Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Rock finally back on a NASCAR schedule

There have been several high-profile schedule-related announcements in recent years, but none nearly as sweet as this one.

Rockingham Speedway is back on a NASCAR schedule and will host a Camping World Truck Series race April 15, 2012.

After Jeff Gordon won his 85th career race Tuesday in Atlanta to put him third on the all-time wins list, a week of history and nostalgia continued Wednesday when North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue announced that a NASCAR race will be run at Rockingham Speedway for the first time in eight years.

Wow. Has it really been that long since Matt Kenseth nosed out Kasey Kahne in a photo finish in 2004?

This is one of the more remarkable racetrack stories in history. This sort of thing simply doesn’t happen. When NASCAR leaves a track for bigger markets, it doesn’t return. Period.

This is like the Wood Brothers winning the 2012 Daytona 500 with Trevor Bayne. People may have hoped the Wood Brothers would win another race or that NASCAR racing would someday return to Rockingham, but they would’ve been living in a dream world if they really expected it to happen.

Former NASCAR tracks litter the Southeast as the sport has grown and moved into bigger markets. North Wilkesboro Speedway, for example, is the next most recent track to be abandoned by NASCAR. After a brief re-opening in 2010 for the first time since NASCAR left in 1994, it closed once again in May.

Rockingham Speedway closed in 2004 as NASCAR continued to drive away from its Winston Cup days and into the Chase era.

But, former driver Andy Hillenburg bought the track in 2007 from Speedway Motorsports Inc, which bought the track in 2004 so it could end racing at The Rock and add another race at Texas Motor Speedway.

In the next four years Hillenburg put The Rock on his back and carried it out of the grave that awaits most tracks that NASCAR leaves behind.

Now it is back.

What makes this move even more remarkable is NASCAR pulled the plug on another old-time short track just two months ago when it announced the truck and Nationwide series would not return to Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis in 2012 and the Nationwide race would move to the bit Indianapolis Motor Speedway to run on Brickyard 400 weekend.

At the time it looked like another move in the long stretch of NASCAR running from old short tracks, but this time NASCAR took a step back toward where it belongs.

It is still be wildly optimistic to think Rockingham would ever hold another Cup race, but at least there will be a NASCAR race on the speedway in southern North Carolina. The smiles on fans’ faces might be just a little bit bigger that day.

After a decade where NASCAR made many decisions that abandoned long-time fans, the sanctioning-body finally threw them a bone by putting Rockingham back on the schedule.

What Hillenburg and the people at Rockingham Speedway have done is incredible, and hopefully it is the start of a long, new life for The Rock.


  1. I will be there! The stand alone truck races at Darlington have been competitive and popular with the fans. There is no reason to believe that Rockingham (just 30 miles from Darlington) won't be a success also.

    The facilities at the Rock are comparable to Darlington's, and Rockingham has dozens more skyboxes than Darlington does.

  2. Gene - Terrific! That is going to be a great weekend. It is so good to have a race back at that track.