sadler, Ward and Jeff Burton are well known in the NASCAR garage. Movie and TV stars such as Paul Newman and Patrick Dempsey have raced the pavement at Virginia International Raceway. The stars are not strangers to Virginia racing.
However, even with the heritage and history at South Boston Speedway, it is a rare appearance for racing royalty at the track. The Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown charity races are brought to mind and came through in 2014 / 2015.
Set the calendar for 2022 and a new series, running it’s second year with a six race highlight schedule, is running hot laps and highlighting the short tracks that form the foundation for American racing. The Camping World SRX Series (Superstar Racing Experience) set race number 2 for 2022 at South Boston Speedway. For those of us that know SoBo, the question was “what took you so long?”.
A bit of history… The SRX Series combines driving talents from across the American racing spectrum. NASCAR and IndyCar draw a lot, such as Greg Biffle and Michael Waltrip. IndyCar is well represented with Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Local drivers from the tracks they race are also featured. For South Boston, that was Track and National Champion, Peyton Sellers. The cars are generally based on a stock car chassis, with 700 horsepower engines and are all the same from the wheels up. The only difference is the color, driver name and number.
NASCAR Champion Tony Stewart, with owner and Hall of Fame Crew Chief, Ray Evernham, are involved with former NASCAR executive, George Pyne and television veteran, Sandy Montag in the formation of SRX. The combined talents pull from many points to make the racing and presentation something the fans and drivers can enjoy.
For SRX at SoBo, perhaps the racing was a little more lively than intended. For the fans it was a great show with some short track intensity that seemed to pull from the Limited Sportsman opener. The Sportsman bunched up in turn 3 of the green flag lap and tore up 3 cars. However, the track crews were on track quickly and the red flag was resolved safely and efficiently. Kyle Barnes took the win as he controlled the pace of the 50 lap opener. Jason Myers and Chris Donnelly came in second and third.
The SRX Series began with two heat races that set a running order for the main event. Greg Biffle took the first heat and Helio Castroneves took the second. It was combined times that set the 100 lap main which put Marco Andretti and Tony Stewart on the front row, The racing was bold from the start and seemed to take the “short track” bump style of racing to heart which made a show for the sold out crowd. However, by the last lap, it was obvious some tempers were as hot as the track.
Andretti nudged Stewart for a pass to the front early on. Ryan Hunter-Reay got loose and bounced Paul Tracy to bring out a caution. Stewart and Andretti continue racing hard and trading the front through the half way. A hard bumper nudge from Stewart finally put Andretti off the pace enough to let Stewart and Greg Biffle get by. Andretti tried to make the move back on Biffle but went way loose and spun to bring on a caution. Stewart and Biffle race on the restart but Stewart takes the outside lead. The next caution came on as Hunter-Reay made a move on Michael Waltrip. An attempted block put Waltrip in the wall and brought a “pay back” move as Waltrip skipped pit road and put a rammer on Hunter-Reay before parking it for the night.
The final laps wound down with Greg Biffle trying to get by Stewart but could not get an advantage. At the checkers, it was Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle and Bobby LaBonte going one, two, three.
For South Boston and Danville native Track Champion Peyton Sellers… The evening started well enough with a mid pack show in the first heat. The inversion in the second had him start an OK run but his car fell off a bit. For the main he seemed to struggle further as the car developed handling issues. The familiarity of the track seemed to be overshadowed by the car and the drama of the racing around him. He remained in good spirits and focused his attention on the next weekend event at SoBo.
Stewart, post race, had some words for the racing of the SRX drivers stating that some were either being careless or even lacked a skill set for the short track environment. Stewart was no stranger to nudges and bumps during the event but had something on his mind as he made note of the next race and the drivers’ meeting having a call down to get the attention of the drivers to get back in the game.
It is likely that there will be focus on the damage to the cars and the quick turnaround for six races in as many weeks to get the cars fixed and evenly competitive. It is a challenge with damage to multiple cars and limited staff to move and repair them in the days to the next event.
For South Boston… Fans got a show. They saw a race with drivers that, under a normal season, would be nowhere near southside Virginia. They saw Tony Stewart be… Tony Stewart. There were lead changes, there were bumps and there were some hot battles that kept fans engaged.
South Boston is not skipping a beat as the weekend coming is another big event. The Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 already has a huge late model field ready to run for the first leg of the “Virginia Triple Crown”. Support races are on tap with fireworks and a free “fan fest” set for Friday, July 1st, featuring Matt Boswell & the H.B.B.
SRX heads to the northeast to race at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut. Tennessee, Missouri and Ohio will fill the six weeks. Catch the action on CBS (locally in southwest Virginia on WDBJ-7)
Full Photo Gallery from SRX at South Boston Speedway