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Motels, restaurants prepare for influx of race fans

South Boston Speedway, along with area motels and restaurants, are gearing up for what’s expected to be thousands of race fans descending on Halifax County Thursday for the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown.

Sheriff Fred S. Clark estimates more than 8,000 race fans will turn out for Thursday’s event.

Ticket sales are going good, according to South Boston Speedway General Manager Cathy Rice, who expects crowds reaching or exceeding those attending the Busch Series races at the speedway.

“Our largest events were back in the Busch days,” said Rice.

“We had close to 7,000 or 8,000 people, and this event we’re hoping to have more. Ticket sales are going great, and proceeds will go back to the Denny Hamlin Foundation to fight Cystic Fibrosis,” she added.

A number of state and area agencies are planning a coordinated response to deal with the expected crowds at the track, according to Halifax County Emergency Services Coordinator Kirby Saunders

“It’s a coordinated response between the private sector (the race track), Halifax County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police, South Boston Fire and EMS, Halifax County Emergency Services and VDOT,” Saunders confirmed on Monday.

“We call it an incident of significance or event of significance, which we try to plan for the best we can and augment additional resources. We definitely want to increase the presence of public safety there.”

Traffic is expected to increase along U.S. 360 in the area of the speedway and Plywood Trail when gates open at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Saunders pointed out.

The emergency services coordinator added traffic would increase again in those areas during the afternoon commute approaching the 6:30 p.m. qualifying races and 8 p.m. green flag.

“Of course, when the race is over, around 10:30 or 11 p.m. there will be an increased volume of traffic coming out of the racetrack,” said Saunders.

“There will be a state law enforcement presence directing people in and out of the racetrack and trying to restrict traffic to the main entrance of the racetrack, which is the same as the fairgrounds.

“At night, traffic will be only one-way out of the track, two lanes of outbound traffic, and it only will be able to turn east on 360.”

Saunders is asking people leaving the track to avoid the exit onto Plywood Trail and reserve that exit for emergency access or egress. 

“We’ll have an increased law enforcement presence at the track for the whole event, outside in the parking lot, inside the gate and in the pit area,” continued Saunders.

“We definitely have an increased presence there.  All we can go off of is the maximum number of people the stands can hold, from 6,000 to 7,000.  That’s what we are planning for.”

Saunders is deploying the newly formed Community Emergency Response Team for Thursday’s event.

“Their job is to assist patrons and direct people and have additional hands-on help at the track. That’s our goal, ensure the people there are protected and secure. That’s our whole objective.”

Area motels and hotels are seeing an increase in business presumably due to race fans coming to town for the race.

Janet Collins at Fairfield Inn said Monday the hotel was completely sold out for Wednesday night and had limited rooms available for the rest of this week.

Leighanna Loyd at the Holiday Inn said the hotel was almost sold out for Tuesday and Wednesday night, with availability for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Super 8 Manager Anjur Brahmbhatt said Wednesday night is sold out at his motel with only a few rooms available for Thursday night.

Peter Savalia, owner of America’s Best, said Monday 10-15 rooms are available for Wednesday and Thursday night, and Dimpa Patel at Hudson Motel said he had “plenty of rooms available” for Wednesday and Thursday. 

Fran McCargo at Berry Hill Resort & Conference Center said Monday she also had availability.