By Jeff Nations
Here come those dreaded dog days of summer, for a sports fan at least.
We've arrived at that hot, sticky, sun-bleached portion of the annual calendar. The NBA just wrapped up this past week, the NHL handed over the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night ... no NFL, no college football or basketball, college baseball is just about done. Other than the steady stream of regular-season Major League Baseball games and the once-a-week fix of NASCAR, the PGA or professional tennis, there's just not much happening this time of year.
That may be true, at least on the television. But now may be an excellent time for reminders about what's going on right now, often just down the road. There are indeed still sports to spectate, and what follows are just a few suggestions for the house-bound sports enthusiast -- in no particular order.
Valley Baseball League: There's little need to drive to Washington, D.C., Baltimore or even further environs to take in a ballgame. The VBL offers that satisfying crack of wooden bat meeting ball (or the pop of a baseball into the catcher's mitt, if strikeouts are your thing). The 12-team league, consisting of promising collegiate players, is in full gear right now and spans a frenetic two-month season with games nearly every day. The rainy start to the season has really made that practically every day now, as VBL teams have filled in nearly all their available open dates with makeups. That's good news if you have the time to catch a ballgame, and with four VBL teams (five, if you count Winchester) in our area, there's most likely a game ready for the watching in Front Royal, New Market, Strasburg or Woodstock.
It's shaping up as an excellent time to track the local VBL teams, as well (unless you count last-place Winchester). Woodstock has built a commanding lead in the Northern Division standings, but Strasburg is still in it at .500 heading into Tuesday's game against New Market. Front Royal, whose home games are set in the always-fabulous Bing Crosby Stadium, has arguably as much talent as any team in the league and is far from done. New Market is also in the thick of things in the VBL's Southern Division, having entered Tuesday night's game just one back of division-leading Harrisonburg.
Here's a special note on New Market, as well -- baseball fans down at the extreme southern end of Shenandoah County actually have double the chances of catching a live game at Rebel Park. The New Market Shockers, members of the Rockingham County Baseball League, share that venerable venue with the Rebels.
Auto racing: Columnist Craig Murto often extols the virtues of local dirt- and asphalt track racing, and I can confirm it is indeed a fine way to spend a weekend night. At Winchester Speedway -- upgraded considerably by owner Greg Gunter since the days I frequented the track -- offers the pure adrenaline rush of local drivers going head-to-head practically every Saturday night. The 3/8-mile clay oval at Winchester still features the traditional four racing classes -- Late Models, Limited Late Models, Pure Stocks and 4-Cylinders -- but over the last few years has added Enduros. Crates and U Cars to the mix. Winchester also regularly hosts special racing cards like this past Saturday night's URC Sprints. Just a bit further north up I-81, race fans can check out Hagerstown Speedway. That historic track features its own regulars, plus regular visits from Winchester-based racers (the Winchester/Hagerstown "Shootout" is an annual must-see series). On July 6, Hagerstown will host one of its signature events, the 32nd Annual Hub City Classic AMA Grand National Motorcycles.
Head south down I-81 to Page County if you want to check out the local asphalt racing scene at Shenandoah Speedway. That track offers five distinct racing divisions, plus has a motocross track on site for dirt-bike fans.
Then there's Summit Point Motorsports Park, an easy drive north into West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle. The numerous road courses at Summit Point regularly hosts SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) events, plus road-course motorcycle racing, drifting competitions, Go-Kart racing and even regular opportunities to learn driving skills from qualified instructors on the track.
Horse racing: Also in West Virginia, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races offers nightly thoroughbred horse racing throughout the year. The summer features a slew of stakes races, in addition to the regular slate of claiming, maiden special weights and allowance races. Right now, the state-bred horses are building up to one of the track's biggest racing cards of the year, the Sept. 21 West Virginia Breeders' Classics. Those horses, soon to run for the big money on Classics night, can be seen on any given night right now at Charles Town.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>