- Last Updated on 07:49 AM 03/28/14
- BY Ashley Hodge
General Manager of South Boston Speedway Cathy Rice glanced back and forth between two of her right-hand women, Helen Barksdale and Jenny Morris, as the speedway was announced the Business of the Year at the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce’s 59th annual meeting and banquet Tuesday evening.
Fueled by surprise and excitement, Rice mouthed, “We just won,” to Barksdale and Morris.
Patricia Ricketts, incoming chairman of the board, recognized the well-known track as a “steadfast supporter of the chamber and the community.”
Ricketts took notice of their efforts to provide scholarships, host family events and attract national media attention with such achievements as hosting the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown Race for the first time on April 24.
Rice told the packed crowd, “ I couldn’t have done it without these two…we are so blessed. Thank you all.”
The two, Office Manager Helen Barksdale and Office Assistant Jenny Morris, alongside Maintenance Superintendent Terry Daniels are all part of what Rice calls “her team.”
“No one person can do this alone. This business has been here since 1957, and it’s great to have people to back us and be able to keep this open in this day and age,” said Rice in an interview following the banquet.
The general manager was honored to receive recognition for the success of the track Tuesday evening, and she said the owners of the track, the Mattioli family, are as well.
“The Mattioli family is very proud, very excited and very honored as well as I am. To know all the businesses vote for this award means so much,” said Rice.
This family has owned the South Boston Speedway since Joe Mattioli III, president of Millennium Motorsports of Virginia, Inc., purchased the track in 2000.
His parents, Dr. Jospeph Mattioli and Dr. Rose Mattioli, acquired the track from their son four years later.
While this family has worked to market the track, promote opportunities and increase community involvement, the track has been woven into Halifax County since E. B. “Buck” Wilkins, Dave Blount and Louis Spencer purchased the land in 1957.
The 240-acre speedway, located just south of Route 304, was constructed into a dirt race track with its first race held on Aug. 10, 1957.
Over the years, the track has been expanded to accommodate a grandstand seating capacity of 7,600, a press box, concession stands, a novelties shop, a playground area and a swimming pool.
Each race season, Rice’s team works to provide a fan-friendly environment for all the spectators who enjoy attending races.
“We provide a fan-friendly facility where spectators can feel very comfortable. We feel like it’s a family sport, and we want everyone to be able to watch some fantastic close side-by-side racing,” said Rice.
Between the loyal fans, the racers who have grown over the years, and the combination of local, regional and national sponsors, Rice feels the track has achieved much.
“As a track manager, it makes me proud to say that we’ve had drivers come through here who have grown into the top tier of the sport,” said Rice.
She speaks of those race car drivers such as Elliot Sadler who first gained recognition after claiming the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car championship at the speedway in 1995 before going on to race in the NASCAR Busch Series, the NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.
Rice also named Jeb Burton, Jeff Burton, Ward Burton, Timothy Peters, Marcus Richmond, Denny Hamlin, Robert “Bootie” Barker III, and her son, Chris Rice.
“I don’t know many tracks that have that long list of names of drivers and crew chiefs who have gone on to the top tier,” said Rice.
As Rice recalls how these men got their start locally, she tells how many of today’s aspiring drivers or crew chiefs in Halifax County are now getting their start with the motorsports program at Halifax County High School.
The children are what it’s all about for Rice.
“It’s all about having the kids start in a sport they enjoy, move up to stock car racing and continue moving up to higher ranks from there,” said Rice.
“That’s our goal. We start with the motorsports program. We want the students to then continue the education and use the motorsports opportunity to move up and make a career out of NASCAR.”
In addition to the motorports program, the track also provides field day opportunities for students.
“Schools have the opportunity to have their students bring their lunch and enjoy a day of watching car testing, participating in pace car rides, going down trackside, and just getting close to the cars.”
Easter egg hunts featuring the Easter Bunny, and fire safety events featuring Smokey the Bear also take place at the track.
“We try to have a lot of entertainment for children as well as adults. We feel there are some children who may not want to watch the race but want to do other things, so we try to provide those things for them,” said Rice.
In addition to the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown Race, the track, in conjunction with Crewser Entertainment, also is trying their hand at a “Pit Party” for the first time.
This stand-alone event is going to be a three-band concert on April 12 featuring Tuesday’s Gone, The Konnection Band and Matt Boswell & The Hillbilly Blues Band.
“We try to explore different opportunities out there that we can host here. When people look at the speedway, they look at racing, but we have other opportunities that we could do too,” said Rice.
In the past, the speedway has sponsored wrestling matches, monster truck shows, and “we can have concerts, bake sales and car shows. There is so much we can do here.”
As the track staff continues to make strides in their achievements, they can’t help but see what the chamber of commerce has done for not only their business but also businesses all around the county.
“We support the chamber just as they support us. The chamber provides so much for businesses. With all the networking and social media opportunities, we have met many sponsors to bring back through the chamber,” said Rice.
“The chamber does a lot, and I would hate to see what would happen if we did not have a chamber of commerce.”