RICHMOND, Va. — Three high-performance sports cars parked outside the Governor’s Mansion. It’s not something you see every day at the Capitol.
Governor Ralph Northam hopped into one of the safety vehicles for the VIRginia International Raceway. Turning the key, he smiles. It’s the first time he’s been in the driver’s side of a car for a while. If you didn’t know, governors get driven around while they’re in office.
Northam was picking up some tips from Shea Holbrook, a professional race car driver on the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series. She’s one of a handful of women getting behind the wheel this weekend at the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship at VIRginia International Raceway in Alton.
Governor Northam will be the Grand Marshal of the Michelin GT Challenge. He had a little twinkle in his eye talking about it. The guy likes cars.
“Growing up on Virginia’s eastern shore, I got interested in high school in rebuilding engines and restored some cars. My brother and I had a stock car, a dirt track car for about a year, but we figured out that that wasn’t the way we were going to make out living,” Gov. Northam said.
When he gets a chance, he still works on a few.
“For four years, I can’t drive. I don’t have my garage with me so I don’t do a lot of work on cars, but when I get home I tinker with my ‘71 Corvette and 1953 Oldsmobile. Both of which, I restored,” Northam said.
With an event like the Michelin GT Challenge coming up, Governor Northam hopes others get interested in the sport like he did as a kid.
“It helps get our children interesting in racing, helps get them off the sofa and getting some fresh air,” he added.
Holbrook agrees, saying it could lead them to get interested in an interesting career path.
“Motorsports is such a great potential avenue for so many young people, looking to maybe get into trade type positions with science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” she said.
Gov. Northam says some 40,000 people are expected to be at the racetrack this weekend, which is good for fans and the economy.
They need places to stay, they need places to eat, transportation to get there. So, if you add all of that up it really contributes a lot,” Gov. Northam said.
As for the drivers, Holbrook says the crowds are always fantastic when she comes to the Commonwealth.
“What I love about this state is, it is for lovers,” she said.
Once a nationally ranked competitive water skier, Holbrook switched to racing about 10 years ago. Holbrook had a big sigh of relief when asked if other women would be racing this weekend too, joking about how she was thankful. There will be a handful competing. She calls herself an “advocate” for little girls who look up to her. Holbrook says she’s “just a young woman, trying to give back.”
“For a long time, I was the only female in an entire series,” Holbrook said. “I think there’s lots of positives. There are negatives at times… But the majority of my competitors don’t treat me any differently.”
A lot is on Holbrook’s mind before she puts it into high gear on the track.
“I usually train a little harder those ten days prior to a racing event. It’s going to be a hot one,” Holbrook said. “Virginia International Raceway is a very technical, high speed, flowing racetrack. It demands a lot of respect when you’re driving a car that’s reaching speeds up to 170 miles per hour, that’s definitely something to double check your belts.’
It’s a race Holbrook, and many others around the Capitol, are counting down to.
The Michelin GT Challenge is from Friday to Sunday at the VIRginia International Raceway. The Governor will be serving as the Grand Marshal on Sunday at noon.