Rockingham Speedway

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This article is about the track in Rockingham, USA. For the track located in Northamptonshire, UK, see Rockingham Motor Speedway.
Rockingham Speedway
The Rock
Rockingham Speedway.svg
Map of the track
Location Marks Creek Township, Richmond County, North Carolina,
at 2152 N U.S. Highway 1
Rockingham, North Carolina 28379
Capacity 34,500[1]
Owner Andy Hillenburg[2]
Opened October 31, 1965[3]
Former names North Carolina Motor Speedway (1965-1996)
North Carolina Speedway (1997-2007)[4]
Major events NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
North Carolina Education Lottery 200
NASCAR K&N Pro Series
UARA Late Models[5]
D-shaped oval
Surface Asphalt
Length 1.017 mi (1.636[6] km)
Banking Turns - 22 and 25 degrees
Straights - 8 degrees[3]
Lap record 0:23.167 (Rusty Wallace, Penske Racing, 2000, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series[6])
Little Rock
Surface Asphalt with concrete in turns
Length 0.526 mi (0.847 km)
Banking 12 degrees
Straights - 2 degrees
Road Course
Surface Asphalt
Length 1.6 mi (2.575 km)
Banking Straights 8°, T1 22°, T2 25°, RC 0°

Rockingham Speedway, formerly North Carolina Motor Speedway and later North Carolina Speedway[4] is a closed racetrack (but still used for some events) located near Rockingham, North Carolina. It is affectionately known as "The Rock" and annually hosted two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, last known as the Subway 400 (1966–2004) and the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 (1965–2003), as well as two second-tier Busch Series races, the Goody's Headache Powder 200 (1982–2004) and the Target House 200 (1984–2003). Rockingham has hosted Automobile Racing Club of America and CARS Pro Cup Series races since 2008.[4] From 2012 to 2013, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series held a race once per season.

Currently, the track is home to the Fast Track High Performance Driving School,[7] which is owned by new track owner Andy Hillenburg, and is used extensively for NASCAR testing. The track has also been used often for television and movie filming, and the 2004 ESPN telefilm 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story was filmed at the track along with some scenes from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. For the filming of the later movie, the walls were repainted to resemble famous tracks on the NASCAR circuit. It also was the site of the 2007 Bollywood film Ta Ra Rum Pum.

The track opened as a flat, one-mile oval on October 31, 1965. In 1969, the track was extensively reconfigured to a high-banked, D-shaped oval measuring slightly over one mile in length. The track surface is rather abrasive compared to other tracks on the circuit, due to the high sand content of paving compounds made from local materials. This abrasiveness notoriously contributed to excessive tire wear. This characteristic is often cited as a demanding element of racing at the facility, necessitating strict management of tire wear by teams. In 1997, North Carolina Motor Speedway merged with Penske Motorsports, and was renamed North Carolina Speedway. Shortly thereafter, the infield was reconfigured, and competition on the infield road course, mostly by the SCCA, was discontinued. North Carolina Speedway played host to two NASCAR Cup Series races each year through 2004. The final NASCAR Cup Series race at Rockingham was held on February 22, 2004 with Matt Kenseth winning the event.[8]

In 2008, a new half-mile oval was built behind the backstretch for driving schools, but quickly became a popular test track for NASCAR race cars in preparation for races at Martinsville Speedway, as the tracks are similar in length and radius of turns. Since Rockingham is not on the NASCAR circuit, testing is unlimited. (Martinsville couldn't be used for Sprint Cup testing.) On August 16, 2011 it was announced that Rockingham would install SAFER Barrier along the track walls to improve driver safety. However, rumors spread of the track possibly getting a date on the 2012 Camping World Truck Series schedule.[8] On September 2, an announcement was made by ESPN that Rockingham would receive a Truck Series race scheduled for April 2012 and a press conference would be held on September 7 with Andy Hillenburg and North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue to announce plans.[9] The press conference on September 7 confirmed that the race would be called the "Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200" and be held on April 15. Wayne Auton, the director of the Truck Series, confirmed that teams can still test at Rockingham until December 31. However, testing on the .526-mile oval would remain legal.[10] On November 22, 2011, the track announced that the track will be getting a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and Whelen Southern Modified Tour dates along with the UARA Stars Late Model Series race on November 3, 2012.[11] At the 2012 NASCAR Truck race at Rockingham, Kasey Kahne went on to win his first Rockingham race.

