"There were a lot of hurt feelings in the community when NASCAR left. After all (Rockingham was), at the core of NASCAR for many years," he says. "And then, all of a sudden, they didn’t have NASCAR at all, and like I said, that left a lot of people with hurt feelings. Still, when the opportunity came to host a Truck race, this community really pulled together and that made the difference. It takes a lot of people just to open the doors, and everybody’s job is important. There’s no way we could have pulled this off if the community hadn’t really pitched in.

"Just opening up the gates on race morning takes a tremendous amount of manpower," he continues. "We had 75 parking lot attendants, a couple of hundred security personnel, and ushers. I still don’t know the count on how many people helped us out running the concession areas. And the thing I’m most proud of is everybody was on the same page. They all wanted it to be successful with the fans, and I am very proud of and thankful for everybody that helped us. The fan response of everyone that I talked to was tremendous. I think that says a lot about the quality of the people in Rockingham and the surrounding area."

Currently, Rockingham Speedway’s capacity is right around 30,000, and NASCAR’s report for attendance for the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 that Sunday afternoon in April was 27,500 people. By all accounts, the weekend was an unqualified success--both in terms of attendance numbers, the quality of the racing on the track, and even customer satisfaction. Many of the fans we spoke with said they enjoyed the "old-school" feel of the event, meaning the race lacked the corporate feel that seems to have overtaken many of the larger tracks hosting NASCAR races.

For his part Hillenburg, who had never promoted a race before becoming the owner of one of the largest sports venues in North Carolina, says it’s simply a matter of trying to put on a race that he’d enjoy seeing.

"I’m a blue-collar guy. That’s just me. Before you called to talk about the race I was out in the shop working on the bead blaster," he explains. "I want the fans and the teams to really feel appreciated, because racing is what I love and I’m really happy to be in a position to do what I’m doing.

"Don’t get me wrong, there’s no way I could do this by myself," he continues, "but I was out there helping to clean up trash Sunday evening. I’m not just sitting in an office. I feel like I’m attacking the promotion at Rockingham Speedway from a different angle because I have to. Being hands-on is the only way I know how to do things. I want to be able to meet my race fans. I want to be in the garage talking to my racers. When they opened the gates to the garage area on race morning, I was at the gates with the security staff welcoming all the crews as they came in. Those are my buddies. I like those guys, and I want to be there."

Many of the crews also enjoyed coming back. Butch Hylton is the crew chief for driver Timothy Peters, who left leading the Truck Series standings after a Fifth-Place finish at Rockingham Speedway. Hylton has a lot of experience at The Rock having worked for many years on Cup teams including those of Bobby Labonte and Kevin Harvick, but he says many of the crew members on the Truck team are younger and had never experienced the one-mile track in the North Carolina sandhills.

"It was good to go back," he says. "You remember the trip down there--there’s a back way down there from Charlotte that’s a nice drive through the country, and it’s just a nice trip. And when you get there, although it may be a little bit rougher it’s still the same old Rockingham. It’s still going to make you work if you are going to be fast around that track for long runs. I know I really enjoyed the chance to go back there, and a lot of the guys on the team are younger and had never raced there so it was fun to show them what The Rock was all about.

Of course, a lot has changed since NASCAR has last raced at The Rock, too. Hylton says his old setup books are only good for doorstops now. "When we raced there the last time in 2004, we weren’t coil binding yet like we are now. We were still racing conventional setups back then which is a lot easier but not as fast with these trucks. So finding out the best combination for these trucks now is completely different from what we were doing back then. And it turns out Rockingham can be pretty rough when you are riding around with the front springs in coil bind. It made for some pretty interesting racing, that’s for sure."

As this went to press, there was still no word on whether NASCAR would be returning to The Rock in 2013 (all track contracts are handled on a year-to-year basis). But it’s hard to imagine NASCAR turning its back on the resurgence of this track. For his part, Hillenburg, who always seems to deflect any credit away from himself and toward others, thinks The Rock is ready for bigger and better things.

"I’m really proud of our team’s effort," he says. "It was a huge accomplishment to pull off this race with a small staff of people. And the race teams put on a great show for the fans. But I feel that now that we’ve been through one, we can do even better next year."