ROCKINGHAM — Plans to bring racing back to Rockingham Speedway have hit a wall.
James Martin, of Level 1 Motorsports in Union County, announced on Facebook Monday night that the inaugural season for the X-Cup Series “is at least temporarily on hold.”
An open test was planned for this coming Sunday so drivers could get their cars on the track to prepare for the opening race on April 23 — the first scheduled at the storied speedway in three years.
Martin said he learned speedway co-owner Bill Silas — who holds the lien on the property and is a partner with Andy Hillenburg in Rockingham Raceway Park LLC, which owns the track — terminated the lease Vets-Help.org had signed with Hillenburg.
“I was kind of as blown away as anybody else,” he said. Martin then called the drivers to tell them the news. “I did what I felt was best.”
However, Craig Northacker says the lease is still valid and a purchase agreement is in negotiation.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re still on track to do what we’re going to do,” said Northacker, executive director of Vets-Help.
Northacker first announced plans early last year to purchase the speedway to use in the rehabilitating of veterans through a variety of programs, including racing and other automotive-related activities.
“I’m not a racing guy,” he said. “I just thought it was a good opportunity for our veterans and their families.”
Northacker said there are multiple facets to the Team Patriot plan, “We’re just wanting to make The Rock the crown jewel of what we’re doing.”
Jim Blakenbaker, who was the vice president of operations and development for Vets-Help, said Northacker acknowledged receiving a 60-day written notice of termination of the lease, per the agreement signed in 2014, but was dismissive about it, saying it didn’t matter.
“I asked for a copy but was not given a copy,” he told the Daily Journal.
Blankenbaker said he didn’t want any of his $30,000 worth of assets, including vehicles and racing equipment, to be seized, so he made sure they were off the property by March 14, when the lease was allegedly set to end.
He also said he has retained a Charlotte-area lawyer regarding back wages and a bounced check from Northacker.
CAN RACING RESUME?
Despite the caution flags, Blankenbaker said he and Curt Trent — who was vice president of motorsports and automotive programs — are still trying to move forward and there are “conversations going on trying to salvage something in 2016,” which could possibly include the X-Cup Series.
“If there’s a way to do something, we’re doing it,” he said. “There’s too much synergy not to be able to pull something off.”
Martin developed the X-Cup Series after being approached by Vets-Help representatives about having an event exclusive to Rockingham Speedway. When he presented the idea, he said they loved it, but wanted him to run it.
“It’s such a great concept,” he said. “We’ve got tons of interest.”
The X-Cup Series was scheduled for 10 races, with eight events on the 1.017-mile track and two on the infield road course.
“The series could easily continue on,” he said, but it depends on the drivers and team owners. “We can always take the series to other local short tracks, but the big draw was using the Rockingham mile.”
Martin said he spoke with a representative of Silas and asked if there was a possibility of keeping the series at the track, but, “He told me right now, they’re not doing anything.”
If Silas decides to have racing at the track this year, Martin said he would love to be a part of it.
Level 1 began having evaluations at the “Little Rock” half-mile track out back and has since brought New Yorker Collin Fern and Canadian Dylan King — who test-drove in January — on board as drivers.
There was also an American Racer tire test held for the X-Cup series in February and one for the Super Cup Stock Car Series — which has a race scheduled for October — last month.
Records with the Richmond County tax office show a payment of $11,350.61 — $9,324.91 for taxes plus $1,965.70 in interest and a $60 lien cost — was made March 21. Another payment of $47,189 was made Tuesday, zeroing out the speedway tax bill.
County Tax Administrator Vagas Jackson said the most recent payment was made through the electronic computer system and he doesn’t know who actually made it.
Previous records indicated that the $712.02 tax bill on the speedway equipment was paid on Nov. 16. — three days after Farmers and Merchants Bank’s lien on the property was purchased by BK Rock Holdings, a limited liability company whose managing agent, Alan I. Armour, represented Silas. The address listed for the company is also the same as Palm Beach Grading, a company founded by Silas in Stuart, Florida.
On Feb. 16, a substitution of trustee — appointing Raleigh attorney Louis E. Wooten as a substitute trustee — was filed with the Richmond County Register of Deeds office.
Hillenburg is still listed as the registered agent for Rockingham Raceway Park, LLC, according to the N.C. Secretary of State’s office. Bryan and Kim Silas are both listed as company officials.
Multiple messages left for Armour and his secretary and messages left at Palm Beach Grading to reach Silas on Tuesday were not returned. Silas has remained silent on his role in the speedway’s management and possible sale for more than a year.
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.