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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Richmond International Raceway opened in 1946, and currently has a capacity of 60,000 (or more if you include the infield and non-grandstand seating). The three-quarter mile long track is roughly D-shaped, and currently hosts two pairs of NASCAR races - one pair in the fall and the other pair in the spring. The spring pair, usually held at the end of April, consists of a 250-lap Xfinity race followed the next day by a 400-lap Sprint Cup race, both of which are currently sponsored by Toyota. The fall pair also includes a 250-lap Xfinity race (currently sponsored by the Virginia 529 College Savings Plan) and a 400-lap Sprint Cup race (currently sponsored by Federated Auto Parts), but the fall pair is much more well-known because that Sprint Cup race is the final chance for drivers to make the chase in terms of point standings and wins.
Besides NASCAR, Richmond International Raceway also hosts multiple shows, expos, and festivals each year. The track is located just outside of Richmond, VA in Henrico County.
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Richmond International Raceway offers a wide selection in terms of food and beverages, and the prices are in line with other venues.
Food options at the main stands (underneath the seats) include burgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs, salads, nachos, fries, peanuts, and candy, as well as PB&J combos and turkey wrap combos for the kids. There are also satellite stands from vendors such as Papa John's (pizza or chicken poppers) and Zeny's (Philly cheese steak, polish sausage, Italian sausage, chicken tenders, or foot-long corn dogs). Prices for food items start at $4 for smaller, individual selections, and go up to $10 or $11 for combos (kids' combos are $5).
Drink options include bottled water, Coke products in bottles, and lemonade, plus beer, wine, and cocktails. Soda and water cost $4, with lemonade a little more; alcohol starts at $7.
Unlike some tracks, Richmond International Raceway has an almost continuous bank of seats all around the venue, with almost no gaps, and the stands are not very tall so even the highest row has a great view of the cars. The best place to sit is either in the Sprint section or the Commonwealth section, on the front side, because that will give you the best view of the pits and the pre and post-race action. All of the seats are metal benches with chair back rails, and the amount of legroom feels okay.
Like other tracks, you can rent scanners and headsets to better follow the action, and it is always fun to watch cars zoom around at upwards of 200 miles per hour - you may want to bring your earplugs though. One of the great things about seeing a race in Richmond, though, is that the track is relatively short at only three-quarters of a mile, which means more turns and possibly more rubbing and crashes, if that is of interest to you. More importantly, however, it means that the cars will go by you more often, so more of the action will be in front of you, instead of hidden on the other side.
Besides the racing, the staff at Richmond International Raceway does a great job with pre-game festivities, including things like paratroopers landing on the track, or flyovers by planes trailing smoke. Bonuses like this add to the fun, and make the experience all the more worthwhile.
Richmond International Raceway is located several miles northeast of city center, so there isn't much in the immediate vicinity except the track itself - which makes sense as you need a pretty sizeable chunk of land to accommodate a NASCAR facility and all its various accouterments. As such, dining options near the raceway are limited to fast food, so you may need to head back to town (about 5 miles from the track), which is also where the hotels are. The track does offer the Richard Petty Driving Experience, however.
There is a great restaurant close to downtown called The Black Sheep, which offers "new" southern cuisine and Cajun dishes. The Black Sheep is most well-known for its dishes named after battleships, such as the USS Congress (pork shoulder in tomatillo barbecue sauce) or the CSS Manassas (fried rainbow trout), so would be a fun place to visit with its tie-ins to regional history.
If you have time before the race, or are coming in for the weekend, one of the top attractions in Richmond is Monument Avenue, which is free to drive down. The avenue consists of a tree-lined grassy mall with monuments commemorating famous Virginians, including confederate participants of the Civil War like Robert E. Lee, plus newer celebs like tennis star Arthur Ashe. Monument Avenue is also replete with architecturally significant homes and churches.
For major races, such as the NASCAR series, fans flock to Richmond, and the track at one point had a record for consecutive sell outs. But for minor races, such as the Xfinity series, the place will look almost deserted. In fact, some of the sections will even be closed, except for disabled access in the front row (check out the video below for a view of the stands):
When they do show up, however, fans are loud and enthusiastic, especially during the fall events as the race to the chase draws near. You will see lots of fans in driver gear, and many wearing headsets, to cheer on their favorite driver or team.
