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

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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.

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).