Series returns to VIR after 36-year absence

Alton, Va. (Oct. 8) ? VIRginia International Raceway's final big spectator event of the 2002 season, the VIR SpeedFest presented by the Justin Bell GT Motorsports Experience, will feature the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, which is...

Alton, Va. (Oct. 8) ? VIRginia International Raceway's final big spectator event of the 2002 season, the VIR SpeedFest presented by the Justin Bell GT Motorsports Experience, will feature the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, which is returning to the picturesque and challenging 3.27-mile circuit outside Danville over the weekend of Oct. 25-27 for the first time since 1966.

Thirty-six years ago, the series ? then in its inaugural season ? was known as the Trans-American Sedan Championship. It was devised at the same time as the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (which became known as the Can-Am) and the SCCA Grand Prix Championship (for formula cars, which became known as the L&M Continental). The latter two series have long since died and the Trans-Am remains as America's oldest continually active professional road racing series.

The 1966 "VIR 400," as it was called, was a 400-mile race which lasted over five hours and featured both Under- and Over-2.0-Liter classes. In order to generate additional enthusiasm among the local fan base, a number of well-known NASCAR drivers were invited to participate. Richard Petty (who at the time had only one series championship, in 1964) co-drove with Charlie Rainville in a factory-backed No. 14 Team Starfish Barracuda. Current NASCAR Grand National points leader David Pearson shared journalist Brock Yates' Dodge Dart. Legend Curtis Turner co-drove a Mustang with Peter Lake and Danville native Wendell Scott, NASCAR'S only African-American race winner, shared a Mustang with SCCA star Dr. Dick Thompson.

The NASCAR stars all encountered trouble in the race, and only Turner was able to finish, and as the last car running on course. Both Petty and Scott went off in Turn 3, which was renamed "NASCAR Bend" in their honor. Pearson's day ended prematurely when he blew up the engine in Yates' Dart in pre-race practice.

The overall winners of the race were Tom Yeager and Bob Johnson, driving a Ford Mustang coupe with parts supplied by Shelby Engineering. The race favorites, Durham, N.C.-based Pete Feistman and Russ Norburn, took the pole in the rain at 2:37.20 in a similar Mustang and led much of the race but lost time with a lengthy pit stop due to an overheating problem. Third overall, and first in the Under-2.0-liter class, were Horst Kwech and Gaston Andrey in a factory-supported Alfa Romeo GTA.

It will be quite a different show when the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup arrives for the VIR SpeedFest. The race will be only 90 minutes long, the lap times will be much lower, there won't be any under-2.0-liter cars, the competition will be closer and the noise level will be considerably higher.

After last weekend's race in Miami, it would appear that championship leader Boris Said has all but locked up this year's title. The Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup will race again at Road Atlanta this weekend, so it is likely that the championship will be decided prior to the season finale at VIR. If that turns out to be the case, fans can look forward to a no-holds-barred gunfight to decide the year's final race among Said, three-time champion Paul Gentilozzi, AmeriSuites Rookie of the Year Butch Leitzinger, Johnny Miller, Stu Hayner and all the other series stars. The weekend will also include the SPEED World Challenge Series, the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 Zetec Championship, the Pro Spec Racer Series and the Pro Miata Challenge.

As a special treat for the fans, the weekend's grand marshal will be Tom Yeager, who won the first Trans-Am race at VIR back in 1966. Also present will be the Mustang with which he won that race, which has been restored exactly like it was at the time, by current owner Curtis Wheatley of Tulsa, Okla.

Three-day Super Tickets for the VIR SpeedFest priced at $45, and one-day tickets for Sunday at $35, will be available at various ticket outlets. At the gate, three-day Super Tickets will be priced at $50, with one-day tickets selling for $10 (Friday), $25 (Saturday) and $40 (Sunday). For ticket outlet information, visit the track's website at www.virclub.com. VIR is a family-friendly facility, where children 12 and under are admitted free with a paying adult. Spectator camping is available.

VIRginia International Raceway is a multi-purpose road racing facility, located on the Dan River 12 miles east of Danville, Va., and just north of historic Milton, N.C. In addition to its 3.27-mile natural-terrain road racing circuit (which is also designed to be operated as two autonomous, full-service courses), VIR is the cornerstone of VIR Club, America's first motorsports country club, and the VIR Raceplex Industrial Park. The newest addition to the facility is the VIR Euro Rally School and Corporate Motorsport Experience, which features four rally stages plus a kart track, motocross track, ATV and SUV training grounds and an advanced safari course. Future plans include the VIR Gallery, a showroom for high-end collector and racing cars, and resort lodging.

VIR made history from 1957 to 1974 and is doing so again. The renovated original circuit has 17 challenging turns and 130 feet of elevation change. In addition to spectator events, the track is also available to rent for testing, driving schools and club days.

For more information, contact VIR at 888-RACE099 or visit the track's website at www.virclub.com.

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About this article
Series Trans-Am
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Justin Bell , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Brock Yates , Stu Hayner , Tom Yeager , David Pearson , Dick Thompson , Wendell Scott