SOUTH BOSTON — If there was an award for the driver traveling the most distance to get to Saturday night’s NASCAR Late Model 100 at South Boston Speedway, Jeroen Bleekemulen would be the hands-down winner.
Bleekemulen is from Heemstede, Netherlands, a city of about 27,000 located between Amsterdam and the North Sea. Wednesday morning he was still in the Netherlands, but South Central Virginia will be his home for the weekend.
The veteran IMSA WeatherTech driver will be at Virginia International Raceway this weekend competing in the Michelin GT Challenge for Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports. And after years of toying with the idea of a side trip to South Boston Speedway when he was so close, he finally pulled the trigger.
“We race at VIR every year with IMSA and we have been talking about visiting the South Boston Speedway on Saturday night pretty much every year,” Bleekemulen said Wednesday morning. “The idea came up to actually participate. We are all very passionate about racing and the whole team wanted to see me race. I also thought it would be a lot of fun to try something different.”
Finding a Late Model Stock car for Bleekemulen to drive turned out to be easier than one would expect. It was a case of someone knowing someone else. In this case, the “someone else” turned out to be Lee Faulk of Lee Faulk Racing and Development, the Denver, North Carolina-based racing operation that fields cars for several Late Model drivers.
“Someone within the Riley team set it up," said Bleekemulen. "He knew the Faulks and thought it would be a great fit.”
The two-time IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup champion has raced around the world for two decades. The road racer won the Twelve Hours of Sebring twice and captured the 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 Class in 2008. But he may well have never faced a challenge like he will at South Boston on Saturday night.
“I have never raced in NASCAR. I raced at Indianapolis once during a NASCAR weekend, but it was for an IMSA race and we drove the road course,” said Bleekemulen. “I have never raced on a short oval. I have done Daytona, Homestead and Laustizring, but all of those tracks, we also used the infield [road course].
“It will be a new experience for me. I’m really looking forward to it. My first real oval race!”
As a short-track rookie, Bleekemulen knows to keep his expectations in check.
“The main thing is to have fun and to learn. I have no experience, so I’m really there to enjoy it and get the experience of racing a short oval,” said Bleekemulen.
Saturday night’s event will feature a 100-lap race for the Late Models, twin 25-lap races for Limited Sportsman division, a 30-lap race for the Budweiser Pure Stock division, a 15-lap event for the Budweiser Hornets division and a special 25-lap race featuring the Southern Ground Pounders.
Grandstands open at 5:30 p.m., qualifying starts at 6 p.m. and the first race begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 with children 12-and-under admitted free with a paying adult.