No Sleep Till Danville
By Brian Edwards
(The following is in no way to be mistaken for a race report.)
5:00 AM saw a soggy Hampton Roads and steady rain. With zero sleep from the night before due to the mounting excitement for Sunday, I was not looking agreeably on a 4-hour drive through the small hours of the morning to a part of Virginia I had yet to visit. Our destination was Virginia International Raceway in Danville Virginia; host to the Bosch Engineering 250 and inaugural VW Jetta TDI Cup Series.
The Rabbit was packed full of kids and a dog as we headed out to meet up with Bizz. Our meeting location was a small executive airport just off 58. Upon arriving to the airport, we were met with a duck crossing that should have been an omen for more wild life adventures. We followed Bizzle through the drizzle at predawn along speed trap alley. A call from Richard had confirmed my miscommunication and lack of planning the previous night. I had failed to get his number or make sure he had mine when we planned to meet up. Bizz and I were ahead of Richard and Dominique, so we laid back to wait for them to catch us. The fuzz was thick this morning and there was more Radar than 3 seasons of M.A.S.H. County cops, State Troopers and unmarked littered the medians over several miles. No worries though; Bizz and I were slow enough to be passed by tractor trailers, minivans, a P.T. Loser and a Geo Storm. The Storm was taunting us as it passed and I found it testing my will power not to punch the gas.
Dominique and Richard finally rolled up in her screaming red Mk4 and we were back up to pace in a hurry. The scenery in Podunk presented very little excitement aside from a U.F.O. sighting in someone’s front yard. The alien ship appeared to be made of sheet metal and was about 8 feet on diameter – I thought pink flamingos and yard gnomes were gay. I will admit, I think it would have made for a great photo op.
There were no European cars for miles along 58 until we neared the track. We left 58 for 119 in the final stretch and had a near mishap. A deer decided to join our cruise and merged in our path. Bizz threw out his autocross moves and took evasive action. The deer surprisingly had more body roll than the GTi as they both jutted out of each others’ way.
A U-turn, a couple of uncharted back roads and the Garmin scenic route found us at the entrance to V.I.R. The line leading into the track was filled with mostly VWs and Audis – REPRESENT! As we paid our admission at the gate, a Passat Wagon rolled up to the guard station with SECURITY on the side door. I felt like working the event myself when seeing this. The road to the course wound through a wooded area and down hill to a small bridge spanning the back straight of the course. The ST Moto bikes could be heard roaring underneath. We had arrived!
We followed the road to the infield area where we were ushered to a special blacktop lot that accepted only VWs and Audis. Looking around I noticed Porsches and various other quasi-exotic rides parked along side of minivans on the grassy hill. Fresh out of the car and stretching limbs the first thing that caught our attention was a huge pavilion on the next hill with a VW TECHNICAL CENTER sign. A silver Passat Wagon approached with a door magnet that read SHUTTLE. The driver rolled down the window and asked us if we needed a ride. Our parking lot was next to everything, so we declined, but I did not hesitate to ask if I could have the shuttle magnet. The driver grinned and told me I could not get it now. I asked if I could get it after the race and he chuckled and said he would talk to me later. I was psyched and focused to obtain my VW swag as is the practice for all such events.
The energy just after a 3+ hour drive was at maximum levels with the sounds of the Motos on track and being crouched down in the lot full of dubs. It was obvious by the official vehicles, being what they were, and the strategic location of the VW/Audi lot between the rest of the public parking and the spectator events that Volkswagen was the main sponsor, not Bosch, and sales were foremost on the minds of the event planners.
Vendors’ tents were well positioned along the road into the garage area for all to pass by en route to food, bathrooms and exhibits. Ryne’s keen eye for what he likes immediately spied the Ferrari flags atop the merchandise tent. Our first stop would be expensive, but he earns it. There were a couple of Ferraris and Maserati's parked outside the tent that gathered all the attention. The vendors at the Ferrari tent were very unfriendly and obviously did not want to be in attendance this day. Ryne is very picky when it comes to purchases and after scoping the entire line of merch decided to wait until later before making a decision. He is smart with money.
Entering the garage area, an old VW Thing sitting on the corner was first on the agenda. The sale sticker was asking $9750 for a vehicle with immaculate seats and otherwise just ok condition.
Thunder Bunny greeted us as we made our way towards the Tech Center. There were a few other rides along side, but I was only interested in the Bunny. Of course, Everett was also enamored and we both posed together for a picture.
At the VW pavilion, the TDI Cup Jettas sat snug in lines waiting for their time on the track. There was a crew feverishly hustling around, over and under each other to place final decals on some remaining untouched racers. Large sheets a similar decals lined the floors and snippets of spent sheets were being shoveled into trash cans. I was looking for errant stickers to swipe to start the swag hunt as little other opportunities had been presenting themselves. The large numbers of workers hovered around and kept close watch on the process and the spectators standing near. I finally gave up on the swag after several minutes watching for an opening and we perused the vehicles looking for a favorite. We each secretly scouted our car to watch in the upcoming race and moved towards the VW merch trailer.
