Rockingham Dragway was the site of the very first national event held by the sanctioning body in 1971 and, minus a brief absence in the mid-90s, “The Rock” has been a part of every IHRA season since.
In fact Rockingham Dragway is the only track from the original season that still exists on the IHRA schedule today.
During that span hundreds of the best drivers from across the globe have made passes on the North Carolina quarter-mile and more than a few of those drivers have gone on to win championships in both IHRA and NHRA competition.
“I don’t hesitate when someone asks what my favorite track is. I always say Rockingham Dragway,” said six-time IHRA Top Fuel champion Clay Millican.
“Not only did I have a piece of the Rock, but that Rock helped build my house. We won a lot of races there and a lot of money. There is no place in the country quite like Rockingham Dragway.”
And while success at Rockingham has always boded well for future champions, more recently that success has had a direct correlation to championship seasons.
Take for example the stars of Top Fuel.
Known the world over as the “Kings of the Sport,” IHRA Top Fuel champions are almost always born through successful weekends at “The Rock.”
In fact an eerie list of statistics almost always places successful Rockingham racers in the championship hunt at years end.
Through 29 seasons as an IHRA sanctioned facility and 59 national events held at the track a grand total of 22 Top Fuel World Champions have had successful weekends at “The Rock” during their championship years.
Even more interesting, since 1982 every single IHRA Top Fuel World Champion has been to a Rockingham final round during their championship season either at the spring or fall race.
“When you show up there you look down the track and realize all the legends that have been there. You name it they have driven here,” Millican said.
“Just to run a Top Fuel car on that track, for me, was unbelievable. I never really considered winning there. The first time we showed up there I was ecstatic just to be running on the same track that has played such an important role in drag racing history.
“To go on and have as much success as we eventually had at the track is actually pretty amazing.”
Millican, who went on to claim six championships and 51 career victories in IHRA competition, made his first career final round in the spring of 2000 at Rockingham Dragway and eventually went on to become the winningest driver in the history of the track with 11 Rockingham wins.
In fact in 14 races run at “The Rock” Millican made the finals 12 times.
Millican also set the national standard for elapsed time in the fall of 2005 with a 4.484-second pass – a record that still stands today.
“There have been so many magical things that happened there for us. We went the quickest in IHRA history there. We went 4.48 which is just unbelievable and still no one has went quicker,” Millican said. “It was all about that racetrack. When we showed up at that track if we did not win the event or at least make the final we were disappointed.”
More recently since 2001 every single IHRA Top Fuel champion – including Millican – has won a race at Rockingham at some point during the season. During the past two years eventual champions Del Cox Jr. and Spencer Massey, both rookies at the time, claimed their first career wins at the spring race on their way to claiming the title.
Talk about a leap – going from rookie to champion all in one season – but both Massey and Cox were able to pull it off. Now Massey hopes a return trip to the North Carolina track will help spur another momentum boost after a less than stellar start to the 2010 Nitro Jam season.
“We had a lot of good times and accomplished a lot at Rockingham Dragway so I am really looking forward to going back there,” Massey said. “It is a great track with a lot of history behind it and it means a lot for a driver to do well there. It is a special event for the drivers and for the fans and I can’t wait to get out there and compete again.”
Both Cox and Massey will be trying to make it three-in-a-row for Mitch King Motorsports at the Spring Nitro Jam as both drivers have taken home spring Ironman trophies the past two seasons.
“The Mitch King team has done very well at Rockingham Dragway. This team has won the spring race and clinched the championship at the track two years in a row,” Massey said.
“I look forward to seeing what we can do again this year with the new format.”
Massey’s teammate and defending IHRA World Champion Cox is also thrilled about a return to the site of his first career victory.
“That was certainly an incredible weekend. To get our first win in only our second race at a track with that much history was pretty special,” Cox said.
“Rockingham helped set the stage for the rest of our season and I can’t wait to go back there and see if we can capture that success once again.”
Another driver that knows a thing or two about success at “The Rock” is 2007 Top Fuel champ Bruce Litton.
Litton is a four-time Rockingham winner and has seen his share of big moments at the track including winning his first career race at the track in the spring of 1999 and clinching his only championship during the World Finals in ’07.
“Before we ever raced at Rockingham you always knew the history surrounding that place. You always saw big names race there and big names win there and that was always a place you wanted to do well at,” Litton said.
“Since Steve Earwood took it over he signed with IHRA and it has really become a special place to race.
“It has always been a race I look forward to going to. Early in my career that was where we got our first win and then I won the championship there in October of ’07. You always love the tracks you do well at and we have certainly done well there.”
Along with winning a championship Litton also admits that just being able to add his name to the list of legends that have conquered “The Rock” is an honor in itself.
“The history of Rockingham is unbelievable and that is what makes it so special. It is not just a drag strip it is a historical landmark,” Litton said.
“It is just really neat for all of us, from sportsman to professional, to race at a track that has so much history and to be a part of that history.”
And the man who has seen it all firsthand is longtime Rockingham owner and promoter Steve Earwood.
Earwood has seen records fall, champions crowned and even a few drag racing firsts through the years and yet he still enjoys every single weekend of racing that takes place at his timeless facility.
“Rockingham Dragway has a unique tradition as the track has hosted national events for 40 years. We are one of the very few tracks that have flown the flag of every major drag racing sanctioning body.
“In fact, we were the second national track ever sanctioned by the IHRA,” Earwood said.
“I think the tradition is an appeal to all drivers who compete here. This track certainly enjoys sustainability unlike any other.”
Now, the weekend of May 1-2, Rockingham Dragway will once again host another first as the brand new Nitro Jam series travels to the facility with an all-new format and all-new classes to put on a show unlike any other for the North Carolina fans.
Featuring three nitro-powered classes, including Top Fuel and Pro Fuel Dragsters and Prostalgia Nitro Funny Cars, along with the regions best heads-up doorslammer and dragster racing, the debut of dueling jet semis and the “Cool Bus” wheelstander, the Spring Nitro Jam promises to be an event unlike any other during the 30th installment of IHRA drag racing at Rockingham Dragway.
“That is one of the most historical tracks in the entire country and any fan that has been there, they understand it,” Millican said.
“Anybody that hasn’t been there should go because it is a magical place.”