Craig Murto: Plenty of racing in the region

There is plenty of good racing in the region for fans to mark in their racing calendars.

It all starts Saturday night, when Maryland’s Hagerstown Speedway goes topless. Now, before you get the wrong impression, it simply means that both the Late Model and Late Model Sportsman divisions will compete with roofs removed from the cars. Fans get the chance to see drivers work as they muscle their steering wheels on the edge of control. If you’ve never seen topless Late Models, it really is unique and exciting.

Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, just to the east of the exit off Interstate 95, will feature a 75-lap race for the NASCAR Late Model Stock Cars on Saturday night. It’s an amazing facility with a lot of future potential.

Touring series also pay visits to the region on the nights of Aug. 12-13. On Aug. 12, Potomac Speedway in Budds Creek, Maryland, hosts the World of Outlaw Late Models for a Friday night show. Following that $10,000-to-win event, the series heads over to Winchester Speedway on Saturday night. No doubt many fans will try to see both races as the series travels through the region.

If dirt racing isn’t your thing and you don’t mind a nice drive south through central Virginia, on Aug. 13 South Boston Speedway hosts the Pro All Stars Series South Super Late Model Series for 150 laps. PASS always puts on a good show, and NASCAR Late Model Stock Cars are also on the card, most likely featuring current NASCAR All-American Series point leader Matt Bowling. South Boston enjoys some of the best Late Model car counts of any paved track in the region.

You could challenge yourself to enjoy an epic race weekend, such as Potomac on Friday night and South Boston on Saturday. Then, the following weekend, pro motocross competes at Budds Creek, adjacent to the oval, which will be closed that weekend.

Meanwhile, another Virginia Tire & Auto will celebrate its grand opening. Being a Firestone dealer, they get Mario Andretti to show up. That gives you the chance to meet America’s most famous racecar driver.

The date will be Aug. 25, a Thursday, so you’ll have to find a way to get out of work. It will be worth it, however, to make the trip to the Bristow location.

Named Driver of the Century by the Associated Press, Andretti has achieved some of racing’s greatest accolades. A longtime test driver for Firestone, Andretti helped develop the race tire that led to many of his most notable achievements including victories in the Indianapolis 500 (1969) and Daytona 500 (1967). Andretti’s relationship with Firestone spans four decades.

“This is a summer of celebrations for Virginia Tire & Auto,” said Julie Holmes, President of Virginia Tire & Auto, in a news  release promoting the event. “We are celebrating our 40th anniversary, the opening of the 13th Virginia Tire & Auto, and a visit from Firestone spokesman Mario Andretti at the Bristow location. Just like Mr. Andretti’s promise of automotive excellence and accomplishment, we are committed to providing customers at our 13 locations with a winning car care experience and being a trusted source for any Firestone tire needs.”

Andretti will visit with fans and sign autographs outside the store from 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Virginia Tire & Auto will provide food, entertainment and prizes to those in attendance. The address is 11109 Nokesville Road, Manassas.

Andretti has great stories to share. His Daytona 500 victory, for example, was supposed to be a win for Ford teammate Freddie Lorenzen. Thinking Lorenzen received better engines, it’s been said that Andretti swapped the tags that identified which engine went in which car. Even after his pit crew slowed him down with a poor pit stop, nothing kept Andretti from shocking the Southern fans at Daytona that day.

He won two Indy 500s, in my opinion. In 1981 Bobby Unser was flagged the winner, but upon official review it was determined that Unser illegally passed cars under caution while exiting the pits. It’s clearly seen on video. The next day Andretti was posted as the winner. Unser appealed and his victory was somehow reinstated in October that year.

Unser has the trophy; Andretti has the winner’s ring.

Andretti went on to win the Formula One world title, the last American to do so. Of course, while he raced in Europe, Italians claimed him as their own. If you get the chance to meet Mario Andretti, be sure to take it; you will not be disappointed.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.