NASCAR removed the Whelen Southern Modified Tour because of track compatibility issues (cars were going too fast on the track even with a restrictor plate, as the track is faster even than the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the fastest oval used by either Whelen Modified Tour, which results in a restrictor plate being used). The K&N Pro East and UARA Late Model races will be joined by the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Series race (with plates) instead, for the Richard Childress Racing "Classic 3" Championship Weekend.

History[edit]

Opening[edit]

Rockingham Speedway, then known as North Carolina Motor Speedway, was the project of Harold Brasington and Bill Land. Brasington, a land developer, also built NASCAR's first superspeedway, Darlington Speedway, in 1950. Land owned the property, which is settled in the sandhills of North Carolina, and together, they set out to find funding. They went to local lawyer Elsie Webb who assembled a group of backers. The duo also sold shares to the locals for $1 per share, and at one time had about 1,000 shareholders.[6]

The speedway was built as a 1.000-mile oval with flat turns. North Carolina Motor Speedway opened on October 31, 1965, holding its first race on the same day. The American 500[12] was a 500-lap, 500-mile NASCAR Grand National Series race won by Curtis Turner at an average speed of 101.942 miles per hour. Turner dominated the race, which was attended by 35,000 people, leading 239 laps and winning by 11 seconds. The winner's purse was $13,090 ($88434.05 adjusted for inflation). The American 500 was the 54th of 55 races in the 1965 season, which included NASCAR legends including Cale Yarborough (who finished second), Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett (who would go on to win the championship), Buddy Baker, David Pearson, and Junior Johnson. Only 19 of the 43 car were running at the end of the race.[13]

The speedway held two Grand National races the next year, the Peach Blossom 500, and The American 500. The Peach Blossom 500 would change names multiple times, usually using the name Carolina 500, before ending as the Subway 400. The American 500 would also change names multiple times ending as the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400. The first race was typically held in early March or late February, and the second race was held in late October. In 1967 and 1968 the Carolina 500 was run in June. The speedway held two Grand National series races every year until 2004.

The Rock at Rockingham Speedway.JPG

Demise[edit]

As part of the acquisition of the Penske Speedways in 1999, the Speedway was sold to International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and in 2004, one of its two Sprint Cup races (the crucial fall race, often the penultimate date on the schedule) was transferred to ISC's California Speedway. The change was made after sagging attendance at Rockingham Speedway. It left the track with only one date, in late February, a highly unpopular date for spectators due to the commonly unpredictable weather. That date was moved up from the traditional early spring date in 1992 when Richmond International Raceway wanted a later date than the traditional post-Daytona date because of two postponements in the late 1980s caused by snow. Rumors persisted that the track's lone remaining date was also in jeopardy, as several new tracks in larger, warm-weather markets coveted the date, which was the first race following the Daytona 500, and in 2002 and 2004, Fox's first race of the season.

Despite wide speculation that the race was in its final year, it failed to sell out, falling nearly 10,000 short of the 60,000 capacity. The track indeed hosted its final race on February 22, 2004. In that last race, Matt Kenseth held off then rookie Kasey Kahne on the last lap to win by only 0.010 seconds. This finish was one of the closest in NASCAR history, and viewed by many fans as one of the best finishes that season. It is also known for a wild crash early in the race in which Carl Long flipped wildly down the backstretch.

In the wake of the Ferko lawsuit (in which a shareholder sued NASCAR, alleging a failed promise to schedule a race to a competing track), and the sagging attendance, the track's state of affairs was sharply altered. In the settlement, ISC sold Rockingham Speedway to Speedway Motorsports (SMI), and the track's lone remaining race was "transferred" to Texas Motor Speedway. Some NASCAR fans saw things differently, however, because it was Darlington Raceway's prestigious Southern 500 removed from the schedule for the second race in Texas, and the date for The Rock was sent to Phoenix International Raceway. SMI agreed to host no NASCAR events at the track while it was under their ownership. Upon its exit from the NASCAR circuit, The Rock joined such facilities as Ontario Motor Speedway, Riverside International Raceway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, Texas World Speedway, and Music City Motorplex as tracks removed from the circuit.

