South Boston Speedway Receive Top Chamber Honors
South Boston Speedway is the recipient of the 2006 Business of the Year Award and Bill Kelehar, the plant manager of Annin Flag Corporation, is the Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year.
The two awards were the top honors presented Tuesday night at the Chamber's Annual Meeting and Banquet. More than 600 persons attended the sell-out affair.
South Boston Speedway, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, was cited for being one of the biggest, if not the biggest, contributor to tourism in Halifax County.
Speedway officials are credited with helping start the Halifax County Motorsports Academy and being a major partner and contributor to the program.
In addition, the speedway gives scholarship fund money to local students at Halifax County High School.
South Boston Speedway, a longstanding member of the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce, has worked in conjunction with the Virginia Workforce Program.
The speedway also annually hosts several American Heart Association and American Cancer Society fundraising events
South Boston native and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series star Jeff Burton was the featured speaker. His topic was the business side of racing.
Burton, who drives the Cingular Wireless sponsored Chevrolet out of the Richard Childress Racing stable, told the audience there is a strong tie between the economy and the state of the sport of NASCAR racing. "Without a strong economy, without people and corporations willing to spend the money, there is no NASCAR," Burton pointed out.
He used his own situation as an example. "In 2004, I had won 17 Cup races (career) and had been in the top 12 in points for eight years in a row and couldn't get a sponsor. What was happening was that the residual effects of 9-11 had Corporate America's pocketbook shut down. We run on about a three-year cycle because most sponsorship deals are for about three years. So, when the economy is bad in 2001, it doesn't show up at the racetrack until about 2003. When the economy of this country is slow, you can look at it about two years later and see it in the sport."
Today, in contrast, he said, NASCAR racing is in much better shape. "We have 52 teams entered for the Atlanta race this weekend," said the racecar driver. "We're in good shape now, almost too good a shape with 52 teams."
Burton pointed out that one of the challenges facing NASCAR today is the diversity issue. "Unfortunately, today only nine percent of our fans are African-American and only nine percent of our fans are Hispanic," he said.
"That's unacceptable. We've got to find a way to do better than that."
Burton pointed out that NASCAR is working to address the issue of involving more minorities in the sport but that he feels the efforts are being directed the wrong way.
"There's a tremendous effort to try to bring in minority drivers, minority engineers and minority mechanics," said Burton.
"The problem is we're trying to do it at the very top level. What NASCAR needs to do, and what we need to do as a community, is to find a way to do it here, at places like South Boston Speedway. We've got to find a way to do it at the grassroots level", referring to the Halifax County Motorsports Academy that is already garnering some national attention.
The ground breaking grassroots program directed at both diversity and development within the industry. And even offers a Varsity Letter in motorsports for 10 - 12 grade students that participate on the Halifax County High School Race Team.
Burton says he feels fortunate to have the ability to make a living as a professional racecar driver. "I wake up every day and consider myself to be one of the luckiest people in the world," he told the audience. "When I was five-years-old, I knew what I wanted to do. I'm 39 now and I'm doing it. I look at my kids and hope they can do the same thing, not necessarily race, but have a passion for something and be able to do it."
South Boston Speedway kicks off its 50TH Anniversary season on Saturday, March 24 with a special day time start of 2 p.m. for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Spring Fling 150. Early Bird tickets are only $8 and only $10 after that. Kids 9 and under are always free at SoBo. For additional speedway or Motorsports Academy information or tickets please call 877-440-1540.
For more information about South Boston Speedway's 50th anniversary season, phone the speedway at 434-572-4947 or 1-877-440-1540.