The Engine: NCs racing gem on the border

If there’s a heaven on earth, it’s VIR.”That’s the famous description of the Virginia International Raceway from the late Paul Newman, who in his time was a professional driver and race team owner on top of being a prolific actor. For those in the younger generations, think of Newman as the Patrick Dempsey of the ’70s and ’80s.This quote was refreshed last week by Mike Rose, VIR’s director of marketing, who made a pit stop at Raleigh’s Lynnwood Brewing Concern to promote the track’s upcoming marquee racing event — the Michelin GT Challenge IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship — along with several other North Carolina automotive staples, including Stevenson Motorsports, the Ingram Collection, and Taggart Autosport.Pointing to the Triangle area as VIR’s largest spectator market, Rose also wants to spread awareness that VIR, which was opened by N.C. racing fans in 1957, is just as much North Carolina’s premier road track as it is Virginia’s. Located in Alton, Virginia, less than half a mile from the N.C. border, VIR is roughly a 75-minute drive from Raleigh and an hour’s drive from Durham or Greensboro.And in a state full of oval tracks and drag strips, VIR hopes to offer racing fans something quite a bit different than what you typically get in N.C., especially at heavily trafficked venues such as Charlotte Motor Speedway.”One of the things that people will find when they discover VIR — and I used to work in NASCAR, I like NASCAR, so I’m not saying this in a negative light — at our track, things are much easier and simpler than most facilities,” Rose said. “Sixteen and under are free. If you’re active military, you’re free. If you’re a veteran, you’re 50 percent off. We encourage people to bring your lawn chairs, bring your grill, bring your tent — we have camping on site — come enjoy the weekend with your family.”So why make the trip to VIR? For starters, the upcoming IMSA event is the top level sports car racing event in the United States. Running from Aug. 26-28, the three-day event gives spectators intimate access to not only one of the most challenging and technical circuits in the country, but also a chance to see the course test the mettle of sports cars professionally tuned to traverse speeds you cannot legally reach on public roads.The North State Journal caught up with Lawson Aschenbach, driver for Stevenson Motorsports based out of Jacksonville, N.C. — who will be taking Stevenson’s Audi R8 LMS car to VIR at the end of the month to compete in the IMSA event — to see how he’s preparing for the upcoming race.Aschenbach, a four-time Pirelli World Challenge champion, says the 3.27-mile track truly challenges every aspect of racing.”VIR, honestly, is one of the most technical tracks on the circuit,” he said. “And I feel like you have certain tracks that are maybe a little bit more car related, you have certain tracks that are a little bit more strategy or team related. But this is one of those tracks that brings in that driver aspect to an extreme. It’s a very difficult track. You’ve got the high-speed esses, you’ve got a lot of elevation changes, you’ve got heavy braking zones, you’ve got fast corners, slow corners. Every single corner on that track is unique. I think that’s what makes it so awesome to go to.”For the folks that enjoy cars but may feel a bit overwhelmed at the thought of going to a race like the GT Challenge, Aschenbach says it’s approachable for just about anyone.”If you’re just kind of the casual enthusiast of racing, going to the race I think you’re going to have a great experience regardless,” he said. “That’s more because of the fact we open everything up to you. It’s not just in your seat and that’s it. You get to walk around, you get to see what we’re doing behind the scenes and in the trailer and the trucks. Watch the cars getting worked on. You can see the pit stops up close and personal.”