Arena racing gaining traction in Central Virginia

Arena Racing started in Richmond three or four years ago and has grown into a series held at the Richmond Coliseum. The 2013-14 season runs from November 9 - April 11 and has seen a steady increase in popularity since its introduction to the Richmond area.

“It’s like flying a jet in a fishbowl,” said Lin O’Neill, a series driver from Chester.

The jet is similar to a late model stock car, and the fishbowl is a hockey-rink-size track. The cars reach speeds around 55 miles per hour and each lap of the race takes about eight seconds.

“A lot can happen in eight seconds,” explained O’Neill. “I had to learn how to breath differently to avoid holding my breath too long during a race.”

Typically an arena race is action packed, and there are usually several collisions, and drivers are making contact with each other – bumping, rubbing and sometimes spinning out. These collisions commonly have cars flip over on the track.

“They usually just flip the car back over and nine out of ten times we finish the race,” O’Neill explained.

The organization was founded by Richmond’s native Ricky Dennis, who built stock car chassis. Dennis is the son of 1970 NASCAR Rookie of the Year, Bill Dennis. Joe Gibbs, a former head coach of the Washington Redskins, and Joe Gibbs, racing owner is a partner in the Arena Racing family.

In a different format from NASCAR, Arena Racing includes several short races. Arena Racing pushes providing a fan friendly, family oriented atmosphere. Before every race at 6 p.m., there’s a meet and greet session with the drivers where they sign autographs, take photos and you can get an up close look at both the cars and the track. There are also the typical promotional giveaways that many sporting events have.

There are several drivers in addition to O’Neill from the Chesterfield area including John Nickens and Michael Newell. The level of racing is somewhere between the kart racing and nascar, and could be used as a progression or stepping stone between the two. In fact, Manchester High alum Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch are just a few notable NASCAR drivers who raced arena cars.

The crowds are similar to those that attend Southside Speedway, and O’Neill stated that Arena Racing may have even more to offer than short tracks.

Arena Racing is an affordable family option – with tickets priced at $14 for adults, $11 for military members, $10 for seniors and $7 for kids 15 and under.

The season opens this Friday, and it’s Veteran Appreciation Night at the Richmond Coliseum. Meet and greet at 6 p.m., race starts at 7 p.m. For more information and the schedule, visit www.arenaracing.com or follow on twitter @ArenaRacing.

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