Getting to the Richmond area is fairly easy, with several major thruways intersecting here (I-95, I-295, and I-64). The track itself is a little off the beaten path, but not too hard to find. Parking may be a little bit of a challenge, however - there is plenty of on-the-grass parking at the raceway, but most of it is on the northeast and southeast sides, and may be a long walk from the track. The northwest quarter is residential, and is mostly trees, while the southwest quadrant is mostly reserved for official use.
Parking will cost anywhere from $10 to $30 depending on how far you want to walk, and there are reserved spots for trailers and RVs which will cost a little more. There are gates all around the raceway, however, so you can get in on any side, but be mindful of what section your seats are in if you want to try and park a little closer. Also, remember what lot you parked in, as they all look the same at night.
Once you get inside the track, the concourses are very wide, and bathrooms and concessions are easy to find, especially during Xfinity nights when no one is around. The bathrooms have plenty of stalls to accommodate even the largest crowds, and there are plenty of concessions stands, so even at a big race the lines won't be too long. There are also plenty of ramps into the stands if you need them.
Tickets start at $35 for Xfinity races, and reserved seats cost $45, but you can get them for $10 or $20 from scalpers on the way in. For Sprint Cup races, you can also get them starting at $35, but only if you buy in advance (at the door they will cost more). The Xfinity tickets are way over-priced, judging by the minuscule number of fans in attendance - NASCAR really should charge a lot less for those races to help fill the stands, and try to cover their high fixed costs. Sprint Cup tickets are probably fairly priced though.
Parking and concessions are reasonable compared to other tracks, and Richmond International Raceway is a lot nicer facility than some, so from a cost perspective attending a race here is probably worth it. If you just want to see the track, I would recommend an Xfinity race, which will cost a lot less and have a much smaller crowd to contend with. But if you are a true NASCAR fan, or are just looking for a lot of energy and excitement, stick with the Sprint Cup series. Be aware that the crowds will be a lot bigger on those nights, so plan extra time for travel and parking.
Even at an Xfinity race the staff has amazing pre-game festivities like the paratroopers and flyovers, both of which are definitely worth seeing. Also the Richard Petty Driving Experience here at Richmond International Raceway gives fans a chance to ride-along on the track, which is a great option for serious race fans.
Richmond International Raceway is probably one of the lesser known tracks in NASCAR, lacking the panache of Indianapolis or Charlotte with their longer and much more well-known races. Still, Richmond is a decent track, and provides a good experience, especially the fall Sprint Cup race. In addition, there is some history in the area you can take in while you're here, and the weather should be a lot cooler here than at those raceways down south.
Member Review by Norm
Richmond International Raceway (RIR) is the centerpiece of a 1,000 acre multi-use complex known as the Richmond Raceway Complex, formerly Strawberry Hill. RIR purchased the property in its entirety from the Virginia State Fair in 1999. The complex is home to a varied assortment of exposition halls and other buildings, including an amphitheater just behind the start/finish line. The complex continues to host numerous fairs and festivals, including the Virginia State Fair, country music festivals, and food fairs.
The raceway itself is a 3/4 mile, D-shaped oval, which seats just over 94,000 spectators, and hosted its first races in October of 1946. The first NASCAR Grand National Series race at the now RIR occurred on April 19, 1953 with Lee Petty emerging victorious with an average speed of just over 45mph. Lee's son, Richard, the King, would wind up with 13 victories at RIR during his driving career, by far the most wins at the track by a single driver. Two other retired drivers, Darrell Waltrip & Rusty Wallace, both now broadcasters, are tied for second on the all-time list with six victories a piece.
The track, for most of its early life, was a half-mile oval, before being enlarged to its present 3/4 mile configuration in 1988. Perhaps the magic moment for this track occurred when lights were installed in time for the Fall NASCAR race in 1991. The lights helped lend even more of a Saturday night short track feel to the place. It was this short track vibe which led to RIR using the motto "America's Premier Short Track" and when combined with the exciting, tight-quarters, racing often found here would eventually lead to a string of 33 consecutives Sprint Cup Series sellouts.
The track, which now uses the motto, "Racing Perfection", would see its sellout streak come to an end with the fall race of 2008, partly attributable to the floundering economy, but also due to the effects of Tropical Storm Hanna which moved through the Richmond area. Nonetheless, attendance remains high and the percentage of seats filled continues to be among the upper echelon of the Sprint Cup Series schedule.
1800 Monument Avenue
Richmond, VA 23220
600 E Laburnum Ave
Richmond, VA 23222
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