Less than a week after NASCAR’s top circuit rolled out of town, Richmond Raceway wasted no time getting started on a $30 million expansion to the track.
A groundbreaking ceremony Thursday was dedicated to the fans, with longtime Richmond Raceway attendee Tom Enroughty given the opportunity to dig the first hole.
Many more will follow, and an entire section of the track will be removed to create a wider pedestrian tunnel underneath to accommodate increased viewing of the pits, garages and victory lane before and during races.
Track president Dennis Bickmeier said it’s exactly what the 70-year-old track needs to reach the next generation of fans.
“We needed a spark. We needed something. And I think this did it for us," Bickmeier said. “I kept using this word over and over again — momentum. We announced this. Then we had Dale Jr. in town. Then we had a great race weekend, nice crowd. Then this. We’ll continue to use it driving forward.
“This is going to redefine who we are, within the sport and within the community."
Construction will be done in time to debut the reworked track at next fall’s race. The spring race will be run in a construction zone, but Bickmeier said he anticipates all fans will be accommodated as normal. Teams will be briefed ahead of time about changes to the infield and race setup.
A number of dignitaries attended Thursday’s event.
Todd Haymore, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, reflected on his own racing roots, growing up in Pittsylvania County near the Wood Brothers. Haymore said his father was more proud of him for helping the track than any other ribbon cutting he’s been to.
Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas cited a 2009 study showing the Raceway creates $467 million in economic impact annually, adding that he expected the amount to increase once construction is finished.
This year’s Super Bowl is estimated by the NFL to bring $404 million in impact to Minneapolis, a number that is vigorously disputed by economists.
For Bickmeier, the day was about the promise of what lies ahead, and the idea that the track’s best days are still ahead. The track last underwent a substantial renovation in 1988.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time," Bickmeier said. “I reflected on how important this racetrack has been to NASCAR, through its formative years, and through its growth years, and what this project will mean as we point toward the next 70 years.
“My job, and our team’s job, is to get this place ready for the next 70 years, and this is the start of that." Richmond Times Dispatch