End of an era

It’s been more than 50 years since Al Gore purchased a small dirt race track outside Manassas and began to make improvements. The track, which would become Old Dominion Speedway, was enlarged and paved and quickly became a stopping point for a who’s who in stock car racing.

The speedway which is not only a local attraction but a southern, if not national, institution is about to be sold, ending an era of racing promotions by Al Gore and his sons and grandsons.

The Gore family recently reached an agreement to sell Northern Virginia’s only home of stock car racing to construction executive Steven E. Britt and Oakton real estate developer Charles W. Graybeal.

The sale of a track these days always makes race fans nervous considering the high value of real estate. The new owners, however, say they plan to build on the Gore family legacy and maintain Friday night racing at ODS.

When established by Al Gore in 1952, stock car racing the NASCAR circuit in particular was about to explode onto tracks all over the south and eventually nationwide. While the big names of stock car racing competed for the points championship at tracks like Daytona and Darlington, they also made stops at South Boston, North Wilkesboro, Nashville, and of course, Old Dominion Speedway. Up until 1967, ODS was a regular stop on NASCAR’s top circuit bringing in championship contenders like David Pearson, Joe Weatherly, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty, who collected two of his record 200 victories on the local 3/8 mile oval.

Even after the Grand National (now known as Winston Cup) division stopped racing at ODS, the speedway became a proving ground for emerging stars such as Michael Waltrip, Morgan Shepherd, Neil Bonnet, Curtis Markham and Elliot Sadler.

There are many big time names in racing today who can trace their lineage to the great oval spectacle made famous by the Gore family. The names and numbers on the cars change over time, but that same competitive spirit is still on display each spring and summer. The thunder of the cars speeding into the turns at ODS are always following in the tire tracks of their ancestors with names like Petty, Waltrip and Pearson.

This was all made possible by the Gore family with their enthusiasm and racing foresight. And it certainly shows that the track’s new owners have some big shoes to fill.

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