Some suggest that the lack of any other tourist attractions in the area (the nearest major attraction is the legendary golf venue Pinehurst Resort, where a NASCAR on Fox promotion had a sweepstakes winner winning a trip there as part of race tickets), and the relatively small size of the city hurt ticket sales. In addition, other tracks nearby such as Charlotte Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway (in the Florence-Myrtle Beach region) had a tendency to lure away fans looking to catch a race.

The Rockingham track was often praised for good racing (though it never reached 40 official lead changes in a race; it saw 37 official lead changes in one race in 1981) and for having great sightlines for spectators. However, it must also be mentioned that the facility made limited infrastructure reinvestments over the years while being owned by the DeWitt family, and seemed to lag behind other facilities which continually modernized and updated their business plans, especially after it was sold to pay off estate taxes owed by the DeWitt and Wilson families which had owned the track.

New ownership[edit]

Speedway Motorsports put the track up for auction on October 2, 2007.

ARCA RE/MAX Series Series car owner and former driver Andy Hillenburg, who owns Fast Track High Performance Driving School, paid $4.4 million for the track.[14]

Just hours after closing the deal for the sale, he called some sanctioning bodies to arrange dates for his new circuit.

A 500-kilometer ARCA RE/MAX Series race took place during the weekend of May 3–4, 2008, featuring two rounds of qualifying and practice on Saturday and the Carolina 500 on Sunday. It was the richest race on the 2008 ARCA schedule and featured a starting field of fifty cars. Up and coming NASCAR star Joey Logano won the race at 17 years 346 days, the youngest to win a major race at the track, by passing Ken Schrader, who was making his 53rd start (39 NSCS, 13 NNS) at the track, after a caution. Logano dominated the 500-kilometer affair, winning the pole, leading the most laps, and passing Schrader with five laps remaining to win the track's return to major racing with Bill Venturini's Chevrolet. The 500k distance was not held again for ARCA, as ARCA had a pair of 200-mile (320 km) races in 2009 at the track. Rockingham lost one race in 2010, but will still hold the season ending American 200. For 2011, ARCA left and was replaced by the UARA and CARS series for the two races.

The road course has been restored, and in December 2007, testing on the road course commenced. The road course's first week of racing was on January 5–6, 2008, featuring Legends Cars, Bandolero, and Thunder Roadsters.[15]

A 150-lap street stock race, the Polar Bear 150, was held on January 1, 2009, and the event has since become an annual race. Street stock is generally the entry-level class of racing at most short tracks, become an annual race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered a pair of cars for the race, one for his car chief at Hendrick Motorsports and another for an Earnhardt Ganassi Racing mechanic who decided to race in the event. His brother-in-law, Jimmy Elledge (crew chief for Scott Speed in the Sprint Cup) also drove in the race. The race was moved for the 2010-11 offseason to Thanksgiving weekend, and in November 2010, Kurt Busch drove in the street stock race, debuting his new number (#22). The Frank Kimmel Street Stocks did not race the Polar Bear 150 in 2012.

Since 2008[edit]

Starting in 2008, Rockingham has held the ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards season ending race, dubbed the American 200. This has been the premier event at Rockingham since its reopening. In 2009 Rockingham held an additional ARCA race, however that race was not held in 2010. Rockingham also holds the Carolina 200, the finale for the CARS Pro Cup Series. In addition to these events, Rockingham will also have Chumpcar World Series, Legends and Bandolero racing.

Racing through turns 1 and 2 during the NASCAR CWTS Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 on April 15, 2012

On September 7, 2011, it was announced that Rockingham would hold its inaugural Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 on April 15, 2012, the first Camping World Truck Series race held at the track since the series inception. The announcement made by track owner Andy Hillenburg and North Carolina governor Bev Perdue, who said that the track would help the local economy by about $7.2–$10.5 million (2011 USD). Wayne Auton, the Truck Series director, announced that NASCAR testing would end on December 31, 2011 on the main track, but would remain on the half-mile facility.[10]

On January 30, 2012, it was announced that the second annual Carolina Rebellion festival would be held at the Rockingham Speedway.[16]

Kasey Kahne, who had been beaten at the line by Matt Kenseth in the 2004 Cup finale, avenged the defeat with a win at the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200, after Turner Motorsports teammate Nelson Piquet, Jr. scored the pole and dominated the race, only to lose his chance at winning through a late-race speeding penalty on the last pit stop.

