by Matt Lincoln
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - When you're a small, local race track, six little letter can make a big difference. Monday, Southside Speedway got those six letters back.
NASCAR and Southside Speedway announced today that the classic Virginia short-track will be part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series beginning in 2011.
Southside, a .333-mile paved oval in Midlothian, Va. – southeast of downtown Richmond, Va. – are the fifth addition to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for next season and will be the sixth track in the Commonwealth to host NASCAR's grassroots racing.
As a NASCAR sanctioned track, drivers will have a chance to earn points towards the championship when they race at Southside. Also NASCAR will help market the races in Richmond.
Sisters Sue Clements and Patsy Stargardt own the facility, and now operate and promote the track. They are daughters of J.M. Wilkinson, who founded the track in 1959. The track was previously a member of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series from 1983-2002.
Other Virginia tracks in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series include Langley Speedway in Hampton, Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Old Dominion Speedway, and South Boston Speedway
Southside's 2010 track champions include Chris Dodson (Late Models), Thomas Stinson (Modifieds), Tommy Tatum (Grand Stocks), Mike Chapman (U-Cars), Mike Ganoe (Street Stocks), and Buzz Moore (Champ Karts).
NASCAR-sanctioned divisions at Southside in 2011 will be Late Model (Division I) and Modified (Division II).
The eligibility for a NASCAR Learner's Permit is 14 years of age. This allows drivers and crew members the opportunity to compete in entry-level divisions as designated by the track.
Southside Speedway opened as a .200 mile dirt oval in 1947 and was paved in 1948. Its configuration was changed to a .250 mile dirt oval in 1950, which was paved midway through the 1951 season. It was expanded again to its current .333 mile paved oval in 1962.
The track hosted four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events between 1961 and 1963. Those events were won by Junior Johnson, Jimmy Pardue, Jim Paschal and Ned Jarrett.
During the 1980s, the track became a star-maker in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Elton Sawyer was the first breakthrough driver, winning NASCAR Whelen All-American Series regional championships in 1984 and 1985. He was also the 1984 Late Model champion at Southside and Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va.
Phil Warren won Southside's 1999 championship over a young Denny Hamlin. Warren also won his NASCAR regional championship in 1995.
Other Southside champions who were perennial regional title contenders include multiple track title holders Eddie Johnson and Roy Hendrick. Other Late Model track champions include Curtis Markham, David Blankenship, Roger Sawyer, Bugs Hairfield, Shayne Lockhart, and Bubba Urban.
Hamlin, who finished second in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, won Southside's Mini-Stock division championship in 1997. After competing in Grand Stocks in 1998, he moved to Late Models and placed second to Warren. Hamlin was also fourth in track points in 2004.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is the grassroots, foundation of NASCAR and consists of more than 50 short tracks across North America. Since its inception, NASCAR Home Tracks have served as a springboard in the careers of many NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Hamlin, and Jamie McMurray are among the drivers who began their careers racing in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.