HyperFest: Turning the simple race weekend into a thrilling festival

By J.A. Ackley
May 19, 2023 | Hyperfest | Posted in Features | From the April 2023 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

Racing! Drifting! Rallycross! Off-roading! Show cars! Power Wheels! Wait, Power Wheels?

It’s like a redneck soapbox derby,” HyperFest promoter Chris Cobetto says of the Power Wheels portion of the event. “You get something like a Barbie Jeep, pull the battery [and] motor out, put a helmet on, and we put you atop the Roller Coaster, Turn 14 at VIR, and we let you go. It’s exciting because these cars do like 35 mph. It’s a massive crowd pleaser. This year we had 70 drivers.”

Those racers don’t just include kids. Think grown men. Professionals. Like BimmerWorld’s James Clay, a reigning SRO champion. 

That’s the most terrifying thing that I’ll ever do on a race track, because of the relative speeds versus lack of control–you have plastic wheels,” says James, who has also competed at Pikes Peak. “You’re scooting down through there. It’s a super fun event. I love it.”

This is just a brief taste of why seasoned racers, newcomers and everyone in between come in droves to the annual event, held in May at Virginia International Raceway.

An Automotive Festival for the Masses

To understand why HyperFest is what it is, you need to consider its initial purpose: to bring new people to the sport of road racing.

“I started the NASA Mid Atlantic Region in 2000,” Chris explains. “Nobody knew who we were. I needed to go after a market that wasn’t the road race nerd. At the time, nobody did outreach. They were just continuing to live off those who knew about it.”

Chris had a vision for his target market: the 20-somethings of the early ’00s. “That’s when the tuner market craze was really starting to hit its stride,” he explains. “People spent a lot of money on cars, but they weren’t Camaros or Mustangs.”

Example No. 1: Kevin Helms.

“A friend of mine told me about [HyperFest] and mentioned the Honda Challenge,” Kevin explains. “Hondas were a big deal for me. How did I not know about this Honda racing?”

Kevin raced dirt bikes but always loved cars. At HyperFest, he had an epiphany: “It was just one of those things that clicked–Hondas and racing. It was like, this was for me.”

Kevin later went on to win the 2015 NASA Honda Challenge national championship.

Example No. 2: Brent Bauer, who now also races Honda Challenge.

“I was digging the car shows,” he says. “I had an Acura Integra [in the car show at HyperFest], and I took it out for HyperDrive. I overheated it, but after those first few sessions I was hooked.”

Ride-alongs insert the audience into the action: rally, drift, track and even off-road. Photography Credit: Ken Neher

HyperFest also excites racers, especially road racers, by bringing in an element they don’t often experience. “It’s always great to have people in the stands. It’s fun to perform in front of a crowd,” says Lee Grimes, a long-time club racer who’s well known in the scene as the project manager for Koni, a company that has supported HyperFest since the first one.

“HyperFest is a unique event–for spectators, for participants and for sponsors,” he tells us. “We can reach a much broader crowd and show many different flavors of motorsports all in a single weekend. It’s a great opportunity for us to help teach racers of our products and also to reach out to spectators who might become future racers or have high-performance street cars.”

What Attracts Enthusiasts?

If you’re just a spectator, there’s plenty of fun to be had. “People like to come out and camp,” Chris says. “There are certain people [who come because] it’s a great party.”

Some of the most successful events in motorsports have a lively camping scene. HyperFest is no different.

“It’s ‘My friends and I are coming out to camp,’” says Chris of his camping crowd. “People want to do things together. It’s a playground, and you don’t want to go down the slide by yourself and you can’t do a seesaw by yourself.”

Friends meet others who become friends, and then something bigger builds. “The focus is on those entertainment aspects,” he continues, “but you want to create an atmosphere where like-minded people can come and feel free to let their hair down and express themselves and forget about the rest of the world.”

To help build that atmosphere, HyperFest holds concerts. When it first did this, many of the diehards in the road racing scene found it foreign. However, Jack Higginbotham, a seasoned road racer who’s also COO of PRS Guitars, understood the connection.

[This Camaro body hides a powerful stock car chassis]

“[PRS Guitars] ended up being the sponsor of the C5 CompuServe Pratt Miller team,” Jack explains. “Through that, I found that there was a large crossover of drivers, owners and team members who were also guitar enthusiasts. Cars and guitars go together.”

Chris will do whatever it takes to bring people together and introduce newbies to the sport. “You need to get people involved,” he says. “At HyperFest, we have rally ride-alongs, drifting ride-alongs, racing ride-alongs, helicopter ride-alongs, four-by-four ride-alongs and side-by-side ride-alongs to get you excited about participating.”

This excites not just the passengers, but also the drivers. One example is Vaughn Gittin Jr., who counts HyperFest among his first drifting events while he was still “a full-time nerd in IT.”

More ingredients for the spectacle: top-tier drifters like Vaughn Gittin Jr. plus live music. Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

“For me, it’s personal fun and my passion, but it goes deeper,” Vaughn says of doing the ride-alongs at HyperFest, an event he’s rarely missed. “I love cars, and cars have been a huge part of my life. I’m interested in sharing that in hopes of people being inspired to become involved in automotive culture one way or another.”

Perhaps the key ingredient in the HyperFest formula is the same one you encountered when you first got hooked on cars.


That sharing of love makes HyperFest a must-do event for the newcomer and seasoned motorsport veteran alike.

“If I make a happening that introduces people [to the sport] and makes them want to participate, then I have done my job,” Chris says. “If they don’t necessarily want to participate, but it gives them an appreciation of what we do, and they go home and buy a few parts for their car, then I’ve done my job. If they walk out with a smile, and they come back and they ride with a pro drifter next time, that’s fine, too. I’ve gotten them excited about it, and come Monday, they’ll go to work and say, ‘I just went to the best event ever.’”

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