Southampton Motor Speedway makes its return
Published 6:30 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2023
A part of the Western Tidewater community will be reborn this coming weekend when the Southampton Motor Speedway roars to life for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Now under the ownership of Robert Barnes, Chris DeBord and Christopher Plummer, the speedway will hold a grand opening Saturday, Aug. 19, and Sunday, Aug. 20.
The weekend will feature drifting.
For the uninitiated, Merriam-Webster helps provide a definition of drifting: “the act or activity of steering an automobile so that it makes a controlled skid sideways through a turn with the front wheels pointed in a direction opposite to that of the turn.”
Drifting is also a sport in which drivers compete at this activity, and at Merriam-Webster.com, W.J. Hennigan notes that drifting actually has nothing to do with racing but is more about meeting certain standards of judgment that include speed, angle of attack and style.
DeBord explained how the grand opening weekend will work.
“With drifting, we’re running an open-grid format, so we’re not running any kind of heats or time trials or racing, per sé, but it will be able to have cars on track from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on (Saturday) and then 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday,” he said. “So it’s less of trying to force your way around a certain schedule but more so flexible to where if you did want to come out for a couple hours and hang out and watch something, you’d be more than entertained and able to enjoy yourself.”
Ticket pricing and purchasing for spectators and drivers is available at www.SouthamptonMotorSpeedway.com/.
“The drivers’ tickets have to be purchased ahead of time online, but if you’re a spectator, you can purchase the tickets online or at the gate, and then we also are offering pit passes for ages 18 and up,” DeBord said.
HISTORY OF THE SPEEDWAY
The Southampton Motor Speedway started as dirt in 1991, DeBord noted.
“So it went from dirt to asphalt, and they started racing on asphalt in 1997 and then up until 2004,” he said. “So there were obviously different classes for both dirt cars and then the asphalt cars, but mainly circle-track racing style is what people know it as.”
He confirmed that the speedway has been dormant since the mid-aughts.
“So the last time they were running, it was mid-2004,” he said. “They actually didn’t even run a full season.”
He then summarized what led to the nearly 20-year gap in action.
“The biggest reason the track failed that everyone can come to an agreement (on) is that spectators didn’t want to show up,” he said. “So with nobody being there, there have been multiple individuals that attempted to purchase the track between now and then, and for whatever reason, there were issues going through with it. But we were lucky enough to be in the position we’re in now.”
“We” was a reference to Barnes, Plummer and himself, who he said “formed our partnership earlier this year, but we made our agreement April 12th.”
THOUGHTS ON THE SPEEDWAY REVIVAL
On Monday, Aug. 14, Plummer said he, Barnes and DeBord were still preparing and doing a lot of the manual labor on their own to prepare the speedway for its grand opening.
“We are simply three regular guys with 9-to-5 jobs, three race-car drivers that have a common dream,” Plummer said. “We have put everything we have into getting this place open again just to live out that dream. To see that actually coming true gives me chills and is undescribable. You never really think this kind of thing could happen to you.
“Life is stressful, and for race car enthusiasts like us, this is how we deal with that stress,” he added. “All the hard work is worth it when you see other people just like you enjoying what they love and know you helped make a difference in their lives, their hobbies and their happiness.”
Barnes said it was difficult to describe the feeling he was experiencing as the grand opening of the speedway becomes a reality.
“A local racetrack that had been closed down for almost 20 years, we used to ride by just in passing and wonder what would become of the place,” he said. “Today, I find myself part of the team leading its revival — a truly surreal and humbling opportunity.
“As we get closer to the grand opening, I’m reminded that this isn’t just about asphalt and engines; it’s about the stories that will unfold here, the connections that will be forged and the dreams that will be chased,” he continued. “It’s about those of the past reliving their fondest memories while those of the future begin to create their own.
“To me, this grand opening symbolizes the power of persistence, the strength of community united by shared passion and the embodiment of a vision that refused to fade away,” he said. “It stands as proof that dreams are attainable, that determination and perseverance can turn the impossible into reality.”
DeBord said it is an extreme blessing that he and his business partners were even allowed to have this opportunity as there is a trend of tracks closing down.
“Especially with so many tracks closing recently, it’s nice to be able to be a part of something that’s reopening and bringing life back to the community,” he said.
He made clear that the speedway’s new ownership sees why the local track closed down in 2004.
“And we’re trying to do everything to make sure that doesn’t happen again, so (we’re) trying to be a part of the community, involving a lot of community vendors and food trucks with our grand opening, a lot of games for the kids, making it a family friendly event, but not just that but be able to show it’s a family friendly facility,” he said. “So (we’re) just trying to be able to show that we want this to happen, we want this to stay, we want this to grow — that’s all it needs to do.”
As noted at SouthamptonMotorSpeedway.com/, there are several drift weekends scheduled into the fall and winter months.
Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. President and CEO Karl T. Heck referenced the speedway and its owners during an economic development update to the county’s Board of Supervisors in July.
“They have scheduled several drift weekends and are looking for promoters for other kinds of (activities) as well,” he said.
DeBord said the big thing he, Barnes and Plummer keep getting asked is when they will be bringing back racing to the track.
“The honest answer is as soon as possible,” he said. “We are working through some insurance hurdles to be able to add circle-track, but it is 100% on our radar, and we want to be able to show something that the community wants to see.”