All About the Richmond International Raceway - RIR
Richmond International Raceway held its first race in 1946 on October 12. At the time it was known as Atlantic Rural Exposition Fairgrounds and was a one-half mile dirt oval track. The inaugural race was won by Ted Horn. In 1955 the track was purchased by racer Joe Weatherly and Paul Sawyer. The track has been known by several names over the years, including Strawberry Hill, Virginia State Fairgrounds, and Richmond Fairgrounds Speedway. In 1988 The track was changed to its current setup, which is a ‘D’ shaped tri-oval with a length of three-quarter mile. In 1991 lights were installed, and currently all scheduled NASCAR events are run at night under the lights. 1999 RIR purchased the State Fairgrounds and it became the Richmond International Raceway. All NASCAR racetracks and most racetracks in general have some sort of a scoring tower to show the positions of drivers. Similar to a scoreboard other events it allows people to keep up with the action. In 2010, Richmond International Raceway installed a state of the art scoring tower with LED screens and large LED 'jumbotron' style video screens at the top. It can show videos and images and the scoring tower part can cycle through the positions of the entire field.
The biggest events hosted by RIR are the spring and fall NASCAR races. Both the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup series here race in May and September. The September Sprint Cup Series race has the distinction of being the last race before the NASCAR “Chase to the Cup” setting the seeding of the championship contenders for the final 10 races of the season. Often there are several drivers ‘on the bubble” that have to finish well to make it into the playoffs and have a chance at the championship. This can make the racing exciting and contentious.
In addition to the NASCAR events RIR hosts several other events including the Richmond Boat Show, an RV and Camping Expo, Craftsman Classic shows and more. In the past the Strawberry Hill horse races were held on a track on the grounds, as was the Virginia State Fair.
What to Bring to an RIR Race and What to Prepare For
Having watched NASCAR for over 15 years, I was excited to attend my first event at Richmond this fall. If you are planning to attend any event you should check with the track to see what you are allowed to bring. This year, at Richmond you can bring bags and soft sided coolers, so if you want to save money you can bring your own food and drinks. Always bring hearing protection with you. The noise of the cars is very very loud. Many fans own or rent scanners with headsets (they are available at the track). These allow you to protect your ears and listen to the radio transmissions of your favorite teams. It is a good idea to bring rain ponchos too. The race I attended was rain delayed and the track gave out ponchos, but they were a bit flimsy and thin. You can rent padded seats as well, but you can bring your own too if they do not have arms. Except in certain sections, most of the seating is bench seating, so you may want to bring one, even a folding one with a back.
Plan to arrive early as parking and traffic can be difficult. Richmond International Raceway provides plenty of parking, trams to the track, and additional parking at Richmond Colosseum with bus service to and from the track. If you like, tailgate, pack food and make a day of it. There are display, events, and souvenir trailers in the midway before entering the track itself. I was fortunate to have a friend live within a mile of the track so I had super easy parking and a place to eat and gear up.
A Personal Experience
As stated earlier, I had the pleasure of attending my first NASCAR race at Richmond this fall. It was not without it share of problems however, they were not the tracks fault. I arrived early and traffic was still light. The race was scheduled to begin at 7:00PM. At about 6:50PM it started pouring. It rained hard for an hour or so. The only place to really go is under the stands, and it was slightly crowded, and it was still harder to find a dry spot. Ponchos helped. Smoking in the stands is prohibited, but many people waiting for the rain to pass were smoking under the stands. This was somewhat bothersome, but again not the tracks fault, just be prepared. Having quit smoking nearly three years ago, it was slightly annoying, but understandable as I used to do similar things.
The restrooms are also located around the track under the stands, and they are numerous. There was never a problem finding a restroom, and they were kept well cleaned every time I visited.
After the rain passed the track brought out the jet dryers. These are small jet engines on trailers towed behind trucks used to speed drying of the tracks. With the aid of the dryers the race got underway at about 9:00PM.
The beginning of the race was exciting, but be prepared to stand often to see. When certain drivers are doing well, as well as at the start of the race and at restarts, nearly everyone stands, and if you want to see you will need to as well.
After about 180 laps, the rain started again and a yellow flag was called. Light at first and it almost stopped and they were about to restart the race when it started pouring and the race was red flagged. At this point we made the decision to leave, thinking the race, not having reached the halfway point would be delayed until the following day. However, they did manage to finish the race that night and I did not get to see the rest of it.
All in all it was a good experience, and I would do it again. Especially since the tickets I purchased were on sale and were a steal. If you are looking at attending a race, check out local blogs and sign up for the track newsletter well in advance, you may luck into a good deal!