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Showdown showcases area

SoVaNow.com / April 28, 2014
South Boston Speedway couldn’t have bought the wave of positive publicity the track received from Thursday’s visit by the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, all for charity.

Among the highlights: Four NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors zipping late model stocks around the four-tenths mile oval. NASCAR television analyst Michael Waltrip leading the cheers in the flagstand. Kyle Busch hustling down from Richmond International Raceway to drive to a top-five finish without first testing his car.

And race fans everywhere — from young kids reaching to get a glimpse of big-name performers to old salts taking it all in.

At the end, NASCAR Sprint Cup standout Denny Hamlin, who brought the Showdown to life, congratulating late model veteran Matt Bowling in Victory Lane for his win in the 200-lap feature event.

SBS and the Hamlin Foundation’s work received repeat mentions Saturday night during Fox Sports’ telecast of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.

And the crowd was among the largest seen at South Boston Speedway in many years.

There was a strong turnout even during qualifying as race fans watched Matt Waltz put his car on the pole. Bowling carried the night by pulling out to victory in the final five laps against a stacked field of late models.

There was drama, especially late. The racers took this stuff seriously. Hamlin, Busch, Matt Kenseth — Joe Gibbs Racing teammates all — David Ragan and Waltrip were all on site at SBS.

The Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown is set to return to SBS in 2015.

Local tourism received a major boost — as, too, did the Denny Hamlin Foundation, which supports Cystic Fibrosis research.

Megan Cole, with Sinclair Broadcasting Company, said, “We are planning on running (the race) Memorial Day weekend on multiple different affiliates."

The telecast will appear in the Richmond and Raleigh markets, different places in Florida, with addition airings on the West Coast. From Bakersfield, Calif., to Schenectady, N.Y.

Three Wide Life, a nationally syndicated motorsports program, will offer updates on when race fans can watch the broadcast.

The exhibition event carried further appeal: it marked an occasion for NASCAR to reconnect with its roots at a tradition-laden NASCAR short track.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Timothy Peters, a former SBS track champion, said, “I think the crowd is awesome. I think it’s great they brought it to the community, Denny and all those people on the Foundation side, Cathy (Rice, SBS general manager) and (SBS Chief Operating officer) Nick (Igdalsky) and everybody involved with the race track. This is the roots of (the sport).”

Hamlin raced regularly at SBS for a while, before catching fire as a Sprint Cup leader. The Chesterfield, driver understands short track racing and its traditional appeal.

“It’s important to have this race here (SBS). It’s been 12 years since I’ve been here, but it’s the same old South Boston. It’s great to have a great short track race for the local guys. This is back on their home soil and gives them a big advantage when it comes to racing here for 200 laps,” he said.

That played out, as late model specialists Waltz (195 laps led) and Bowling (the last five laps) dominated. And the charity outreach was impressive. Toyota corporate officials presented a check for $20,000 to the Hamlin Foundation, and there were other ways that the Foundation benefited to help children.

“Every year our event keeps getting bigger. We’ve had more pre-sale tickets this year, about triple of what we’ve ever had. South Boston has really done great job of hosting the event and it’s a venue we’re looking at staying at least two years and continue to grow (the event).
“Every year we continue to build more and more money for these children’s charities to benefit from (the work),” said Hamlin.

“Cystic Fibrosis, the research lab at VCU, we’ve donated over $150,000. It’s definitely been really good to kind of get this program running and really every year just keep growing it.”

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