Carolina 200, UARA Late Models at Rockingham this weekend

Racing at The Rock, April 19th, 2009

                                                 Dale Wilkerson    April 2009

To some folks this may come as somewhat of a surprise; The Rockingham Raceway is open for business!!!

            That is one thing that Track Owner Andy Hillenburg and his staff face as they prepare to host their second ARCA event this weekend.

            “We have just got to work harder to get the word out. A lot of folks still believe The Rock is closed,” said Hillenburg.

            Last year Hillenburg brought this track back to life with several events. This facility hosted the 600-Legends cars, the bandelero cars, the USAR series, classes for the Fastrack Driving School, test sessions for Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams, and last May, the return of the ARCA series to the Carolina’s as Joey Logano powered past Ken Schrader, on a late race re-start, to win the Carolina 500.

            Local drivers Jeremy Clements and James Hylton entered the ARCA event last season. Clements was running inside the top ten when his car started overheating ending his day. James Hylton, the 1966 NASCAR Rookie of the Year, was caught up in a seven car chain reaction wreck, but his team was able to make repairs and he went on to finish the race.

            This year, the racing began on day one, that’s right racing on New Year’s Day, as the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals held the Polar Bear 150. Among the 67 drivers that ran that event, was local driver Tim Treadwell.

            Hillenburg asked the ARCA folks for another date this season. ARCA, in an effort to save their teams some expense asked Hillenburg to cut the race back to the normal race distance of 200 miles, instead of the 300 plus mile event last year. In return the ARCA officials not only gave Rockingham a second date, but season ending, championship deciding event.

            “This track has seen several champions crowned over the years, including the late Dale Earnhardt winning his last championship. We can’t thank the ARCA folks enough for bringing their championship event here,’ said a very excited Hillenburg.

            As excited as Hillenburg, should be all of us race fans who cringed as Rockingham seemed doomed to faded paint and weeds growing though the racing surface, the fate of the North Wilkesboro Speedway.

            Some 32,000 seats remain at Rockingham. The other roughly 30,000 seats, which lined the backstretch, are now called the John Force Grandstand at the Dragstrip at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Speedway Motorsports INC, briefly owned the Rockingham Raceway, after a date swap with the International Speedway Corporation, back in 2004. SMI moved the final Rockingham date to Texas after ISC shuffled many race dates which resulted in Darlington loosing the Labor Day weekend, and Rockingham being shut down.

            Andy Hillenburg has answered the call of Carolina race fans. No, he hasn’t got a top level NASCAR date back, but folks remember, it is like he has built a new track. Hillenburg has to prove that the Rockingham area can support the track all over again.

            This weekend, the staff at Rockingham has a special deal for race fans. If you purchase tickets for the Carolina 200 (visit www.rockinghamracewaypark.com ) for Sunday, you receive free tickets for the USAR Late Models on Saturday. Those free tickets include ARCA qualifying, practice, and if the UARA car count warrants it, a last chance qualifying race for that event. Hillenburg said they have heard from near 70 teams wanting to make the show Saturday alone.

            Last year over 21,000 attended the ARCA event and the Polar Bear 150 had near 20,000 as well.

            “We hope the numbers continue to grow with each event as more folks realize we have events here at Rockingham,” said Hillenburg.

            If you are looking for a cheap race weekend fans, you won’t beat this ‘2 for 1” deal offered at Rockingham. And there is not a better way to send a message to the powers that be that Rockingham deserves NASCAR events than for us as race fans, to buy tickets and make the ride down Highway 74 to fill up some seats.