ROCKINGHAM — Racing fans once parked and camped on a stretch of land on U.S. 1 while visiting North Carolina Motor Speedway.
But with NASCAR taking the 1.017-mile oval track off the circuit in 2004 — and a failed revival by Andy Hillenburg from 2007-13 — the property owners decided to look to the sun.
The nearly 50-acre tract, between Rockingham Dragway and Beaverdam Church Road, will soon be home to the county’s fourth solar farm.
“It’s been family land for years,” said Bryan Land, whose grandfather Bill Land acquired the property in the late ’30s and early ’40s and was instrumental in developing the speedway and drag strip. “It’s just been farmland and timberland for many years.”
About 35 acres of timber were cleared from the property within two weeks and construction has begun on a 5-megawatt solar farm, being developed by Chapel Hill-based Heelstone Energy, LLC.
Heelstone was also responsible for the development six solar facilities in the Raleigh-Durham area, that have been in operation for about eight months.
Land, who is the public works director for Richmond County, said crews have started driving the posts into the ground that the solar panels will sit on.
“The solar farm is a fairly lucrative option for a landowner when the revenue stream from the NASCAR races and the Dragway races have been lost,” he said.
Land said the project has been a “long and drawn-out process” that he’s been working on for about two years.
“I’m glad to see it finally come to fruition,” he said.
Construction is set to be completed by the end of October, and Land said there is already a power-purchase agreement established with Duke Energy Progress.
There are currently three other solar sites across the county.
The Rock Farm — completed in 2013 by Strata Solar — is located nearby, just behind the speedway off N.C. 177. According to the company’s website, the 6.65 megawatt farm generates 9,975 megawatt hours of electricity per year, enough to power 771 homes.
There is also a 50-megawatt site in the Derby area and a small farm in Ellerbe.
“You just have to reinvent the wheel and get creative and come up with other options for your property,” Land said. “We’d love to get back to the days of NASCAR, but don’t think those days are in our future. I hope I’m wrong, though.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.