Murto: Hampton treats its track right

By Craig Murto

Hampton should be a model for the rest of the country; the Virginia city knows how much a successful short track means to its community.

On Saturday night, The “Visit Hampton 175” for NASCAR K&N Pro Series East cars ran at Langley Speedway. A relatively flat short track, Langley Speedway is known as a tough facility for competitors, but one of the nicest for fans.

And it gets a lot of support from the local community. The city’s vice mayor was on hand to act as grand marshal for the Visit Hampton 175, which was sponsored by the Hampton Visitors Center. The city of Hampton also sponsors other events at the track throughout the year, including the Hampton Heat 200 on July 27, one of the top-three pavement Late Model races in the state. It is part of the “Virginia Triple Crown,” which includes the 200-lap race on July 3 at South Boston and the end-of-year special at Martinsville.

As vendors who support city services enjoyed the city of Hampton’s hospitality suite at the track, it became apparent that the city actually takes advantage of the racetrack to act as a conduit to business. And the city understands that local businesses such as hotels, restaurants and gas stations benefit when fans flock to the track.

Dylan Kwasniewski, last year’s K&N West champion, scored his third win in the East Series this year by holding off the challenges of Daniel Suarez. But the best part for Hampton is that the race will be televised on SPEED. It is all part of a grand plan to increase tourist revenue. And it works.

In the 1980s, a report that was made public concluded that Hagerstown Speedway brought in more than $10 million annually for Washington County, Md. That was in the ’80s — surely that number has increased. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that Winchester Speedway brings in revenue for the surrounding jurisdiction? What about Shenandoah Speedway? And isn’t there always potential for those facilities to bring in more for the local community with community support?

Projected revenue is one of the reasons Thornburg, Va., gave approval for the building of Dominion Raceway, which should be finished and able to run its first event in 2014. The motorsports park — off I-95’s exit 118 — will feature a short track oval, a road course and a drag strip. But the state-of-the-art facility also intends to provide other entertainment such as drive-in movies, concerts and flea markets. Local businesses will benefit.

Dominion Raceway is intended to take the place of Old Dominion Speedway, the Manassas track that closed. Unfortunately for the people of Prince William County (and the rest of us), the county was run by short-sighted fools who had no idea what was in their backyard. The track should have been given protection as an historical landmark, and allowed to operate without the incredible property taxes that close so many good racetracks. After all, Old Dominion was the first drag strip built east of the Mississippi; it would not have taken much for the county to turn it into a huge tourist attraction. And it was the birthplace of the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car, and had a history of hosting some of the best racing talent in the country, including many of NASCAR’s top stars. But instead of taking advantage of such history in its backyard, the county helped its demise, as is the case too often around the country.

Of course, cooperation goes both ways. If a track promoter has the attitude, “I’m going to do what I want and I don’t care what the county/state/town thinks,” the track is doomed to always have a contentious relationship with government. Most track owners and promoters, however, realize that it is in their best interest to have a good relationship with the community. South Boston Speedway actually gets involved with local schools. It’s just a shame that some local communities often fail to recognize the benefits of having a racing facility.

Be sure to ask your local politicians why they don’t publicly support local racing facilities any more than they do. And be sure to visit Hampton — if not for a race, then for the Black Beard Festival or any number of fun activities they have to offer. Always support communities that support our favorite sport.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.