In 2014, the Truck Series did not return to the track due to financial struggles.[17] In September it was reported that Farmers & Merchants Bank was requesting a court order to take "immediate and exclusive custody" of the speedway from co-owners Hillenburg and Bill Silas, who were reported to owe $4.5 million to the bank.[18]

Testing[edit]

Rockingham has become a test track for many Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams because of testing restrictions by NASCAR on active tracks. After the track was stripped of its dates, teams began using the circuit to test cars and engines, especially to simulate abrasive wear at certain tracks (Darlington and Atlanta most notably). In 2005, Kyle Petty tested his Darlington car at Rockingham days before its race to not waste one of his five assigned tests.

In 2006, new rules banned all testing at active Sprint Cup tracks except at selected NASCAR-approved open tests during the season, thereby making testing at Rockingham crucial. Penske Racing tested at the track in mid-April 2006, and with the abrasiveness of the Atlanta Motor Speedway surface, which has not been repaved since reconstruction in 1997, and Atlanta's participation in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, many teams are considering returning to Rockingham in September or October to test their cars to simulate Atlanta's similar surface.

NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow (or COT) has led to a boom in testing at the track, and many teams used the track for testing the new cars when it was announced the car would be used in 2007.

In the runup to the COT's debut, Michael Waltrip Racing, Gillett Evernham Motorsports, Yates Racing, and Roush Fenway Racing tested their COT's at the track.

Elliott Sadler was asked about testing the Car of Tomorrow at Phoenix International Raceway the day after the 2006 Checker Auto Parts 500.

"No, I'm going to Rockingham on Wednesday to test the (Car of Tomorrow). We wanted to go to a very bumpy racetrack. The car slams down on the banking very hard at Rockingham and make sure we've got all the springs and all the bumps very smooth feeling. That'll be my first time in the COT. I'm pretty anxious and looking forward to it. NASCAR fans, and we're all fans in this garage, don't like change. We're just skeptical of it, and we've had some really good racing this year, some of the best racing we've had in a while. We're just starting to learn how to get our cars better with the short spoilers. Nobody really wants to change, but how can you complain or argue with NASCAR? They've done such a good job the past 10 years of growing our sport and making it more fan friendly and appealing to TV and things like that. If they think this is going to help our sport grow, we've got to get in there whether we think it's right or wrong and do it with them."

Greg Biffle said during the 2007 NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder press conference, "Pat (Tryson, crew chief, who was subsequently released and joined Penske Racing) and I are going to Rockingham (January 18) with a COT to try to learn some things about them, bump stops and all of the things that are new on them, you know, because we are going to race them at Darlington. But those are going to be keys to making the Chase is running well with that COT car and getting our downforce cars to handle good."

Testing at Rockingham has become a premium because of NASCAR's rules limiting testing imposed since 2006 to the NASCAR-sanctioned open tests. NASCAR rules state testing at tracks not on the series in question is not controlled by the sanctioning body, and many teams evade the testing ban at such tests, which also include the Greenville-Pickens Speedway and Concord Motorsports Park (short tracks), and the Kentucky Speedway (Sprint Cup tests only). Testing at Rockingham is restricted to series that do not run at the circuit (NASCAR mostly), while restrictions to ARCA and CARS-sanctioned open testing apply in those two series because Rockingham is on both series' schedules in 2008. For NASCAR teams, the track has become one of the most popular tracks to test shorter to intermediate tracks on the circuit.

For the 2009 season, NASCAR imposed a blanket ban on testing at any track used by any of NASCAR's three national series or its Camping World touring events. Rockingham, unlike many tracks used in testing historically, is not on any of the series in question, and teams will use both tracks to run around NASCAR's testing ban.

With the opening of the new half-mile oval, the track expects more testing on both the half-mile and mile ovals. The blanket ban will be reimposed on the main speedway for 2012, but the half-mile oval will be legal for testing.

