1957 was the year that Argentinean Juan-Manuel Fangio won his fifth and final World Championship at the last race of the season at the Nürburgring. It was the same year that Chevrolet finally understood what the sports car crowd really wanted and released a fuel-injected Corvette with a four-speed transmission. Chevrolet then began campaigning the sports car with former Mercedes-Benz driver and SCCA national champion driver, John Fitch at the helm. The year 1957 was a watershed year for the sports car enthusiast in Virginia also. Not only was it the first year that the Virginia International Raceway (VIR) opened its gates and held its first race in August of that year; but it was also the year that the Old Dominion Region was initially chartered by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Let’s go back in time and take a look at the historical events surrounding the founding of the Old Dominion Region.
The Sports Car Club of America was founded in 1944 in Connecticut by a close-knit group of sports car enthusiasts that valued the handling and acceleration that the pre-war imported sports cars offered over domestic models. These were cars that were designed to provide daily transportation that could be driven to the track and raced with little external preparation. Hence the term “sports car”. Since sports cars were rare, expensive items prior to and during WWII, the SCCA remained a rather tight-knit group of like-minded enthusiasts. With the end of the war, returning servicemen from the European Theatre of Operations began to arrive stateside with memories of small, responsive, fun-to-drive automobiles they had seen or driven while stationed overseas. By the early ’50s, this same group of ex-servicemen provided a demographic base for the burgeoning imported sports car market in the United States. Although the initial leaders in this market were British car manufacturers — Aston Martin, Jaguar, Morris Garage (MG) and Triumph — other foreign car manufacturers quickly joined in rapid succession to offer their version of the sports car to the American public — companies like Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and BWM from W. Germany, Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, and Maserati from Italy, Peugeot and Citroën from France, and even Saab from Sweden.
Owning a sports car set one apart from the crowd while actually driving that car in competition elevated the owner to the status of race car driver. Once the event was over, the sports car and driver resumed their prior individual identities although both were now seen by the public as part of the great American racing tradition dating back to the turn of the 20th century. The real problem was that sports car events were few and far between, and the population of foreign and domestic sports cars less than 4% of the total U.S. automobile population in 1957. (These figures are approximations since the foreign car market was roughly 7% of the new car market that year, and just about half of those foreign cars were considered “sports cars”. The sales figures were so low that Ford decided to drop its popular, sporty, two-seater Thunderbird model in favor of a four seat model for the 1958 model year to accompany its new luxury car, the Edsel.) Road courses were few and far between too. Most SCCA events up to 1957 had been held at the few, permanent tracks established around the country. (The first SCCA events were run on public roads in and around towns such as Watkins Glen or on military airfields such as Sebring. Most of the American tracks at the time were dirt track ovals hosting midgets or “stockers” for the burgeoning National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. The closest established track to the new Old Dominion Region prior to the opening of VIR was Marlboro Motor Raceway in Upper Marlboro, Maryland which had added a road course to its bullring oval.) Added to this reality of few open venues and modest numbers of sports cars was the requirement that new SCCA members had to be recommended by two current SCCA members in good standing before being voted on for membership. Therefore the number of SCCA members nationwide was somewhat limited.
Given this milieu of limited numbers of actual sports car owners, few competition facilities, and the exclusiveness of SCCA membership, the actual origins for the impetus to found the Old Dominion Region are lost to history for at this point in time there was already another local organization providing camaraderie and limited competition for the sports car owner. The Norfolk-based Tidewater Sports Car Club had been founded in 1953 (and is still going strong). Never the less, four local individuals, James and Nola Ferrell, Gladys Brewer, and James Wagner, petitioned the SCCA to found a local region in the spring of 1957. After filing their original articles of incorporation with the State Corporation Commission in July and receiving their State Charter in August, they were recognized by the SCCA in September. From the SCCA’s charter letter, we know that James Ferrell was the original Regional Executive (RE). We can only speculate what position the remaining three individuals held, e.g., Assistant RE, Treasurer, or Secretary. The choice of the name for the region is lost in antiquity also; however, since there was a Tidewater Sports Car Club already in existence, the logical name (Tidewater) for the new region centered in Norfolk, VA wasn’t to be. It may have been the coincidence of the celebration of the 350th founding of Jamestown occasioning a visit by Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip to check up on the status of the former royal colony that influenced the naming of the region. Old Dominion sounded historic, regal, and established. The region’s boundaries are shown in the old Rand McNally map of the counties of Virginia. Many of those counties, Elizabeth City, Nansemond, Norfolk, Princess Anne, Warwick, and, are gone forever having been annexed by their surrounding cities of Hampton, Suffolk, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, and Newport News respectively.
Now after sixty years of existence, the Old Dominion Region is still going strong and recognized nationally for its Autocross and RoadRally program. Many National road racers and Solo drivers call Old Dominion their home region. If this sounds like something you are interested in please feel free to contact us a come out for a visit. Please check our events page to see any upcoming events. We hope that you have enjoyed this brief history of our region.