Cathy Rice

South Boston Speedway General Manager Cathy Rice receives a big surprise when she opens a gift bag containing the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award during the chamber’s annual awards event on March 18.

For Cathy Rice, general manager at the South Boston Speedway, the racetrack is “home,” and the racing competitors, crewmembers and employees there are like her children.

She is a “mama” to everyone at the speedway, and has worked hard to create a family-like atmosphere there for employees, competitors and fans alike.

“I’ve always said from day one when you walk through the gates at South Boston Speedway, I want you to feel like you’re at home,” Rice pointed out.

In her 30-plus years at the South Boston Speedway, she has played a role in the speedway making its way into the NASCAR Cup Series level — the highest level of NASCAR racing — and witnessed the personal growth of competitors on the short track.

She has been in the world of racing in both the management and competition sides, with fond memories of traveling as part of Jeff Burton’s crew his first year at the Busch Grand National Series with her husband Allan and son Chris in the 1980s.

As one of Burton’s crewmembers, Rice had the job of timekeeping and scorekeeping. Shortly after that trip, Rice got her start in racetrack management at the South Boston Speedway.

It’s safe to say that Rice has earned the respect of those in the racing world, or the racing “family,” as she terms them. Rice is stepping down as GM of the South Boston Speedway at the end of the season and with her retirement drawing near, the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce honored her with the chamber’s first ever lifetime achievement award. The award was presented to Rice the evening of March 18 at the chamber’s virtual annual awards banquet.

“This is the first time we have given a Lifetime Achievement Award, and with Cathy’s pending retirement our nomination committee felt there was no better honor than to honor her with a Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Halifax County Chamber of Commerce President Mitzi McCormick.

“Cathy has done so much for our community, not just at South Boston Speedway, but by serving on our chamber board and the (county) tourism board. She has been a member of the South Boston Rotary Club for a number of years and has participated on subcommittees there and served on the executive committee. She has been involved in so many capacities.”

McCormick noted that when people think about South Boston Speedway, they also think about Rice.

“Cathy has been the mainstay there, and she needs to be honored for that,” McCormick remarked.

“South Boston Speedway contributes to our quality of life. Cathy has done a great job to make sure that our speedway has remained viable through the years, through the pandemic and into years to come.”

The award came as a complete surprise to Rice, who watched the chamber’s annual awards ceremony online at the speedway with speedway staff members.

“I was shocked,” Rice said. “This is a great honor, and I thank the chamber’s nomination committee, chamber members and everyone involved for this honor.”

South Boston Speedway and Pocono Raceway CEO Nick Igdalsky was among those that watched the Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards online. Igdalsky was happy to see Rice receive the award.

“Cathy absolutely deserves this honor, and I am so happy for her,” Igdalsky said. “I am so proud of Cathy and what she has accomplished through the years, and especially the 17 years I have worked with her! Everyone in racing knows that coming in first is the ultimate prize, so it makes it even more special knowing that she was the first person ever to receive this honor in Halifax County.”

The lifetime achievement award was an appropriate honor for Rice, a motherly figure who has dedicated more than three decades of her life to the speedway and world of racing. She compares seeing the growth of the competitors and even the crewmembers who have boosted themselves up to the competition level of racing to raising children – always wanting what’s best for them and trying to guide them on the right path.

Rice shared that she has seen Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and so many other competitors come through the gates of the speedway and hone their skills on the racetrack. Her own son Chris got his start at the speedway. He went on to win a championship in 1995 with Jeff Sadler and is now the president of Kaulig Racing.

Along with watching the growth of the competitors, Rice said her favorite part of her job at the South Boston Speedway, is seeing the support of the fans over the years.

“I love seeing people come through those gates and feeling like they’re getting their money’s worth of entertainment. They can walk away from here Saturday night remembering all the things that went on,” Rice shared.

Rice said she also has enjoyed seeing more females become involved in racing, in both track management and at the competitive level. At last weekend’s race at the speedway, Rice said she had the opportunity to watch a female race in the late model division. At the time when Rice first got involved in the racing world, there weren’t many females in the sport, but she said that never bothered her.

“I never felt out of place. I feel like I got the respect from the competitors as well as the fans,” Rice commented.

Rice has earned the respect of the South Boston community as a whole, through her service not only at the speedway but also as a member of community organizations, an EMT with the Cluster Springs Volunteer Fire Department and a school bus driver. Her lifetime achievement award from the chamber is a testament to that. Of all the awards she has received, she said that award is “one-in-a-million” to her.

“It means to much to me,” Rice said, on Tuesday. “I’m still bubbling over it.”

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Joe Chandler, public relations director of South Boston Speedway, contributed to this report.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.