Little Rock[edit]

A new half-mile track (.526 miles), dubbed the Little Rock, was built behind the backstretch for other classes of short-track cars and for the Fast Track driving school Hillenburg owns, and opened October 13, 2008. NASCAR Sprint Cup teams immediately christened the track for testing in preparation for the TUMS QuikPak 500 at Martinsville Speedway that ensuing weekend, as "Little Rock" is designed similar to Martinsville with 800' straights, 588' turns, and the inside lanes of the turns are concrete. Unlike the 1.017-mile (1.637 km) oval, which will be restricted to NASCAR testing on January 1, 2012), NASCAR testing will remain unrestricted on the Little Rock.

The half-mile oval is unique in that instead of a traditional guardrail around the outside of the track, it uses gravel traps similar to road courses. Hillenburg said this is for economical reasons, as a car sliding into a sand trap will not damage a car as much as hitting a wall.

Hillenburg noted, “We've designed a track that can measure one's skill level and they can slide off into a sand trap and not a wall. I can now give parents a straight-up answer as to where their kids stack up.”[19] Jimmie Johnson was part of the opening group of drivers to test at "Little Rock," and blew a tire. He jokingly said he nearly ran into his own transporter because of the track's design that lacked the concrete wall for safety.[20]

The new half-mile track, with its intentional similarity to Martinsville, quickly became a testing venue for Sprint Cup teams in 2008, and it with NASCAR testing rules, will likely be a testing hotbed for Sprint Cup teams to test before Martinsville's two races in 2009, since new NASCAR rules prohibit testing on any track on the three national series or the Grand National division, and Rockingham is not on any of those schedules.

The track also has an integrated quarter-mile oval for the Bandoleros and Legend's Cars.

Film and commercial usage[edit]

The speedway has become a venue for active filming for movies, television programs, and television commercials, often with its venues being used for various facilities. Notable films include:

When it was part of the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, it also was a filming location for

It was also used as venue for the truck pull event during Worlds Strongest Man 2011.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The seating capacity is 34,500, which does not include the suites, and infield area." Robert Ingraham (Director of Operations, Rockingham Speedway)
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ a b [2][dead link]
  4. ^ a b c Jayski's Rockingham Speedway Track Page
  5. ^ "Rockingham Speedway, Rockingham Speedway Rockingham, NC Home". Rockinghamracewaypark.com. 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  6. ^ a b c "NASCAR Tracks - North Carolina Speedway". Premium.nascar.com. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  7. ^ "Fast Track High Performance Driving School, Inc". Fasttrackracing.com. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  8. ^ a b McGee, Ryan (August 16, 2011). "SAFER walls coming to The Rock". ESPN The Magazine. Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  9. ^ McGee, Ryan (September 2, 2011). "Sources: Rockingham to host Trucks". ESPN The Magazine. Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b "NASCAR returns to historic Rockingham in '12" (Press release). NASCAR.com. September 7, 2011. Retrieved September 7, 2011. 
  11. ^ 51, Speed. "NKPSE, NWSMT at the Rock in 2012". 
  12. ^ "1965 American 500". Racing-Reference.info. 1965-10-31. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  13. ^ "Race Results at Rockingham Speedway". Racing-Reference.info. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  14. ^ The nickname "Indiana Andy" is used to prevent confusion with another driver of a similar name in the World of Outlaws from Oklahoma.
  15. ^ Rockingham Speedway
  16. ^ "Carolina Rebellion // Sat., May 5th 2012 // Rockingham Speedway". Carolinarebellion.com. 2012-05-05. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  17. ^ Gluck, Jeff (October 25, 2013). "Trucks will return to Eldora, skip Rockingham in 2014". USA Today. Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  18. ^ Spradlin, Kevin (September 18, 2014). "Bank requests ‘immediate and exclusive custody’ of Rockingham Speedway". The Pee Dee Post. Rockingham, NC. Retrieved 2014-09-19. 
  19. ^ Rockingham Raceway Park is showing why North Carolina is the Racing Capital of the USA
  20. ^ Joe Menzer (2008-10-17). "Humor, honesty abound as drivers relax in M'ville rain - Oct 17, 2008". Nascar.Com. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°58′27.05″N 79°36′37.51″W / 34.9741806°N 79.6104194°W / 34.9741806; -79.6104194