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Virginia’s first lady honors VIR partner

When it comes to women in business, VIRginia International Raceway Managing Partner Connie Nyholm has a prowess second to none.

Nyholm, and partner Harvey Siegel, took a famous dormant racetrack and resurrected it into a nationally known major-league road racing circuit and tourist attraction. They also developed an industrial park that has attracted businesses and research and development facilities, and is still growing.

Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell, wife of Governor Bob McDonnell, visited VIR Monday, taking some laps around VIR’s Patriot Course in a VW Jetta TDI Cup car built at a Volkswagen facility at VIR and driven by Nyholm. She also took a few laps of the track behind the wheel with Nyholm as her passenger.

Following the on-track experience, the First Lady honored Nyholm in a brief ceremony on the front porch of VIR’s Oak Tree Tavern.

“That was too fun,” McDonnell said of her excursion around the VIR road course.

“That was a treat. After that first round, I thought I was at King’s Dominion trying to stay on the ride.”

The First Lady honored Nyholm as part of her FLITE (First Lady’s Initiatives Team Effort) Program, a program designed to recognize programs, activities, organizations and individuals that celebrate a “Commonwealth of Opportunity,” a theme of the McDonnell administration.

“What I want to do is take my platform and turn it around and bring it back to the wonderful people in Virginia that are doing so many great things,” the First Lady noted.

Nyholm said she was honored by the recognition from McDonnell.

“Every time we can expose everything we do, from the industrial parks to the race events, to the general facility development and resort and spa, to new people and influential people who understand the focus on regionalism, travel, tourism and film, it is good for everyone,” Nyholm said.

“If she can help us sing the song, it’s good for everyone in Southside. I’m very proud of everything VIR has done and what all of our staff brings to our accomplishments.”

VIR is a major player in terms of economic development for Southside Virginia, and to the Halifax County-Pittsylvania area in particular. An economic impact study done by Chmura Economics and Analytics revealed that VIR has an annual economic impact of more than $77 million a year.

The success that VIR has come to enjoy has resulted from a lot of work on Nyholm’s part. Nyholm has never shied away from hard work.

“I’ve always lived in a man’s world as a businesswoman,” she pointed out.

“My business prior to this was shopping center development. There are not many women in commercial real estate.

I personally have never felt a glass ceiling.

“Maybe it’s because I walk around with a  hammer,” she added with a smile.

Delegate James Edmunds, a former member of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, said Nyholm is deserving of the First Lady’s recognition.

“Connie has done so much with economic development, and all of the industry that she has helped create has been a great bolster to our economy here in Halifax County,” Edmunds pointed out.

“Connie is recognized statewide for her business management and her (business) model. There was a lot of skepticism when she and Harvey came to the board of supervisors and told us they wantedto start a world-class track here. Nobody believed it, and now she has proved it and then some.

“Most of the growth, at least in the next few years, could be coming right here from motorsports and VIR,” Edmunds added.