Checkered Flag VW manned the trailer and all the goodies were from the dealership itself. The guys provided great conversation and were tons friendlier than the Ferrari clerks. We looked through the products and decided to return later to purchase. We looked for more vendors in hopes of finding more rare items to bring home with us, but were disappointed. I was expecting many more vendors than what had showed for the race, but it was the only disappointment of the weekend.
The garage area was frantic with work as the Daytona Prototypes and Grand Touring cars were all accessible by fans. The garages were open and easily viewable from any direction. The Porsches were especially beautiful being fitted with templates and getting final engine tweaking.
Our next mission was to find Grey’s Anatomy’s McDreamy aka Patrick Dempsey who was scheduled to race a Mazda. We looked around the garage and pit area a bit with no luck. McDreamy was not to be seen at this time.
After a quick visit to the shockingly clean bathrooms, we scouted out the food stands for comparable prices. All the stands were excessive on pricing, so we knew we were going to get an expensive eat on. The food looked and smelled delicious, so I would be upset only momentarily. We also decided to check for the best possible spot to view the race and found the grassy hill, only yards from our vehicles as the favorite.
We headed back for the Ferrari Jerks to purchase something for Ryne to bring home. He settled on a nice F-1 shirt that looked sharp on him. Corey saw a plush animal that he liked and after asking one of the not-so-customer-friendly clerks, it was left hanging at the tent with a ridiculous $50 price tag. For that amount, that bear had better be able to drive its nieve buyer home from the race! A large stallion statue stood across the street from the tents, so the boys quickly posed and got their snapshots.
After buying myself some goodies from the Checkered Flag guys, we decided to get lunch. Bizz and I were in the mood for burgers and fries, but not the “several minute wait” that came with it or the small cup that contained the over inflated fries. We ordered a sack full of Chewbacca for $5.50 a saingwich. We walked to the next stand to get fries and drinks. When I got to the window and saw the price of canned drinks at $2 per, I forgot to order the fries. I ordered the drinks and sneered at a small white bucket on the counter with a sign that read TIPS that sent me straight into cynical mode. They want my $2 per can of soda and then want a tip!?!? Bizz jested this as “consumer rape.”
Bizz and I took our arms full of food back to our spot on the hill outside turns 3 and 4 to get ready for the race. The ba-ba-chew was good, but not Carolina quality being only minutes from the state line.
A few Daytona Prototypes and Grand Touring cars made their way around the track on recon laps as the crowd rumbled with conversation and excitement. I caught a glimpse of a familiar face as Jason Messinger stood next the fence just down the hill from us. I went down to say hello and asked him if he knew which car McDreamy was driving. Jason gave a laugh and said it was hard to tell which car it was with the large picture of him on the side. Dempsey was promoting his new movie on the car, but we still thought it vain and hilarious.
The Rolex cars were finally led around the track for the start of the race. I was instantaneously addicted to the series. As lap 1 started, the DPs led the pack through the turns and pulled down the straights. McDreamy’s car came through in last place. A good laugh was had at his expense. On lap 2, the gap widened considerably between the DPs and GTs, and we did second takes as we noticed Dempsey had managed to pass 11 cars on the first circuit alone. We were not laughing so hard now. We watched him for several laps after and realized McDreamy can actually drive the wheels off his Mazda.
We could not tell who was leading or what passes were for postion because the public announce speakers were awful, broke or non existent. Even when there was no car noise there were no announcements or race analysis to be heard. The race was guesswork and more like open practice, but the action was still very intense. There were plenty of passes and attempts each lap and several off-road adventures. One particular skirmish included a mustard colored Mustang and a white Corvette when the overzealous Mustang driver held true to the personality traits of all Stang owners and gave the Corvette a shove through turn one. The Mustang itself lost control as the Corvette was turned around and both slide over the hill towards the wall. Both cars were able to avoid making contact with the tire barrier and slowly made their way back on course, albeit several positions behind.
The Porsches looked slow compared to the rest of the field as the Pontiacs seemed to pass everything that moved. There was only one BMW in the field and zero Audis. The Mazdas sounded like street bikes pulling down the straight. No car should sound this bad even if it is somewhat fast.
Bizz had his EOS set on the tripod and ripping off shots. He handed Everett a small Canon camera earlier for him to take his own pictures. Soon after Everett was conversing with the pro freelance photographers trackside. He was helping them out holding their gear and chatting. He made his way to the top of the hill and perched himself on the jersey wall next to another photographer to get the premium shots. A serious look came over Everett as he captured some great scenes. Bizz and Everett decided to go up to the next hill to get a different angle.
