The Sound and the Fury – On Track and In the Paddocks at VIR


Isaac and I wound along rural highways, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. All around us were the changing colors of fall, trailers, farmland. On these two lane back roads, there wasn’t a modern-looking gas station or a fast food restaurant to be found. Just when I expected to discover that the GPS had led us wildly astray, we arrived at VIRginia International Raceway, a resurrected track snaking through rolling hills on the North Carolina-Virginia border.



We checked in at the gate, made some turns, and suddenly we were crossing over the race track, formula cars whizzing underneath and around us. One more checkpoint saw us into the paddocks, and we were there.




My friend Morgan has been autocrossing for years, and has recently stepped up his game with an SCCA racing license, opening him up to the world of wheel-to-wheel events. When he told me that he’d be racing on my birthday weekend, I knew it would be a visual and auditory opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I made arrangements to spend the weekend with him at VIR, watching him and others race. I had no idea what was in store for me and my son.



When we approached our room over the North Paddock garages, we were assaulted by the noise of formula racers screaming down the front straight. Assault is the only word I can think of to describe the sounds of tens of high revving engines snarling and snorting through unmuffled, open exhausts. As a car enthusiast, I am accustomed to the sounds of engines, but this was another world altogether.



Once we got settled in, and race after race sped around us in the paddocks, in our room, in the food area, I started to wonder about our decision. The auditory assault is constant, and after a few hours, it makes you tired. Your head hurts, you are tired of trying to talk over the sound of burbling engines and screeching tires. There was some relief in paddocks, but the sound was pervasive.



The paddocks are full of wrenching, tactics, preparation, and stories. Reviews of what went right, what went wrong. Worries about top ends going soft and tire decisions. There is camaraderie, good will, encouragement all around. There is commiseration and jokes about off road excursions. Veterans and first-timers mingle, and everyone has a common interest: fast cars.



Early 90s Mazda and Honda production cars rub elbows with new Ferrari formula cars. Big budgets, small budgets, no budgets. It’s all there, and it’s all good. The more time we spent at the racetrack, the more we found that there was as much going on off track as on. I was extremely thankful for the opportunity to be behind the scenes, experiencing the sounds, smells, and sights of racing from the racers’ point of view, watching the various plot-lines of the weekend unfurl all around me.




There was the wicked fast, big budget Exige that consistently led the pack when it wasn’t coasting past the finish with a faded clutch or billowing white smoke down the front straight. There was the phenom young Spec Miata racer turning unbelievably quick laps. There was my friend Morgan, driving his racing-veteran friend’s blue Mazda Miata, refining his times and his lines on each lap around Oak Tree, tightening his inputs through roller coaster, negotiating gators through the uphill esses.



VIR is a lovely track, as I had the good fortune to discover on the second day, when at lunchtime they allowed regular cars onto the track to turn a few laps. Isaac, Morgan and I toured around the famous and infamous bends and rolls of the raceway, driving the same pavement in my humble Honda Fit as pro racers in ALMS.



Thanks to Morgan for inviting me up for the weekend and allowing Isaac and I to “crew,” and thanks to Hawk and Richard, Clark and Dennis and everyone else we met for making us feel welcome and a part of the goings on. It was really a thrill to see racing in person–there is only so much that photographs can communicate. In real life it’s much more visceral and you feel it as much as you see or hear it.




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