Pint-sized power, big fun

Ten-year-old Henrico arena racer Aubrey Hill with his car at the Richmond Coliseum.

While it will not become the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame (which landed in Charlotte N.C.) Henrico County may yet be able to claim a unique racing legacy.

Henrico business owner Ricky Dennis, who grew up near Nuckols Road and attended J.R. Tucker High School, has founded the popular and fast-growing sport of arena racing, in which half-scale stock cars circle a specially built indoor track.

Although he has been around racing all his life (his father was a champion racer), Dennis did not get the idea for arena racing until a few years ago.

“I went to my first ice hockey game at the [Richmond] Coliseum,” he said, “and all I could think of was racing in that venue.” The next weekend, Dennis was at a race and spotted some small cars, and the idea was born.

“So you could call Short Pump,” he mused, “the birthplace of arena racing.”

The cars in arena racing consist of nine-foot-long, cup-style stock car racing bodies and are equipped with 22-horsepower, rear-mounted Honda engines. Outdoors, they are capable of speeds up to 100 miles per hour; inside the arena, they may hit top speeds of 55 or more.

The race series that began Dec. 29 and finishes in March has drawn racers from Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, as well as all parts of Virginia. Dennis has had numerous inquiries about establishing arena racing abroad, and within the next few years, he hopes to take the sport to the international level.

In addition to providing wholesome family entertainment for all ages, said Dennis, the growing youth division also provides a chance for youngsters to take a crack at becoming future NASCAR winners.

A Henrico ten-year-old, in fact, could be one of the rising stars Dennis is talking about.

‘Don’t get ideas’
At the Dec. 28 practice session, the underground tunnels of the Coliseum hummed with activity as Aubrey Hill prepared to get behind the wheel of his car for the first time.

A fifth-grader at Colonial Trail ES, Hill had been working toward this moment since seeing arena races last winter with some neighbors and his mother, Sharon.

“Everyone loves the wrecks,” explained his mother wryly. “It’s exciting. After the first accident of the first race, I said [to Aubrey], ‘Don’t get any ideas!’

“I think that’s when he decided to do it.”

At first, Sharon Hill was adamant that Aubrey would stick to traditional sports, such as the basketball, baseball, soccer and football he has pursued so far. But she gradually came around -- even sponsoring her son’s car through her business, Hill Storage in Mechanicsville.

What changed her mind?

“The statistics on accidents,” she said. “No one [in arena racing] has ever been seriously injured enough to stay in the hospital.” Not too many sports can claim statistics like that, she reasoned.

Noting the five-point harness and steel roll cage that protects drivers, she added, “They have him secured with several seat belts, restraints on his arms, restraints on his head.

“He’s not going anywhere.”

Better than video games
To prepare for driving in an arena, Aubrey made several trips to G-Force Karts in Henrico. “The first time, he was nervous,” said his mother. “He was like Driving Miss Daisy.”

But as Aubrey gained confidence and speed and prepared for his first arena race, the Hills ran into a new obstacle: their lack of knowledge when it came to equipping the car.

On the day of the Dec. 28 practice, Sharon Hill called Carl’s Racing, a store in Ashland, to ask about some components she needed for the vehicle.

Carl Blohm answered the phone, asked a few questions, and promptly closed the store to go to the Coliseum and help prepare the car.

“He’s a godsend,” said Sharon Hill, gesturing toward Blohm and a couple of her neighbors who had installed the mike set in Aubrey’s helmet and were now bustling around his car.

Recalling Hill’s phone call to the store, Blohm shrugged and said there was just no fighting the impulse to help her.

“Her 10-year-old son is coming [to the Coliseum] to do this for the first time. Nobody [of the helpers] has been to a race before,” he said. “And there are a million things you can do wrong.”

Besides, he said with a laugh, the president of Carl’s Racing had told him to close up shop.

“Danny Corker looked at me and said, ‘You gotta go. You can’t just leave him.’”

As a member of the first crew when arena racing made its debut at Norfolk Scope, Blohm said he is delighted to see the addition of a youth division.

“What we’re doing is putting families back in racing,” he said approvingly. With a nod toward Aubrey, he added, “This is better for him than playing a video game. He’ll have to learn to work on the car; it’s all about responsibility and commitment.”

“Somewhere in this group,” he predicted, “is a future star.”

Two-wheeled birthday present
Also participating in the Dec. 28 practice was Dystany Spurlock, a 2009 graduate of Highland Springs High School who recently discovered arena racing.

Spurlock, now 20, played corner and safety for the HSHS football team, then moved on to a career in modeling and motorcycle drag racing. In a trackside interview, she said that the seeds of her racing career were planted when she was age six.

“I would ride on the back of a motorcycle with my mom,” she said, “so I had always been around [motorcycles]. Then my goddad raced, and I wanted to race too.

“Mom got me a motorcycle for my 17th birthday.”

In just two years of racing, she has already achieved fame in motorcycle circles and is featured regularly in magazine articles. The arena racing caught her eye, she said, when she and her agent strolled by the display window in West Broad Village and her agent suggested she look into it.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s different. The speed is out of this world. Also, it’s very competitive, and I’m competitive. We’re in a small coliseum with a lot of cars packed together, and [I’m thinking], ‘How am I going to pass?’

