NC Region’s New Permanent Home at VIR

At some point early-on after VIR reopened, almost twenty years ago, our F&C team was granted permission to use what became known as the “Flag Shack”. It’s the building back in the corner of the paddock as far from the tech shed as you can get. I believe it also serves as a utility pump house of some sort, and may have had some other purpose at one time.

It became home to F&C, and is where we housed all the radios, coolers, corner station kits, fire bottles, flag bags, etc. With potentially 17 corner stations to supply for, it was a tight fit, but we made it work. It was also the site of our way-too-early-in-the-morning Corner Worker meetings, every day, of every event, for all these years. Our volunteers met, collected their gear, received corner assignments and instructions from the respective Chiefs, along with an occasional pep talk from Stewards, and sometimes even from the R.E. It became hallowed ground for NC Region, and will likely remain so. It was also free, which certainly helped.

In addition to that base, we also had a 10×20 garage unit in the “Club Member Garages” rental section out near the main gate that housed “memories”. By memories, I’m referring to all those assets leftover from the Rockingham days, plus boxes of archives and things we needed then, but which we’ll likely never need again. Garage 36 had become an almost forgotten time capsule from that period before the resurrection of VIR, from 1979 to the rebirth. Parked out front of garage 36 were two or three trailers the Region owned, one of which James Shanks and I re-purposed as the Hospitality trailer a few years ago. I remembered it as the Region’s Solo trailer from the 1970’s and the domain of Phil Hennrich. I could not let that piece of his history disappear. Fortunately, VIR had also been granting us the garage 36 ‘tomb’ rent-free all this time.

First Flag Meeting at Speed Suite

On March 7th of this year though, all that changed. VIR needed and wanted the flag shack back, to be converted to office space for their growing Marketing Department. They offered the meeting space beneath the pit garages for our meetings, but that would not solve our storage dilemma. The timing, just three days before our first event of the season, couldn’t have been worse. Although we were given a somewhat flexible moving schedule, the pressure was on for us to move. The only solution, quick and dirty, was to secure another garage (#34), and move everything to that location. Our F&C crew pulled it off sometime before, during, and after the Spring Sprints weekend. It was a tight squeeze stuffing everything into a 10’ wide cube with little or no walking-around room. To add insult to injury, we now had to pay rent, for both 34, and going forward, 36 as well. Suddenly we were paying $300 per month for 400 square feet of basic unconditioned storage. It was as if VIR had turned on us. We still love you, but…you have to take the bitter with the sweet. Sometimes that’s the way it is with family. I’m reminded that they had allowed us to use the flag shack and garage 36 all those years rent-free, plus last year they had our Scales Room re-roofed and never asked us for a penny.

It was quickly obvious though, that this could only be a temporary fix. A permanent solution would have to be found. Multiple ideas were discussed: everything from buying a good-sized trailer, which would be no larger than garage 34 and could only house F&C assets (sans vehicles), to buying a parcel in the Raceplex and contracting the construction of our own structure. It became painfully obvious to us that our needs for space exceeded the former, and our bank account could not support the latter. Ironically, in a Board meeting, a reminder was offered by a guest, that something called a Speed Suite existed. They were assumed to be too expensive, but we concluded they might be worth a look-see.

So what are Speed Suites? They are semi-finished 30’ x 40’ fee-simple shop space units finished in 2007. Unlike the storage garages, they are insulated, and have heating and air-conditioning. There is also a shop sink already installed, plus stub-outs for an internal bath. There is an owners-association shared community bath, complete with shower, just two doors down. The units all feature an extra wide and tall roll-up garage door along with a separate pedestrian door. Altogether, 1200 square feet of conditioned space available for ownership rather than rent. Member Peter Krause owns a unit himself. Seemed too good to be true,…if we could afford it.

Shortly after that meeting, several of us scheduled a visit with Connie Nyholm, CEO and owner of VIR to take a look at a unit coming up for re-sale in the complex. Ironically it was the property of none other than Harvey Siegel, who along with Connie, were the ones most responsible for the re-birth of VIR. The asking price was essentially the same as the original price when the units were first finished ten years ago – $125,000. The unit (#6) also had an ideal location, being an end unit, next to Ace Drive, the road we all come in on during registration, access to which does not require going through the main gate, making it even more convenient.

It was time to see if we could make the numbers work. After consulting with Steve Keadle’s financial and tax expertise, we concluded that an investor group composed of members was not a realistic approach to buying the unit. The decision was then made to try to go it alone – i.e. let’s see if we can buy the unit on our own. One significant note needs to be made here. Since NC Region was first organized in 1954, we could not find any record of the Region ever having borrowed money for anything. Yes, we’ve bought things on account, short-term, but everything else has either been bought directly via check, or member-financed via expense reimbursement. In short, the Region had zero formal, recognized credit history. Plus, we are a 501c4 Non-profit Corporation. We kind of don’t fit in the usual mold, so it might have been a long shot. But we decided to go for it anyway with our banking partner, BB&T.

Our Treasurer, Heather Powers put together our financial statements, I drafted a loan request, and off to the bank we went. We would ask for an 80% loan-to-value making up the difference with a 20% down payment in cash. To our amazement, BB&T didn’t say no. In fact, they were impressed with our financials and were very positive about our chances, so we made formal application and moved to contract with Mr. Siegel.

After lots of back and forth with the bank, insurance brokers, and the shuffling of papers long-distance, the signing, closing, and recording of documents finally occurred September 5-12, 2017. Subsequent to closing, Mr. Siegel made a generous donation to NCR of $3,000 to help with final cleanout of the unit and the moving of our property from the rental garages. All in all, we think it was a very good deal. At last, we had a permanent home at VIR. Ultimately, we are tripling our available space plus building equity, at a monthly cost under what a comparable unit would likely have rented for, if we could even have found one. And finding one in as good of a location would have been very nearly impossible.

So what can we use it for? I want to point out right up front that this will not just be a new flag shack. It belongs to all of the members of NC Region, and we may use it for the benefit of all of the membership, including, but not limited to the storage of Region merchandise, archives, and both F&C and general assets. We can also use it for worker meetings, socials, even Executive and Comp Board meetings, etc. We may use it occasionally for worker registration, but it cannot be used for general registration because of insufficient parking, and it is illegal under state law for it to ever be used for any kind of overnight lodging under any circumstances.

Now, to enhance its functionality and utility, we would like to build a simple bath, a kitchenette (to include a sink, refrigerator and freezer), and a secured closet. A storage loft above all of that would also allow us to leverage the space to store rarely used and/or bulky items. Everyone will get a chance to invest a little sweat equity in this endeavor over the winter as we strive to make this a useful home for the Region for the long haul.

Folks, this purchase was made possible through the efforts of all of us, as well as of those who have gone before us. NC Region has endured through good and bad, we’re still here, and we’re doing better than ever. Now we finally have a permanent home that can never be taken away, ironically almost exactly 60 years after our founders conducted our very first race at VIR in August, 1957.

Sam Fouse, RE