An unclear future awaits ‘The Rock’
By Shawn Stinson
The $1 million question swirling around Richmond County is about the future of Rockingham Speedway.
There is plenty of speculation on Twitter, Facebook and the Internet about the track’s status.
Some thought “The Rock” was it going to add a Nationwide race. Or possibly the Sprint Cup Series would return to the Sandhills.
None of those theories came to fruition.
Instead, NASCAR officials announced Monday morning the K&N Pro Series East season-ending race scheduled for Nov. 2 at Rockingham Speedway was canceled.
The content in the three-paragraph press release from the organization mainly focused on how the series would now end in October at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga.
But there was one line that stood out. A quote from George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president of regional and touring series.
“However, the race track failed to meet its obligations and we were forced to terminate the sanction agreement.”
No one from NASCAR or Rockingham Speedway would answer if those obligations involved the facility, ticket sales or something else. Jason Christley, NASCAR senior manager of communications for regional and touring series, said this information was between the organization and the track’s officials.
With the K&N event being pulled, the next big question centers on the future of the Camping World Truck Series race.
That answer is expected to come soon enough with the release of next season’s schedule.
Despite all of the efforts by Andy Hillenburg and his staff to put on a first-class event to welcome NASCAR back to “The Rock,” it seems as if the trucks will not be making a third visit to the track next year.
If this does in fact come to pass, then the track’s future looks bleak.
When Hillenburg purchased Rockingham Speedway in 2007, he reopened it a few months later and featured lower-level competition including four ARCA events over the next three years. Even though those races featured future stars like Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as well as Austin and Ty Dillon, the attendance lagged.
There seemed to be a general feeling around the area of “we support Andy and all he is trying to do out there, but we want NASCAR back.”
The public had to understand Hillenburg had to crawl before trying to run and bring the Sprint Cup back.
His first big step in that direction came on Sept. 7, 2011 when then Gov. Bev Perdue stood in the middle of pit lane and made the official announcement that NASCAR was returning. Although it was the truck series.
Racing fans rejoiced because “The Rock” was back on the NASCAR schedule and the excitement continued to build for seven months until the green flag dropped on April 15, 2012. After the checkered flag was waved and Kasey Kahne finally visited Victory Lane at “The Rock” after being denied by Matt Kenseth in the final Sprint Cup race eight years earlier, everyone raved about the great competition.
It was thought to be a slam dunk for the trucks to return and do everything all over again this spring. When Hillenburg announced the trucks would be returning last September, the buzz surrounding the first race had vanished.
The honeymoon was definitely over and there could be a nasty divorce in the future.
But Rockingham Speedway isn’t the only facility with a hazy future.
Iowa Speedway, which hosted two Nationwide races, two Camping World Truck Series events as well as the IndyCar Series this year, recently had its CEO resigned and is in the midst of trying to refinance the track’s debt.
Despite the difficulty, it appears as if Iowa will remain on the IndyCar schedule and like “The Rock” will await its future with NASCAR.
No matter what the decision is regarding Rockingham Speedway, everyone in Richmond County should thank Hillenburg for giving everything he has had to bring the NASCAR thunder back to the Sandhills.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.
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