MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (WWBT) - It’s Speed Week at Daytona International Speedway, marking the start of the NASCAR season. For racing fans in Central Virginia, however, it can serve as a reminder of an area auto racing staple that will be silent because of pandemic-related losses, after Southside Speedway announced its closure in December.
Andrew Fuller is one of those fans who had made Friday nights at Southside Speedway part of his weekly routine. He had been attending races at the venue since he was 13 years old, marking eight years of being track-side.
“I’ve probably missed maybe one or two races before and that was some family stuff, but I try and be here every Friday night,” said Fuller.
With that in mind, the announcement that the speedway would be shutting its gates for good hit him hard.
“I was heartbroken,” the longtime race fan said. “I was like, what am I going to do with my Friday nights now? It used to be, show up here at 4:00, leave here at 10:00, 11:00.”
Southside Speedway is where Denny Hamlin got his start. The NASCAR Cup star says he hates to see short tracks that have become big parts of their local racing communities shut down.
“Short tracks are a small business. They’re not a big business by any means,” Hamlin said during his pre-Daytona 500 availability. “They rely on people going through that front gate, they’ve got to pay a purse.”
Hamlin also notes that the closures take away opportunities for young and up-and-coming drivers. Fans like Andrew also finds fewer chances to make memories like the ones he has from his years at Southside.
“I did some photography for drivers and then photography on my own,” Fuller recalled. “Then just helped on a few buddies’ race cars that needed help.”
Southside Speedway’s seats may be empty without lines at ticket windows, but that hasn’t stopped Andrew from finding racing. Tracks in Virginia, such as Langley Speedway, Dominion Raceway and South Boston Speedway expect to hold events, but he doesn’t limit himself to the commonwealth.
“Just hop in my truck and drive to the next one,” Fuller said of his current approach. “I drove to South Carolina last week for a race. That’s how much I’m just excited for this season.”
While he seeks out racing wherever he can find it, this longtime fan has not given up hope that somebody can come in and save his local track. His ideal picture is a person or group purchasing the venue, restoring it and bringing the sights and sounds of the sport back to his backyard.
“I would love for someone to save this track,” he said. “This is part of history. This is Friday nights and I want to be able to bring my kids here one day when I have kids.”
Track ownership would not comment as to whether anybody has reached out and expressed interest in purchasing Southside Speedway.
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