Speedway loses to housing development

November 20, 2012

A more than 60-year-old racetrack in Prince William County has likely seen its final races, as the Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved an upscale housing development in its place.

Events and noise at Old Dominion Speedway increased in recent years, and so have complaints from neighbors. Many who moved into nearby subdivisions did not know or fully understand the impact the storied raceway would have on their property values or quality of life.

One resident who attended Tuesday’s meeting supported the track, saying that the county should support business over more housing in the community, which is just outside Manassas, off Dumfries Road. But most of those at the meeting wholeheartedly supported the plan to build about 300 townhouses.

Nancy Vernon, 60, said she spends hours commuting into the District during the week and by Friday wants to relax. She said the noise coming from the track makes it difficult.

“I’d like to sit on my deck, have a glass of wine and enjoy,” she said. With the noise that some described as like the ceaseless yapping of dogs, that is virtually impossible, she said.

The ⅜-mile track was built as a dirt track in 1947, and was bought by Albert Gore in 1951. Two years later, Gore — who was not the father of former vice president Al Gore — built what is said to be the first drag strip on the East Coast. It was a staple of the burgeoning race-car circuit in the early days of NASCAR, playing host to names such as Petty and Earnhardt.

While its national prestige declined when NASCAR moved to other tracks, the speedway remained a place where hobbyists could race on the oval or the drag strip. A tight-knit community formed, and some lament the loss of a place steeped in nostalgia.

“Everybody’s used to this place,” said Sabrina Dowell, a driver who took part in what might have been the last event at the racetrack in late October. “They’ll lose a lot of people.”

Owner Steve Britt, the former owner of a construction company and a resident of McLean, has owned the track since 2003. He plans to build a new racetrack in the Spotsylvania County town of Thornburg, about 50 miles south of Manassas. The plans need to be approved by Spotsylvania’s Board of Supervisors.

Britt, 53, has said it’s possible, but not likely, that some events will still be held at the speedway in 2013.

Many will certainly miss the track. Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said he likes to bring his two sons to the races at least once a year.

Until recent decades, the track was essentially in the middle of nowhere. Now, a growing community has cropped up around it.

“A lot has changed in Prince William County since 1948,” Stewart said. The speedway “is clearly an anachronism.”

Britt, who has worked for years to present a development plan that the county found palatable, has said he enjoyed running the track and doesn’t relish being the one to end the races there.

But, he said, nearly all agree that it’s time for racers to find a new home.

“It’s a great old place,” he said Tuesday. “But I think its time has come.”

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