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Speakers step up for Motorsports program / December 20, 2012
Supporters of the Halifax County Public Schools Motorsports program turned out in full force Wednesday night to urge Halifax County School Board trustees to maintain funding for the popular program.

“You have the interest of the students, the support of the community and businesses and a lab at the South Boston Speedway where students can carry on their work,” said Joe Chandler of the program’s attributes.

Chandler, who covers sports for the Gazette-Virginian, told trustees he has been involved with the local racing scene for close to 40 years and sees many opportunities opening up for those interested in racing.

Doug Newcomb, motorsports instructor at the high school, led off with an appeal for continued support of the program, explaining that it is more than simply focused on racing.

He stressed the teamwork approach as well as basic skills in welding, machining and regular track operations that the program brings to students.

“Our guys allow us to teach components in all these things,” he said, adding that some students work at local businesses such as R. O. Harrell Trucking Company.

He also said the Motorsports program leverages opportunities available locally not only at South Boston Speedway, but also at Virginia International Raceway. Those opportunities, he said, “are a catalyst for us to teach our students the skills they need, whether in welding, machining or autobody work.

He said students, while they may compete in motorsports activities, also work together in a team-oriented, family-like environment. One time in class, Newcomb said, he used a graph to demonstrate a racing operation and one student asked him how he knew how to do that. “I told him I remembered that from my trigonometry high school class. These kids are using trig and algebra without ever realizing it.”

Cathy Rice, general manager of South Boston Speedway, told trustees the speedway is a big supporter of the Motorsports program. The owners of the speedway, the Mattoli family, have invested $800,000 to $900,000 to support activities from go-karting to stock car racing. Pointing to members of the Burton and Sadler families who got their start at South Boston Speedway, Rice said, “We want to see this program stay alive.”

Brian Seate, who leads the Motorsports program at Halifax County Middle School, said “it’s amazing what we can offer these kids.” He said the go-karts used at the school (provided by South Boston Speedway) cost as much as $15,000 each. “I know that racing made me a good reader because I was always reading about drag racing and hot rod books. That was what I was interested in.”

Seate added the middle school program is still in its infancy and he sees many opportunities ahead for it.

Also addressing the School Board was businessman Garland Ricketts who sometimes races at the local track. “There’s a lot of support in this community for this program,” Ricketts said.

The public hearing yesterday on the pending 2013-14 school budget was divided into two sessions: at noontime and later in the day. No one showed up to comment at noon.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Merle Herndon announced the two sessions last week, saying she wanted to hear from the public what its priorities are for the schools in the coming year.

Noting that increased funding may be necessary to support school operations, Herndon said she will be meeting with Halifax County Administrator Jim Halasz and Finance Director Stephanie Jackson in early January to discuss next year’s budget.

Only four trustees were present for the noon session, with Vice Chair Kim Farson leading the meeting. Also present were trustees Fay Satterfield, Dick Stoneman and Roger Long. For the second afternoon hearing, trustee Phyllis Smith joined the four members who had earlier participated.

Long pointed out that Halifax County schools have lost $9.1 million over the past three years and those cuts have led the school system to eliminate 96 positions during that period.

Farson advised speakers that trustees have not met or even considered the upcoming budget, but it will be the topic of a work session on Monday, Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. in the School Board Conference Room.

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