Track changes leadership as it races forward

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli

Connie Nyholm, who earlier this year became majority owner and CEO of Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in Alton, may not be a lifelong racing fan, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. “I am passionate about VIR 24 hours a day,” she says, pointing to her VIR earrings and shirt.

Nyholm got into racing 15 years ago when she looked at reopening VIR in Halifax County near Danville with business partner Harvey Siegel. VIR first opened in 1957 but closed in 1974 because of economic hardships.

Nyholm and Harvey reopened the track in 2000, and since then it has gone from renting the track 150 times a year to 400. In addition to a racetrack, the 1,300-acre resort includes two hotels, a restaurant and residential villas.

Nyholm became majority owner and CEO of VIR in January when Siegel retired from the role. She was previously a minority owner of the company. “It’s just a great culture, and I couldn’t be happier being at the top,” says Nyholm, who was formerly managing partner. Kathy Stout has joined VIR as partner. Stout and her husband own Pittsburgh International Race Complex outside of Pittsburgh, which has a road course and karting facility.

VIR maintained steady growth throughout the Great Recession. “We’re seeing a large uptick this year as things turn around,” Nyholm says, adding that she believes VIR will be a bigger draw for Southern Virginia going forward since it has established a reputation during the past 13 years.

This year saw a number of new developments for VIR. August brought the K&N Pro Series East, the raceway’s first NASCAR event. The series features NASCAR’s rising stars. “We would like to continue to grow our relationship with NASCAR and ultimately have a truck and/or Nationwide race here,” Nyholm says.

Virginia Tech’s National Tire Research Center and the Southern Virginia Vehicle Motion Labs also opened at VIR’s industrial park in January. The National Tire Research Center houses an $11.3 million “Flat-Trac LTRe” machine that measures tire performance. It provides data on handling, ride, torque and braking capabilities on various surfaces, including wet road conditions.  Southern Virginia Vehicle Motion offers equipment and expertise for shock and suspension testing, driver performance, virtual prototyping of vehicle components, and a range of on-vehicle sensing such as wheel force transducers.

VIR is also working with the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C., and the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, Pa., to conduct leadership training at the resort. In the blind autocross challenge, for example, participants must rely on their teammates’ directions as they blindly race through the VIR course. “It’s a new, exciting thing for us that put more business into our area on weekdays,” Nyholm says.

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