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Rockingham Speedway
The Rock
ACDelco500RockinghamWinnerAlanKulwicki.jpg
Alan Kulwicki's 1990 winner trophy
Location 2152 US Hwy 1
Rockingham, North Carolina 28379
Capacity ~30,000
Owner Andy Hillenburg
Opened 1965
Architect Harold Brasington and Bill Land
Former names North Carolina Motor Speedway (1965-1996)
North Carolina Speedway (1997-2007)
Major events ARCA Re/Max Series
Carolina 200/American 200
USARacing ProCup Series
D-shaped oval
Surface Asphalt
Length 1.017 mi (1.637 km)
Banking Turns - 22 and 25 degrees
Straights - 8 degrees
Lap record 0:23.167 (Rusty Wallace, Penske Racing, 2000, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series)
Little Rock
Surface Asphalt with concrete in turns
Length 0.526 mi (0.847 km)
Banking 12 degrees
Straights - 2 degrees
This article is about the Rockingham, North Carolina Track; for the track located in Northamptonshire, United Kingdom see Rockingham Motor Speedway.

Rockingham Speedway, formerly North Carolina Motor Speedway and later North Carolina Speedway [1] is a racetrack located in Rockingham, North Carolina. It is affectionately known as "The Rock" and hosted two NASCAR Cup Series, the Subway 400 (1966-2004) and the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 (1965-2003), as well as two Busch Series races, the Goody's Headache Powder 200 (1982-2004) and the Target House 200 (1984-2003). Rockingham will host Automobile Racing Club of America and USAR Hooters Pro Cup series races starting in 2008.[1] Currently, the track is home to the Buck Baker Driving School, and also the Fast Track High Performance Driving School, which is owned by new track owner Andy Hillenburg, and is used extensively for NASCAR testing.

It has been used often for television and movie filming, and the 2004 ESPN telefilm 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story was filmed at the track along with some scenes from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. For the filming of the later movie, the walls were repainted to resemble famous tracks on the NASCAR circuit. It also was the site of the 2007 Bollywood film Ta Ra Rum Pum.

The track opened as a flat, one-mile oval in 1965. In 1969, the track was extensively reconfigured to a high-banked, D-shaped oval measuring slightly over one mile in length. The track surface is rather abrasive compared to other tracks on the circuit, due to the high sand content of paving compounds made from local materials. This abrasiveness notoriously contributed to excessive tire wear. This characteristic is often cited as a demanding element of racing at the facility, necessitating strict management of tire wear by teams.

In 1997, North Carolina Motor Speedway merged with Penske Motorsports, and was renamed North Carolina Speedway. Shortly thereafter, the infield was reconfigured, and competition on the infield road course, mostly by the SCCA, was discontinued. North Carolina Speedway played host to two NASCAR Nextel Cup races each year through 2003.

In 2008, a new half-mile oval was built behind the backstretch for driving schools, but quickly became a popular test track for NASCAR race cars in preparation for races at Martinsville Speedway, as the tracks are similar in length and radius of turns. Since Rockingham is not on the NASCAR circuit, testing is unlimited. (Martinsville cannot be used for Sprint Cup testing.)

Contents

Demise

As part of the acquisition of the Penske Speedways in 1999, the Speedway was sold to International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and in 2003, one of its two Sprint Cup races (the crucial fall race, often the penultimate date on the schedule) was transferred to ISC's California Speedway. The change was made after sagging attendance at Rockingham Speedway. It left the track with only one date, in late February, a highly unpopular date for spectators due to the commonly unpredictable weather. That date was moved up from the traditional early spring date in 1992 when Richmond International Raceway wanted a later date than the traditional post-Daytona date because of two postponements in the late 1980s caused by snow. Rumors persisted that the track's lone remaining date was also in jeopardy, as several new tracks in larger, warm-weather markets coveted the date, which was the first race following the Daytona 500, and in 2002 and 2004, Fox's first race of the season.