“It’s a challenge, and that’s what I like.”

Currently in search of a sponsor, Spurlock said she plans to race in the NASCAR ARCA Series in 2013.

“And I should,” she said confidently, “be in the Nationwide Series by 2014.”

Looking ahead
And what’s in the future for Aubrey Hill?

Like Spurlock, he has his eye on NASCAR.

“I’m really into it,” said Hill, who notes that his favorite NASCAR racer is Carl Edwards -- in part, he said, because he favors the number nine and Edwards’ number is 99.

He has attended several races at Richmond International Raceway with his uncle and cousin, and notes that NASCAR driver ranks among his top two choices of professions.

But another career choice has appeal as well: focusing on his favorite subject of social studies. Aubrey said he has especially enjoyed learning Henrico history, and was impressed to learn that the Richmond region was one of the first areas to be settled in the new world.

“So I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it,” he said, “but I’d also like to be a social studies teacher.”

For the immediate future, however, Sharon Hill noted she and Aubrey will need to focus their efforts in an altogether different “arena”: finances.

“We are looking for sponsors,” she said with a laugh. “Mom’s money has run out!”

For details about upcoming races, visit arenaracingusa.com. For information on Dystany Spurlock, visit http://dspurlockracing.com/site#!__site.
Bail Bonds Chesterfield VA

RVA Polar Plunge raises $40k for Special Olympics


More than 300 participants took the plunge for charity Feb. 25 at The Shops at Willow Lawn, raising $40,000 for the Special Olympics of Virginia as part of the 2017 RVA Polar Plunge Fest. Participants jumped into frigid water as part of the event, having raised money through donations leading up to the event.

“At Special Olympics Virginia, our vision is to inspire the first unified generation; a generation of people who respectfully include each other in the school, in the workplace, in the community,” said Rick Jeffrey, Special Olympics Virginia President. “Plunging this past Saturday included people with intellectual disabilities and those without; people of all ages, genders, races and religions; students and teachers; doctors and lawyers; military and law enforcement; one for all; all for one." > Read more.

Fundraiser bags more than $50k


CancerLINC's 11th annual "It’s in the Bag" event raised more than $50,000. The event, presented by Virginia Cancer Institute, was held at The Westin Richmond in Henrico Feb. 2 and was attended by more than 200 people.

“It's in the Bag” included handbag designer Thaddeus DuBois and his family from Syracuse, Ind. DuBois brought four handcrafted handbags, which were auctioned off and raised more than $4,000. Three autographed handbags from “Sex and the City” star Sarah Jessica Parker also brought funds. > Read more.

A date with states


Above, Varina’s Andre Watkins drives to the basket during the Blue Devils’ 52-51 win against Hampton in the Group 5A third-place game at Hermitage High School Feb. 25. Below, Tyrese Jenkins drives to the basket during the game. The Blue Devils (21-6 on the season), who earlier last month defeated Hermitage, 53-34, to earn a spot in the 5A state tournament, next will face Albemarle in that tournament. It is the program’s first trip to the state tournament since 2001 and first under fourth-year coach Andrew Lacey, who has turned around a team that was 6-14 during his first season. > Read more.

Future public servants observe lawmaking firsthand


For the past two months, they showed up every day at the state Capitol, dressed in matching blazers and carrying pen and paper at the ready – the next generation of public servants carefully observing their superiors.

These young adults are known as pages. They are middle school and high school students from around Virginia who assist in everyday tasks at the General Assembly to experience firsthand how the legislative process works.

The program dates as far back as 1850, when the one page who worked was paid $2 a day. > Read more.

CRLC seeks donations for Malvern Hill Farm


The Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) is seeking to raise $100,000 in 30 days to cover due diligence and closing costs associated with the historic Malvern Hill Farm. These include boundary survey, Phase I ESA, title search and insurance, recording fees, taxes, and legal work as well as a Section 106 review.

CRLC is scheduled to close on the purchase of the property May 31, and is asking community members to help support the site's acquisition. All donations will help CRLC leverage $1 million in matching funds. > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Given the warm weather lately, Saturday’s RVA Polar Plunge Winter Fest, benefiting Special Olympics Virginia, might actually be enjoyable! Other weekend events you’re sure to enjoy include the 14th annual Richmond Kids Expo at the Richmond Raceway Complex, the Richmond Symphony and The Taters in concert at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, and the Richmond Ballet Minds in Motion Team XXL performing at the Henrico Theatre. This is also the last weekend to check out HATTheatre’s production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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HATTheatre, 1124 Westbriar Dr., will present “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” Feb. 10-25. “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” recounts the inspiring, and often humorous, true story of Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith, two men whose friendship ultimately led to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. Together with their wives, Lois Wilson and Anne Smith, who went on to develop Al-Anon, their discoveries have touched and saved countless lives since the program’s inception. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, $15 for students and military, and $10 with RVATA Card. For a performance schedule and tickets, call 343-6364 or visit http://www.hattheatre.org. Full text

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