RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Chesterfield race track that helped springboard NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin’s career is closing its gates for good.

Southside Speedway, located at the corner of Genito Road and Oak Lake Boulevard in Chesterfield County, posted an open letter on its website Friday announcing the track’s closure.

The letter cites the difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic as the primary reason the 1/3 mile race track will be shutting down.

“When Covid began to affect us here in Central Virginia, we were just days away from beginning our 2020 season,” the letter reads. “With cautious optimism we held off cancelling our season. Ever-hopeful that the numbers would improve, the safety advisories would be favorable and that all would feel safe returning to race in the 61st season of Southside Speedway. That was not to be, and for the first time in over 60 years, there was no racing to be had.”

“After much discussion, work, and prayer, we have decided that Southside Speedway’s time has come to an end. Please know that this was not a quick or an easy decision, and that we grieve along with you. The pandemic proved to be more than we could overcome, and rather than continue to keep you all in limbo, we have made the decision to close our gates.”

Southside Speedway opened in 1959. From 1961-1963, the track hosted four races for NASCAR’s Grand National division that saw hall of fame drivers like Junior Johnson, Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, Wendell Scott, Rex White, Joe Weatherly and Buck Baker all compete.

In the five decades after that, Southside played host to local weekly races that helped drivers like Hamlin, who hails from Chesterfield, get discovered and launch their NASCAR careers.

The track played host to the inaugural Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown in 2008, a charity race that pitted some of the area and state’s best late model drivers against Hamlin and other current Cup Series stars.