Chesterfield County planning to purchase Southside Speedway as racing community mourns closure

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Chesterfield County is planning an approximately $5 million purchase of the parcel of land where the now-shuttered Southside Speedway sits along Genito Road.

The move is listed as an action item on the agenda for Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to enable the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to purchase the short track property and accompanying vacant land across Genito Road. The item requests that $5 million be transferred to the EDA.

Board of Supervisors Vice Chair and Clover Hill District Representative Chris Winslow said that the price of the land is approximately $4.5 million.

“They’ve had to build in some costs associated with, probably, some of the rezonings and other things that will take place through here, depending on what happens, and all of that’s still up for discussion,” he told 8News. “Nothing has been finalized. This will end up as a Board topic, probably a couple of times, and I know it’ll be a topic for [the] Planning [Commission], Parks & Recreation, and Economic Development, as well.”

On Dec. 11, 2020, a letter was posted to the Southside Speedway Facebook page, detailing the closure of the track after the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The speedway is owned by Sue Clements, whose family has run the track since the 1950s.

A letter was posted to Southside Speedway’s Facebook page at the end of 2020, detailing the closure of the track. (Photo: Southside Speedway)

Winslow said that he was originally approached about the development of five-story condominiums on the property, which would have reportedly cost closer to $6.5 million.

“We have kind of an area of transition. If you look around, there’s a lot of different uses,” he said. “The thought of putting in five-story condos on this property really just didn’t appeal to me, and at that point, I sort of asked staff to take a look at the property as, potentially, a place where we could expand what we’re already doing at River City Sportsplex.”

The 115-acre sports complex is just down the road from Southside Speedway. Nearby is also Clover Hill High School and the planned lakefront surf park development, known as The Lake, which is on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, as well.

“We have a couple more fields yet to build in the back of River City. But there could be fields here,” Winslow said. “I think you could envision a walkable community where there’s a couple of restaurants, where there’s more fields, maybe some parking — uses that would co-mingle well with what we currently have going.”

The plans for the property have not yet been finalized. But Winslow said that the goal is to make it a place that draws people in and serves the community year-round.

“We have over a half million people a year visit River City Sportsplex, and it’s all on the weekends,” Winslow said. “They come and they may eat at some restaurants in Chesterfield, they may stay at a hotel here. But we kind of lose out on a lot of that revenue to Henrico and to Richmond, and so I think the desire is to sort of capture more of that while they’re here, and, hopefully, in the process, enhance this area for citizens because these fields are used by citizens Monday through Friday every week.”

Moving forward, Winslow said that the Board of Supervisors wants to be respectful of the significance of Southside Speedway in the community, and will be taking the time to collect feedback from residents.

“We’ll probably be in study for a while, three to six months, and then refining ideas down to a plan on paper about where we want to go,” Winslow said. “We want to be open and inclusive, and involved the community about any of those plans. So that takes time, and that’s okay.”

But ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, some local residents have already expressed their frustration with the purchase.

“I think bulldozing this racetrack would do a disservice to the county, it would do a disservice to Virginia, it would do a disservice to all of the east coast because this track is very rich in its history,” Chesterfield County resident Jennifer Allen said. “There are historical things that have happened here, long before my time that, you bulldoze the track, it’s as if it never existed.”

As Winslow noted, plans for the property are not set in stone. That’s why Allen is hopeful that community members will be able to make their voices heard to preserve what stands currently.

“It doesn’t have to be just a racetrack,” she said. “You can do so many things with this property and still have a racetrack here, still have the racetrack here. It is the racetrack.”

Allen said that she started coming to Southside Speedway in 1999 with her husband’s family and quickly fell in love with the atmosphere.

“I do remember, as a fan in the stands, it was the excitement and the adrenaline and the cars and the horsepower and the competition and things like that that drew me in. Later, it became about the families,” Allen said. “It’s not like any other track.”

(Photo: Jennifer Allen)

Over the years, Allen said that she and her husband became more involved with Southside Speedway. They raced cars there, and Allen even became a trackside photographer.

When she learned in December of 2020 that the track would be closing, she said that she was heartbroken.

“It was kind of like mourning a loved one,” Allen said. “You didn’t know the last race that was here was going to be the last race that was here.”

Even Winslow spoke fondly of his visits to the racetrack, citing the special place it held in the community.

“It’s a loyal crowd,” he said. “I think this place has just provided entertainment and a hobby for so many people for so many years.”

Allen said that she wants that tradition to continue for generations to come.

“I wouldn’t have an issue with the county purchasing the property. I think it would be great if they would invest a little in it, update it,” she said. “Update the facility and then have other events here. You could have concerts. That appeals to the masses.”

Allen said that, as a taxpayer, she wants to have a say in what happens to her tax dollars. With the goal of building up the area for the local community, while also drawing in visitors, she said that maintaining the track could accomplish both.

“I definitely think they should at least give it a shot,” Allen said. “Once you bulldoze it, there’s no going back from that and I would hate for them to do that and then later wish they hadn’t. So I would want them to at least listen to what people have to say. I mean, it is our tax dollars, as well.”

Winslow said that funding for purchases such as this comes from allocations made by the Board of Supervisors each year if the county collectively deems a project worthy of expansion and investment.

“This is a revitalization tool,” he said. “This is a cherished place for so many. But it’s also an opportunity, in the same breath, to do something special here, and to kind of pick up this area.”

Allen said she hopes that the Southside Speedway community will be able to make their voices heard in terms of what should be done with the property once it changes hands.

“If you don’t speak up, you’re doing yourself a disservice, and I think, you know, worst they can do is not what you want,” Allen said. “But if you never spoke up, then what? You don’t know.”

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