"I've always wanted a track, and I was looking for one for a long time," says 1995 ARCA Series Champion and owner of Fast Track High Performance Driving School, Andy Hillenburg. "When Rockingham went on the auction block I jumped at it. I've been at this thing (the school and racing) for 25 years. And I have 25 years of ideas in my head. I had to have my own track to see them through to reality."
Rockingham, or The Rock as it is more commonly called, was known for years officially as North Carolina Motor Speedway. Opened on Halloween 1965 the 1-mile medium banked (22 degrees Turns 1 and 2; 25 degrees Turns 3 and 4) oval hosted two NASCAR Cup Series races annually from 1966 through the 2004 season. The track fell victim to NASCAR's march west toward newer markets and bigger tracks. Speedway Motorsports, Bruton Smith's track empire, held title to the facility when it closed in 2004. It sat dormant for three years before it was put up for auction and Hillenburg submitted the winning bid.
The former driver went immediately to work building a half-mile flat oval behind the main facility. That track, dubbed Little Rock, is modeled after Martinsville Speedway and 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 both safety and economy. A car sliding into a sand trap will not suffer the same damage as one smacking a concrete wall.
"Really, Rockingham is a multi-purpose motorsports facility," says Hillenburg. "We've got the main track--which also has a road course, Little Rock, and a quarter-mile track that is perfect for Legends and Bandeloros."
Hillenburg envisions a track that not only hosts major motorsports events but is a mecca for aspiring race car drivers. "With the two smaller tracks behind the main track, I can literally train a young racer from his or her Legends days all the way up to the upper echelons of stock car racing in America through Fast Track's different educational programs."
Richmond County, where the track is located, is one of the poorest counties in the State of North Carolina which makes selling out the 60,000-seat racetrack a daunting task in this economy. However, when you consider the track is located just a couple hours from Columbia, South Carolina, or Raleigh, North Carolina, you begin to get the picture that with some savvy promotion Hillenburg could bring the Rock back to its former glory and beyond. And that's just his plan. Beyond the estimated multi-million dollar economic impact that the Truck race will bring to the area, what Hillenburg is building at The Rock should bring a new level of prosperity to the depressed region.
We'll be following along on Hillenburg's exploits as he builds educational programs through his school that will benefit racers of all ages. But in the meantime, he has a race to run.
Track owner Andy Hillenburg...
Track owner Andy Hillenburg is all smiles as he makes the announcement of the return of NASCAR to Rockingham Speedway.
North Carolina Governor Beverly...
North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue was on hand for the press conference announcing the return of NASCAR to the fabled track.
Truck Series competitor Bryan...
Truck Series competitor Bryan Silas tests the No. 99 Ford on The Rock’s tricky 1-mile oval.
March 5, 1989. Fans jammed...
March 5, 1989. Fans jammed the infield of The Rock and watched the first 30 laps of the Winston Cup race run under caution to help dry out the racing surface thanks to early morning rains.
In 1975 The Rock sported metal...
In 1975 The Rock sported metal guardrails, today Hillenburg's track features SAFER Barriers.
Former NASCAR Truck Series...
Former NASCAR Truck Series Champion Todd Bodine is will be one of the many drivers who will try to qualify for the Good Sam Roadside Assistance Carolina 200 on April 14-15, 2012.
The Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 takes place on April 15, 2012, but there is plenty to do beforehand. In addition to the Camping World Truck Series event on Sunday, Hillenburg is hosting a double header on Saturday featuring twin 75-lap races with the UARA Stock Cars and Frank Kimmel's Street Stock Nationals which will be followed by a concert by Little Texas. Practice for all divisions takes place on Friday with free admission for fans. Reserved camping begins at noon on April 11 but there is also an area located off of Highway 177 for free camping. Tickets for Saturday are $15 for adults and $5 for kids 12 and under. Sunday's tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for the kids. Contact Rockingham's ticket office at 910/205-8800 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday for more information or to purchase tickets.