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Speakers: Motorsports more than just racing

Five supporters of the Halifax County Public Schools Motorsports Academy made it quite clear Wednesday the program is needed and should not be eliminated if budget cuts are required in the upcoming school budget planning process.

Supporters spoke during the second of two public hearings held Wednesday on the upcoming school year budget.

They were the only group of speakers to address the board.

Two motorsports program instructors and two members of the Motorsports Advisory Council addressed Halifax County School Board members at the 4:30 public hearing in the school board conference room at Mary Bethune office complex in Halifax.

“They learn skills that will last the rest of their lives,” said Halifax County High School Motorsports Program instructor Doug Newcomb.

Newcomb explained to board members the curriculum high school students use that allows them to learn basic auto mechanics, how to use power tools, welding, machining and basic understanding of an engine. The program has given students the opportunity to work locally at R. O. Harrell Trucking, South Boston Speedway and Virginia International Raceway.

“Thank you for where we’ve been…these programs are for our students,” said Newcomb.

South Boston Speedway General Manager Cathy Rice told board members so many “stars” have come out of South Boston including the Burton brothers and Sadler brothers.

“If the program stays alive, we’ll continue to be a big supporter,” said Rice.

Gazette-Virginian Sports Editor Joe Chandler, who serves on the Motorsports Advisory Council, also told board members he had been involved in racing for about 40 years and is a huge supporter of the motorsports program.

“It’s not about the kids getting into a racecar, it’s about so, so much more,” said Chandler.

Chandler told board members he understood they had many things to look at within the financial aspect of the budget, but he urged members to maintain level funding and support for the program.

According to Chandler, students have access to the best lab, South Boston Speedway. 

“The program offers many positives,” he added.

When it was first launched, the program received national attention for being the only one of its kind in the country.

Halifax County Middle School Motorsports instructor Brian Seate said the middle school program is still in its infancy and hasn’t yet met its full potential.

“A lot of people don’t know basic tools,” said Seate, and with this program, students are afforded that opportunity.

The group told board members everything students learn in the program can be brought back to the core classes and used in real life situations.

“The program has a lot of support from the community,” said Garland Ricketts, another member of the Motorsports Advisory Council and former Halifax County supervisor.

Vice Chairman Kimberly Farson told speakers at the conclusion of the hearing that nothing has been discussed officially or unofficially about anything being eliminated.

During the public hearing, Director of Finance Jay Camp told board members the local composite index for the upcoming budget year is 29.43 compared to this year’s index of 27.48 which means county schools will be receiving less funding from the state.

A school board budget work session will be held Monday, Jan. 7, at 5 p.m. in the school board office conference room at Mary Bethune office complex in Halifax.