Outside of NASCAR, the Richmond region has had only fleeting glimpses of major-league sports action, at best. In the early 1970s, the Virginia Squires, a franchise in the American Basketball Association, brought the likes of Dr. J and George Gervin to town. And with the Richmond Braves all but a memory now, local baseball fans don't get the thrill of seeing future big-leaguers on the climb. No matter, River City still has plenty of events year-round worth filling the bleachers (or streets).
Richmond International Raceway (866-455-RACE, rir.com) and the Richmond Raceway Complex hold several NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide series races annually as well as Indy car races. Highlights this year will include the Crown Royal 400 on May 2; the SunTrust Indie Challenge on June 27; and the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Sept. 11, followed by the Cup Series Chevy Rock & Roll 400 on Sept. 12. For those looking for a more hands-on approach to racing glory, check out the Richard Petty Driving Experience offered at the complex.
Got an itch for the racetracks, but horses are more your style? A short trip down I-64 East will take you to Colonial Downs (966-7223, colonialdowns.com). This turf track holds thoroughbred races through the summer and harness races in the fall. Notable events include the summer's Virginia Derby, which features a $750,000 purse and a handful of horses, jockeys and trainers also seen in the Triple Crown races.
Despite the end of the Richmond Braves baseball franchise, two teams are keeping minor-league sports alive in the region. In the midst of its 19th season, the Richmond Renegades (644-PUCK, rrenegades.com) hockey team of the Southern Professional Hockey League faces off at the Richmond Coliseum from mid-October to mid-April every year. And the Richmond Kickers (644-5425, richmondkickers.com) soccer club, preparing for its 16th year in Richmond, competes in the second division of the United Soccer League from mid-April to late August at the University of Richmond stadium near Carytown. The Kickers also put youth and college-aged rising stars out on the pitch in their own leagues with games typically held at Sports Backers Stadium near the Diamond.
Contrary to popular belief, Richmond is not without a post-collegiate football team. The Virginia Ravens (732-3806, eteamz.com/VaRavens) formed in 1987 and have battled it out in the Mason-Dixon Football League under longtime coach Hal Lockhart since 1988. The players are in it strictly for the love of the game, and open tryouts are held annually two weeks after the Easter holiday, for those who've got game. The Ravens' season spans from July to November, and they hope to return to the field at Lee-Davis High School, where they played their 2008 home games.
If mascots and off-the-wall student sections are slightly more your scene, the Richmond area is home to five colleges and universities with teams in the Atlantic-10, the Colonial Athletic Conference, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
The University of Richmond Spiders (289-8363, richmondspiders.cstv.com) compete in NCAA Division I and I-AA athletics. The sports that tend to bring out the "rowdies" include men's and women's basketball, football — in 2008 they took home the national championship for the first time — and men's and women's soccer. The Spiders home sporting events are held both at UR Stadium near Carytown and at on-campus venues such as the Robins Center. Across town from UR, the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams (828-4000, vcu athletics.com), with coach Anthony Grant, pack the Siegel Center on Broad Street for men's hoops battles against the likes of recent NCAA tournament Cinderella team George Mason University.
Barely a mile away in Richmond's North Side, the Virginia Union University Panthers (342-1264, vuu.edu/athletics) collide in a classic cross-town rivalry with Petersburg's Virginia State University Trojans (524-5650, vsu.edu), predominantly in NCAA Division II football and men's and women's basketball. The Panthers also bring a crowd at the women's volleyball team's home games, while the Trojans boast a standout men's and women's tennis program.
Still hungry for more college sports? Twenty miles north on I-95 is Ashland, home of the Randolph-Macon College Yellow Jackets (752-7223, rmc.edu/athletics). The school's Division III men's basketball team makes frequent visits to the NCAA tournament, and their baseball team won the 2008 Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship.
On the high-school level, Richmond boasts a series of holiday hoops tournaments that you will not want to miss. The Times- Dispatch Invitational Tournament puts some of the area's best public- and private- school squads on the court against each other. In late December, the Benedictine Capital City Classic, hosted at Benedictine High School since 1966, attracts nationally ranked high-school teams to square off against local favorites. Others worth your time and attendance include the Henrico Holiday Hoops tournament, featuring eight local teams at Henrico High School in late December, and the Rebel Invitational, held at Douglas S. Freeman High School in early December.
Of course, some folks prefer to watch people suffer (and cheer them on) — no worries, Richmond can accommodate your sadistic cravings. On March 28, River City will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Monument Avenue 10K. Adding cycling to the equation, the National Duathlon Festival, which will include the USAT Duathlon National Championship and the Off-Road National Championship, will race to town on April 25 and 26.
Running toward the end of the year, the McDonald's X-Country Festival at Maymont Park will feature top high-school-cross country talents on Sept. 25 and 26. Meanwhile, thousands of locals and visitors storm the city streets on Nov. 14 for the annual SunTrust Richmond Marathon (richmondmarathon.com), a Boston Marathon qualifier, on Nov. 14. The day's events will also include a half marathon and the NTELOS 8K. Also noteworthy is that Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville has hosted the USA Track & Field National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships for the past three years.