Williamsburg couple share love of NASCAR at RIR campground

Marty O'Brien
Contact Reportermobrien@dailypress.com
The Prevish's camp out twice a year at RIR, party with friends and watch their favorite NASCAR stars

Don Prevish Jr. was 13 when his uncle took him to his first stock-car race at what was then known as Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway.

His uncle, a Henrico County policeman working a security gig at the track that day, dropped him off in the pits with two instructions.

"He told me not to get hit by a car and to have fun," Prevish recalled.

Prevish not only had fun, he fell in love with the sport that September afternoon in 1981. He marveled at the blue and yellow Wrangler Chevrolet driven by defending NASCAR Winston Cup (now Monster Energy Cup) champion Dale Earnhardt, but pledged his allegiance to Ford when Benny Parsons won the race in a car by that manufacturer.

He's hardly missed a race since and has been joined at every NASCAR stop in Richmond except one since 1997 by Darlene Prevish, his wife of 19 years. Each spring and fall they haul their 35-foot white Keystone Challenger camper and their seven Yorkie dogs from their home near Jamestown to the Laburnum Reserved campground at Richmond International Raceway.

They are on site this weekend as RIR hosts its spring Cup race Sunday.

Day and night for five or six days twice a year, they reunite with longtime camping neighbors over good food and more than a few beers.

"Race weeks are like a family reunion," Darlene Prevish said. "You can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends, and when those people become like family it's wonderful."

A large part of the Previshes' social life has revolved around racing since they married in May 1998. Don Prevish suggested they honeymoon that week in Charlotte, N.C., and attend the Coke 600, one of the biggest races in NASCAR.

Darlene Prevish agreed — but only if they stayed at a bed-and-breakfast so it would seem like more of a honeymoon.

Don't get the idea, however, that the longtime fan of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is any less of a racing fan than her husband.

"There was something about driving down Speedway Boulevard and seeing that track in front of you that gives you thrills," she said of the trip to Charlotte. "And that feeling you get walking to your seat at the track, when the air from the cars hits you in the chest, is so exciting I don't know how you couldn't become a rabid fan."

Don Prevish said, "I never have to worry about searching for the (television) channel when a race is on when I'm at home. ... Whether they are practicing, qualifying or racing, she already has it on the TV."

As she points to a variety of drivers' flags flying above the other campers on the grounds, Darlene Prevish said one of the things she loves most about NASCAR is that the fans are so hospitable.

A registered nurse, she tapped her chest when explaining why she likes Dale Earnhardt Jr. and said, "I see the kind of person they are in here when I pick my favorite driver."

Don Prevish likes the youngster Ryan Blaney because he's a Ford driver on the rise and his team, the Wood Brothers, originated in Virginia.

He said he's reserved his respect for drivers who carry themselves with class, like the late Davey Allison, Hampton Roads native Ricky Rudd and Greg Biffle.

One by one, neighbors in the campground gather at the Previshes' camper, where they reminisce about the good times they have at the campground.

One of Darlene Prevish's favorites was throwing a baby shower on the campground for a couple who makes the trip down from Connecticut each year for the race in late summer.

The Prevish camper is also a gathering point for so many because the food is so good.

"Don and I had a catering business for 15 years, so this is how I continue to share my joy of cooking," Darlene Prevish said. "Last race day, I did five appetizers at noon before the race, and an early dinner of barbecue, coleslaw, quarter-pound hot dogs with chili, homemade macaroni and cheese, cowboy beans, deviled eggs and pasta salad."

Their parties are memorable, too, and have drawn an eclectic group, including RIR President Dennis Bickmeier, Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski — star fisherman of the television series "Deadliest Catch" — and an accordion player who rocked out to John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" late into the night.

Bickmeier and Don Prevish struck up a friendship after Prevish ribbed him in a tweet about the grass being too high at the campground. Bickmeier responded with a photo showing him mowing the Prevish's 18x60 lot.

"They've created these communities in the campground and they become like family," Bickmaier said while visiting the Previshes at the campground this week. "It's what makes these race weekends special — these folks coming from all over, camping next to each other getting to know each other, hanging out, sharing food and beverages and having a good time.

"I, for one, never lack for food or beverages on a race weekend. Same with me, I've become friends with so many of them. NASCAR is the common denominator for them."

Kenny Chesney music blaring from the camper speakers, the barking of seven Yorkies who have never met a stranger and the smell of Darlene's cooking are also common denominators. It's a bond the Previshes have shared for 20 years and hope to share with others for 20 more.

"The one year that we couldn't go to the race I felt like a piece of me was missing," Darlene Prevish said. "I love this sport because of its wholesomeness, sense of family and respect for our country and military.

"Our drivers use their voices and success to give back through charitable foundations. I love the speed, strategy, and excitement you feel when those engines fly around the track.

"If I can bring new fans to the sport by bringing them to my campsite, where they can get a good meal, just laugh and have fun, then I feel I'm helping the sport grow."

O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.

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