Dominique and Richard returned from their walk about and told me about the action around the track. I gathered up Bizz and Everett and we slowly inched around the course. The back straight was the loudest area to view the race. The chicane at the beginning of the straight provided just as much action as we had seen in turns 3 &4. We climbed the hill leading to the bridge that we entered the track on as the engine noised increased. The camp ground was only about half full with spectators where the course made its way back down hill with sweeping carousel turns. Pit row had a balcony area that was shaded, cool and conveniently breezy. It was refreshing to get out of the sun and take a break. Caution was called on the track as we crossed the balcony and provided great opportunity to catch the crews in action. Everett proved to have a tremendous eye for action by capturing awesome photos of the scurry. Just below us, a floor jack broke in on of the Porsches pits and a Corvette a few spots up dumped racing fuel on the track as it left.
On our way back to the turns 3 & 4 area, we were stopped by two attractive girls on a golf cart offering us ice cream. They pulled up, looked at us pointing at me and said, “You are Volkswagen!”
“Yes, I am.”
I pointed to Everett’s bling and told them HE was VW. We were told to visit the trailer where they offered us ice cream sandwiches shaped like the VW emblem. We never did make it to get our ice cream sandwiches, but I did detour to buy more goodies at the VW trailer.
Back down at our seats, we were ready for the TDI Cup cars to start. An old Beetle led the field around on the parade lap before the standing start. Governor Kaine arrived in a fleet of silver Touaregs. With the sales strategy evident on the day, it seemed as though VW was also getting political with some angle hosting the governor and just opening up business in the Northern VA area.
The Jettas were packed in tight running through corners. The bumping, banging and beating was minimal despite the close racing. There was some contact as one Jetta lost part of its driver’s side rear fender, but they stayed clear of each other for the most part. Car #33 had a little off road adventure and backed up to the rear of the field with a quickness. Way behind on each lap, he garnered charity cheers as he passed by. Nearly all the Jettas made it up on two wheels through turn four at some point of the race. The vent was to last 30 minutes or 12 laps, which ever came first.
There were cheers from the VW VIP tent were Gov. Kaine and 30 other spectators huddled around a 19” closed circuit television. With the bill being flipped for a fleet of silver Touaregs, security & shuttle Passat wagons, a VIP tent and hordes of VW employees I would think they could afford a larger TV. There was an obvious favorite by the contingents in the tent. A rumble of “OHs” followed the cheers as their driver had received the boot on the opposite side of the track. Several cautions shortened the race to around 4 or 5 laps meeting the 30 minute time limit. The TDI Cup race featured the most action with less cars and really should have been a longer event.
Pleased by our VIR experience, we took up our chairs, cameras, gear, kids and dog and started for the car. Jason somehow was placed in the “other car” parking lot, so we waited for him to drive down to the primo lot to meet us. We hung out a little while when our friend driving the shuttle rolled back through. He stopped to converse with Bizz as I obtained my prized swag from the passenger side door.
Our convoy of dubs had grown from the 3 we arrived with to include Jason in his Mk4 Jetta and a couple of guys from the HR area in a red Mk5 GTi. Forgive me I forget names easily. We started back for home. Along the way, we stopped at a McDonald’s for dinner and Bizz discovered a 4-arm man that the boys wanted to high five. Talking to the guys in the GTi I learned the driver had only 1.5 hours sleep in the past 48 hours to combine with Bizz’s 2 hours of sleep the night before and my sleepless night to make for some serious deprivation.
We had fun jockeying for position most of the way back and it was smooth cruising until we reached the outskirts of Suffolk. We were greeted by a couple of jackasses from North Carolina that decided they did not want to drive fast, but they wanted to drive faster than us. They kept getting in front of Bizz and throwing on the slow. We were cool for a while and tried to sort our way through while keeping our group intact, but being cranky from lack of sleep I met my “mad center.” I love that term. That is a Corey, my 7 yr-old, original. I got around Bizz and the jackass and got back over. I slowed to make them change lanes, but they were content with being my bumper sticker, so I rolled with it for many miles. Once I figured I had pissed them off enough I got over and let them fly by. The traffic was thick and Bizz, the GTi and Rich/Dom went by. I didn’t see Jason, so I laid back to wait for him. We lost Jason. When I did not see him for about 5 miles I decided to catch up to the group. When I got back to the GTi and Rich/Dom, Bizz had already split for Norfolk. I followed the GTi back to Gloucester to make sure he got in ok and the cruise wound down.
Overall the day was a blast. The trip out to Danville was not nearly as terrible as I would have thought and it was definitely a great time at the track. Bizz and I are definitely going back next year and hope that everyone else can join us. We will do things differently by taking food and canopies.
Thanks for reading.