Monday, Sept. 13, 2010 | 4:14 p.m.
I visited Richmond, Va., for the first time this weekend to see, firsthand, what short-track racing is like at the small tri-oval. The track sits in a residential area not far from downtown Richmond. Hopefully, residents who are neighbors of the track are big race fans who don't mind the noise and traffic that takes over their neighborhood twice a year. As I drove up to the track I couldn’t help but think that the facility looked like a giant UFO that had landed in a grassy clearing in the middle of a suburb.
Although it's a short track, the facility isn't a bowl like Bristol. It's more of a mini tri-oval engulfed by a ring of grandstands. The track is a mixture of old and new with some original grandstand areas and newer seating areas.
But where you really get that throwback feeling is in the infield as the cramped quarters require all the teams to fight for every inch of usable space. The haulers must be parked with surgical precision to squeeze the giant trucks into the space allotted. Space is so precious that Terry Labonte's team was left without a garage stall, so his team had to prepare the car in a vacant spot at the tail end of the garage area. This was great for fans who were sightseeing in the infield as they got to stand right next to the car and the mechanics as the car, which was propped up on jack stands, was furiously being prepared for the Cup race. (See photos below.)
As short-track racing goes, the race on Saturday night wasn’t one of the most exciting I’ve seen, but that was mostly a symptom of Denny Hamlin’s dominating performance instead of any issues with the track or the cars.
One of my favorite characteristics of short tracks is that you can see all of the action without the aid of binoculars. No matter where you sit at Richmond, you're going to have a great view and be able to experience all the noise and smells that a Cup race has to offer. A friend once asked me how I deal with the smell of car exhaust when I'm at one of these tracks. She actually wondered if I wore a mask. "I breathe in," I told her.
Here are a few sketches and some photos from the weekend.