Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Showdown set for April 24; new home is South Boston (Va.) Speedway

1 Comment

One of the best venues for short track racing in the country, South Boston (Va.) Speedway, will be the new home for and play host to Denny Hamlin’s annual Short Track Showdown next Thursday (April 24).

The annual celebrity Late Model race will raise funds for the Denny Hamlin Cystic Fibrosis Research Lab at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University.

South Boston Speedway was where Hamlin began his racing career and eventually led to the Virginia native’s ascension to the Sprint Cup Series. The race will be held two days before the Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.

“Moving the race to South Boston Speedway makes it a new challenge for the drivers and brings back a bit of NASCAR nostalgia for the fans and media,” Hamlin said.

It’s been 11 years since Hamlin has raced at the venerable asphalt-paved short track.

“Based on the interest and feedback I’ve heard, I expect the all-star line-up to be better than any we’ve had in our six-year history of the event,” Hamlin said.

Among drivers already committed to take part in the event are Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler.

The younger Busch brother is the defending champion from last year’s Showdown and has the event’s only multiple winner, having won it three times in its seven-year existence.

Others that have committed to appear include David Ragan, former NASCAR driver turned broadcaster Hermie Sadler and trucks series driver drivers Timothy Peters and Jeb Burton (son of former NASCAR driver Ward Burton and nephew of NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton).

More drivers will be announced in the coming days leading up to the event.

The Short Track Showdown began in 2008 at Southside Speedway near Hamlin’s hometown of Chesterfield, Va., outside of Richmond, before moving to Richmond International Raceway in 2011 to pair up with the NASCAR K&N Series. For its seventh year in 2014, the race moves to South Boston, which is about 120 miles southwest of Richmond, and 65 miles east of Martinsville Speedway, another Hamlin favorite.

“We at South Boston Speedway are honored to be the 2014 host of the Denny Hamlin charity race,” track general manager Cathy Rice said in a statement. “Fans of South Boston Speedway were witness to Denny’s talent when he would dominate late model stock races over ten years ago.

“Over the past few years we have also been witness to Denny’s talent as a philanthropist by creating this terrific event to benefit children with Cystic Fibrosis. We are truly honored to be able to support the Denny Hamlin Foundation and the great work they do.”

Hamlin in 2012 committed to raising $150,000 for the Fibrosis Research Lab at VCU and next Thursday’s event will go a long way towards further reaching that fundraising goal.

Tickets are very affordable. General admission is $20 for adults and $25 on race day, as well as $10 for ages 12-17 and $15 on race day.

For more information, visit dennyhamlinfoundation.org.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.