No, it isn't the long-rumored American version of the popular British TV show that is ostensibly about cars, but which is really about the dynamic between charismatic host Jeremy Clarkson and his co-hosts Richard Hammond (the fast young guy) and James May (the ditzy everyman).
The breakout BBC America (and YouTube) hit show visited bucolic Virginia International Raceway, near Danville, Va. on the North Carolina state line for a secret taping of track tests for an upcoming episode of the show. The stars arrived at the track in the wee hours of the night Tuesday night, apparently from a tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia. Clarkson piloted an Mercedes SLS AMG, while Hammond was at the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR and May had the luxury of testing the Ferrari 458 Italia.
The 3.27-mile road course is considered by racing enthusiasts to be the U.S. track that is most like the legendarily demanding European circuits such as the Nurburgring and Spa Francorchamps, so it is ideal for testing high-performance supercars to their absolute maximum.
Select members of VIR's country club-like organization were invited to the event. A letter to members explained: "There will not be any opportunity to interact with the presenters for photos or autographs. They apologize for this but it is because the guys are really busy filming all day so it's just not going to be an option. Moreover, you will not be able to post any pictures or videos of the day until after the show airs. That's just so they can keep the VIR visit secret until their broadcast date."
A lucky 60 or so VIR club members were invited to circulate the track in their own cars as photographers shot background video in the morning, while the show's stars lounged on the balconies of their villas overlooking the track.
Like a game of automotive musical chairs, the extras were whittled down to a remaining 18 drivers who circulated on the track along with the Top Gear presenters to provide still more video grist for the show. In the afternoon, the Top Gear crew continued without the benefit of colonial extras.
After a day at the most European of American tracks, the crew headed down to North Wilkesboro Speedway, a classic NASCAR oval from the sports' earliest days for some real Americana.
Top Gear has visited America before, and maintains a map of the locations.
Virginia International Raceway first opened in 1957 and is a classically configured road race course with 130 feet of elevation change and "gut-check" high-speed corners absent from most modern tracks. Carroll Shelby memorably observed that "One lap at VIR is like a hundred at Watkins Glen."
North Wilkesboro Speedway opened in 1946 as a dirt five-eighths mile oval course which grew with NASCAR until it was finally elbowed aside by newer tracks in big media markets in 1996.