Close to 70 cars took the green flag at the 1 mile high-banked speedway in Rockingham NC.
For the majority of promoters, January is a month when their track will sit dormant, awaiting the upcoming season to roll around. This is not the case for Rockingham Raceway Park in Rockingham, NC. Track owner Andy Hillenburg and nine-time ARCA Champion Frank Kimmel partnered together to bring the fans a spectacular race in the cold month of January. But what was crazy about the idea was that the race was held on a Thursday, and even crazier on New Year's Day!
Dubbed the Polar Bear 150, the race is the latest addition to the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals that ran at Kentucky Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway in 2008. Once the race was announced, word spread quickly that Hillenburg and Kimmel would guarantee a starting spot for up to 99 cars if that many showed up on New Year's Day. The question wasn't whether the cars would show up for the race, since close to 70 pre-entries came for the inaugural event. The real worry was whether or not the fans would brave the cold conditions to watch the event. Let's face it, Rockingham, located about an hour and a half southeast of Charlotte, isn't exactly known for its warm temps in January. However, close to 6,500 fans attended the event in 40-degree weather at the drop of the green flag.
Frank Kimmel's Street Stock Nationals' three-wide start has become a standard occurrence a
So how did this event come about? "It was a collaboration with Frank (Kimmel) and me," says Andy Hillenburg, owner/promoter of the speedway. "We wanted it to be a national event, and with us running on January 1, we knew that no other event would be running against us."
"The whole idea behind the Street Stock Nationals is to give the guys and gals who race this division the opportunity to do something special that they wouldn't normally have," explained Kimmel. "What's better than having their own event on New Year's Day at a legendary racetrack?"
By running on January 1, the event was able to draw people from across the nation. Drivers from states like, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and even California were represented at in the race.
Don't let this photo deceive you, this was taken from this past January.
The weather on that first day of 2009 was the only thing that was cold, the racing action most certainly wasn't. If 67 cars take to the Rock, there are bound to be a few cautions and there were. The 150-lap event had 14 cautions and two red flags. But between those cautions cars were seen racing three wide and performing amazing passes at all corners of the high-banked track. Rockingham is a track where you can pass anywhere you want to, and everyone was doing so.
After their normal three-wide start, the lead was fought between Chuck Barnes Sr. and Brett Hudson. Barnes Sr. and Hudson would trade the lead back and forth for most of the event until Hudson's motor let go with 15 to go. Barnes went on to win the event, while Hudson finished 32nd. "We definitely had something for them at the end," said Hudson. "I knew we had a problem on the last caution, the water pressure was up and down. I was hoping it would hold until the end."
Of course there were accidents, a total of 14 cautions and two red flags slowed the event.
Barnes had nothing but good things to say about the facility, "I've been racing about 30 years. I am trying to cut back to some of the bigger races. Maybe one or two a year, this win is one of the tops of my career. This is the best place we've been to."
As for the rest of the field, at the end of the race there were fifteen cars on the lead lap, and the rest had either been caught up in one of the accidents or had some type of engine problem. One of the more spectacular wrecks belonged to Brian Silas. Silas tumbled upside down coming out of turn four, collecting the barriers at the entrance to pit road and destroying his Monte Carlo. "I'm not exactly sure happened," said Silas, who normally pilots a Hillenburg owned car in the ARCA Re/Max Series. "I felt grip until I was almost out of the corner. I'm not sure if someone tapped me in the left rear. I felt even with that, that wasn't what it was. I saved it the first time. The second time, I felt like I had no grip in the corner. After that I knew it was going to be painful."
Chuck Barnes Sr. Called this win one of the biggest of his career.
"I think the fans really enjoyed the race, we've gotten a lot of great feedback," said Kimmel.
Hillenburg echoed those thoughts by saying "The event was a success. We are already planning and looking forward to the second annual Polar Bear 150 on January 1, 2010."
Next year, come out and celebrate the New Year with Rockingham Raceway Park, and watch close to 90 cars take the green flag all at once. I can assure you, there is nothing quite like that three wide start!