A fast ride down Memory Lane

Published 8:26 pm Saturday, May 9, 2009

Looking down Main Street, car after car sat side by side as car owners showed off some of their most prized possessions in the “Shake, Rattle & Roll” car show. The street was closed to traffic, but there were plenty of cars to be seen.

The show is a tribute to the old Suffolk Raceway, which opened in 1964 and closed in 1991.

In the middle of all the shiny new paint jobs and classic cars Saturday morning, Whit Oliver hung out with some of his friends and fellow car enthusiasts.

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Oliver was one of the many racers who would take to the Suffolk Raceway on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons for the chance to win big.

But Oliver’s love affair with racing began even earlier.

As a 12-year-old, he would go to the track every week to watch the racers go head to head, and to catch a glimpse of the cars being raced.

“It was a blast,” Oliver recalled. “I would just walk in, and the place was hopping. Everybody was racing. Well, I would say about 80 percent of the people you knew were going to be racing on Saturday. Everybody did it.”

While Oliver’s first vehicle was a truck, his first car was a 1968 Camaro. When he was old enough, he raced that Camaro on the raceway he grew up watching.

“You had plenty of room, plenty of concrete,” Oliver said. “You could go out and drive a street car. I raced about every Saturday, then they started Sunday evenings and I went then too.”

Oliver had a few wins at the track, but he said that was not the real reason to come back every week.

“I won some,” he said, but you just did it because you loved it. And the taking off was the best part. That was a blast. The taking off was addictive.”

Oliver drove in the early 70s and continued for a few years, but he said family commitments made him finally give up racing. For the past 30 years, he has worked for Lipton Tea as an overhaul mechanic.

“You go from working on cars to working on packaging equipment,” he said. “You grow up, you get older. You have kids and you’re saving up for the house. You just have to give it up. But even if when you’re not driving anymore, you always go back and watch the other guys.”

Even though he is getting older, Oliver still finds ways to stay close to the sport.

In his free time, he restores old vehicles, and so does his son, Jacob.

“It gives us something to do,” he said. Ironically enough, Jacob is currently restoring a 1968 Camaro, which is especially neat for Whit.

“It’s funny,” he said. “The itch never leaves, you just scratch it by restoring old cars.”

Oliver brought a couple of his restored cars to the big show on Saturday. He said he particularly enjoys the show, because it gives him the chance to see some great cars.

“You see all the cars that you just don’t get to see all the time,” he said. “It’s neat.”

The show drew hundreds of people through downtown all day, and proceeds from the event will help place a permanent Suffolk Raceway exhibit at the new visitor center, which will open in early 2010 at the historic Nansemond County courthouse.