Institute Researchers End Efforts To Clone VIR Oak Tree

Halifax Co., VA - It was a sad day last July when the iconic oak tree at VIR fell.

For VIR Owner Connie Nyholm, the big Oak Tree represents the rich history of VIR in more ways than one.

"Oak tree is an iconic symbol of VIR. It's been here since way before the racetrack and we were hoping it would be throughout our entire lifetime, " Nyholm said.

When the tree fell last summer, she immediately began looking for ways that it could live again.

"That was the first thing that came to mind is, 'We could work with the Institute and perhaps work together to save oak tree'," said Nyholm.

Research Director Michael Duncan and his researchers collected living pieces of the tree to try to clone it.

They spent many days trying to get the cell clusters to sprout, but, after a year, they found that it was a lost cause - partly because of the tree's age and species.

"Unfortunately, the tree is a white oak and it's a recalcitrant tree - it's not very cooperative - and the older it gets, the more uncooperative the tree is, " said the Institute's Research Director Michael Duncan.

"They worked so hard on it at the Institute. There was not much chance that they could bring it back, but I'm so happy they made every effort they could, " Nyholm said.

Nyholm is now focused on re-purposing the tree.

They've discussed using large pieces to create all kinds of mementos - from salad bowls to furniture, and fans can purchase little medallions in the pro shop that will always remind them of the iconic image.

"She's gone, the track is still here. We're memorializing the tree and hopefully that will live on, " Nyholm said.

Nyholm says they do hope to plant a memorial oak tree in the Fall, and the trophy for the upcoming Oak Tree Grand Prix will be made out of oak wood in a collaboration with the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.