Arena Racing makes NASCAR dreams a reality

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 9, 2002

If a Suffolkian wants to get close to the racing world, he or she has several options. A fan can hop into a car on the weekend and drive down to Capron to see some fiery Southampton Motor Speedway action, or travel up 664 to Hampton and the Langley Speedway. Or fans can just sit back with a few friends and a six-pack and just watch Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the rest of the NASCAR bunch burn rubber across the country.

But starting tonight, racing fans from around Virginia will take things one step farther. Tonight, and over the next few weeks, the Arena Racing USA Racing Series will give racing fans a chance to experience their dreams firsthand, and hit the track like their heroes.

At 7 p.m. tonight at the Norfolk Scope, over 50 cars will burn up the Arena Racing track. The cars, similar to Winston Cup cars but smaller at 675 lbs., will be powered by a modified 13-horsepower Honda motor, with the engine sealed to avoid adjustments and alterations. After tonight, races will be held on Nov. 23 and 27, and Dec. 5, 14, 21, and 26.

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Representing this area will be Windsor resident Danny Christmas, a Chesapeake firefighter. &uot;I saw something about Arena Racing in the paper and thought it would be fun,&uot; said Christmas, who got his start drag racing on the Suffolk Drag Strips in the early 1970s. &uot;I think this is really going to take off, because there’s a lot of NASCAR fans in the area.&uot;

He’ll have some stiff competition tonight, most notably Kevin Grubb, a contender for the 2002 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year. But Christmas feels that the &uot;no adjustments or alterations&uot; rule will keep everyone equal.

&uot;It doesn’t matter how much money or experience you have in this race.&uot;

While his wife Chandra and their four children cheer him on from the Scope stands, Christ-mas will be hearing orders from his crew chief, Mike New.

&uot;I’m going to be telling him who’s around him, and making sure he doesn’t crash and tear the car apart!&uot; said New, who himself has raced at South-ampton and Langley.

Should Christmas become sick or injured during the season, New will fill in for him. But he’s not certain about the car, which is hardly four feet tall, might be a tight squeeze to someone who is more used to racing mini- and grand stock cars.

&uot;I don’t know that size really matters,&uot; New said with a laugh. &uot;I won’t be laying back at the angle that I’m used to.&uot;

Christmas hopes that he can carry the Arena Racing advantages far beyond the Scope track. &uot;This will be a great ministry tool for my Liberty Baptist Church,&uot; he said. &uot;I want to take the car around to local churches and organizations, because I think that kids and parents will get really excited about seeing a race car at church. It shows people that churchgoers can still have lots of fun and be competitive.&uot;

He’s already had a great deal of local support. &uot;I’m sponsored by Little John’s Heating and Air, Superior Heating and Cooling, the Merrill-Lynch investment company, Churchland Printing, and Xtreme Graphix, a printing company. If other people like what I’m doing, and why, I’d love for them to climb on board.&uot; He can be reached at 242-6800.

For more information about tonight’s race and those in the future, call 638-7400 or visit the Web site at