The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
2014 is target for Raceway opening
Construction on the planned Dominion Raceway may start in a matter of weeks now that Spotsylvania County has approved the project, owner Steve Britt said.
But the approximately $10 million facility won’t be ready for the beginning of next spring’s racing season as was initially planned, he said. The approval process lasted longer than Britt had expected, though he says he has no reason to be disappointed.
“I think the burden’s on me at this point to deliver,” said Britt, who hopes to start moving dirt in four or five weeks. “I feel that, but at the same time I think we have a great plan.”
Britt hopes the raceway just off Interstate 95 in Thornburg will open by July 2014. It will be on 160 acres—which Britt is expected to close on shortly—and have an oval track for stock-car racing, a drag strip, a road course and a go-kart course.
Supervisors unanimously approved the raceway’s rezoning application and request for a special-use permit on Tuesday night after joint public hearings with the Planning Commission.
Britt expects to start construction before receiving the Virginia Department of Transportation’s approval for the raceway’s entrance on Mudd Tavern Road. He said he won’t be able to make any of the promised road improvements—such as the left turn lane into the planned raceway site—until receiving the OK from VDOT.
The proposed entrance needs VDOT approval because it is closer to I–95 ramps than guidelines allow.
Even so, VDOT is legally required to grant the raceway access to the planned development now that the county has rezoned the land from agricultural to commercial, spokeswoman Kelly Hannon said.
“It’s just a determination of where that access will be,” she said.
The raceway expects to resubmit its entrance request to VDOT soon, said Fredericksburg attorney Charlie Payne, who represents the developer.
A raceway contractor initially put out that request in January, but VDOT said it couldn’t approve the request until raceway officials addressed several questions and concerns.
VDOT has 30 days to review the entrance request, Hannon said.
“We’re going to give it a thorough review but we’re also going to process it as quickly as possible because we know it is a priority to the county,” she said.
WORKING WITH NASCAR
A raceway consultant is finalizing the project’s site, grading and construction plans to submit to the county for review. Britt said he was hesitant to offer a construction timeline because county officials hadn’t yet received those plans.
Next week, Britt hopes to begin moving equipment to the future racing site from Old Dominion Speedway in Prince William County. That includes a double-wide trailer for office space during construction.
Britt previously owned Old Dominion, which closed last year after 60 years of operation.
Dominion Raceway expects to follow in Old Dominion’s footsteps as part of NASCAR’s Home Track Whelen All-American Series, which includes more than 50 racing complexes in the United States and Canada.
The season typically runs from April through September, though Britt said he’ll be able to satisfy NASCAR requirements with a July opening.
“We never intended to operate this thing really hard out of the gate,” said Britt, describing the 2014 opening as “soft.” “There is no sense in trying to kill yourself. I think that’s a recipe for disaster.”
George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president of regional and touring series, said he’s encouraged by Dominion’s concept and progress. Britt is a “known quantity,” he said, having worked with NASCAR as the owner of Old Dominion Speedway.
“This is actually a very, very special occasion to have a new racetrack come into creation,” said Silbermann, who added that NASCAR will be flexible in working with Dominion during construction.
KEEPING TRACK OF ISSUES
Spotsylvania supervisors told The Free Lance–Star this week that they think the pros of the raceway outweigh the cons, though some said they’ll keep an eye on any issues with traffic and noise.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to take an area that’s been depressed and bring it up,” Supervisor Gary Skinner said.
A major selling point was the development’s potential impact on the local economy, the supervisors said.
“In a year and a half, I think this is the first development project which county staff said would more than pay for itself,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Trampe said. “The jobs and economic vitality it brings will be a bonus.”
He said he thinks the raceway has done “everything that can be reasonably expected” to mitigate traffic and noise.
Raceway opponent Matt Williamson said at this week’s public hearing on the development that he thinks all of the noise will result in lawsuits.
Supervisor Ann Heidig said she understands the concerns but hopes the raceway won’t have an adverse impact on nearby residents. She said she thinks the developer has done a lot to address those worries.
Asked what the county would do if the noise were worse than expected, she said she didn’t want to speculate.
Britt said he thinks residents who live nearby will hear the races. But he said it will be “background noise” similar to I–95. Raceway officials have described I–95 as a “natural sound barrier” and say a 50-foot building and grandstands with closed risers will also reduce sound.
Britt said his facility will be different from all other raceways in the country.
In addition to racing, it will host concerts, drive-in movies and other events. “This is a golden opportunity for Spotsylvania,” he said. “This is a game-changer for them.”
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402