Despite wide speculation that the race was in its final year, it failed to sell out, falling nearly 10,000 short of the 60,000 capacity. The track indeed hosted its final race on February 22, 2004. In that last race, Matt Kenseth held off then rookie Kasey Kahne on the last lap to win by only 0.010 seconds. This finish was one of the closest in NASCAR history, and viewed by many fans as one of the best races that season. It is also known for a wild crash early in the race in which Carl Long flipped wildly down the backstretch.

In the wake of the Ferko lawsuit, and the sagging attendance, the track's state of affairs was sharply altered. In the settlement, ISC sold Rockingham Speedway to Speedway Motorsports (SMI), and the track's lone remaining race was "transferred" to Texas Motor Speedway. Some NASCAR fans saw things differently, however, because it was Darlington Raceway's prestigious Southern 500 removed from the schedule for the second race in Texas, and the date for The Rock was sent to Phoenix International Raceway. SMI agreed to host no NASCAR events at the track while it was under their ownership. Upon its exit from the NASCAR circuit, The Rock joined such facilities as Ontario Motor Speedway, Riverside International Raceway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, Texas World Speedway, and Music City Motorplex as tracks removed from the circuit.

Most agree that the lack of any other tourist attractions in the area (the nearest major attraction is the legendary golf venue Pinehurst Resort, where a NASCAR on Fox promotion had a sweepstakes winner winning a trip there as part of race tickets), and the relatively small size of the city hurt ticket sales. In addition, other tracks nearby such as Lowe's Motor Speedway and Darlington Speedway (in the Florence-Myrtle Beach region) had a tendency to lure away fans looking to catch a race. All of this despite Rockingham's reputation for excellent racing and for having great sightlines for spectators. It must also be mentioned that the facility made limited infrastructure reinvestments over the years while being owned by the DeWitt family, and seemed to lag behind other facilities which continually modernized and updated their business plans, especially after it was sold to pay off estate taxes owed by the DeWitt and Wilson families which had owned the track.

Testing

Rockingham has become a test track for many Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams because of testing restrictions by NASCAR on active tracks. After the track was stripped of its dates, teams began using the circuit to test cars and engines, especially to simulate abrasive wear at certain tracks (Darlington and Atlanta most notably). In 2005, Kyle Petty tested his Darlington car at Rockingham days before its race to not waste one of his five assigned tests.

In 2006, new rules banned all testing at active Sprint Cup tracks except at selected NASCAR-approved open tests during the season, thereby making testing at Rockingham crucial. Penske Racing tested at the track in mid-April 2006, and with the abrasiveness of the Atlanta Motor Speedway surface, which has not been repaved since reconstruction in 1997, and Atlanta's participation in the Sprint for the Cup, many teams are considering returning to Rockingham in September or October to test their cars to simulate Atlanta's similar surface.

NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow (or COT) has led to a boom in testing at the track, and many teams used the track for testing the new cars when it was announced the car would be used in 2007.

In the runup to the COT's debut, Michael Waltrip Racing, Gillett Evernham Motorsports, Yates Racing, and Roush Fenway Racing tested their COT's at the track.

Elliott Sadler was asked about testing the Car of Tomorrow at Phoenix International Raceway the day after the 2006 Checker Auto Parts 500.

"No, I'm going to Rockingham on Wednesday to test the (Car of Tomorrow). We wanted to go to a very bumpy racetrack. The car slams down on the banking very hard at Rockingham and make sure we've got all the springs and all the bumps very smooth feeling. That'll be my first time in the COT. I'm pretty anxious and looking forward to it. NASCAR fans, and we're all fans in this garage, don't like change. We're just skeptical of it, and we've had some really good racing this year, some of the best racing we've had in a while. We're just starting to learn how to get our cars better with the short spoilers. Nobody really wants to change, but how can you complain or argue with NASCAR? They've done such a good job the past 10 years of growing our sport and making it more fan friendly and appealing to TV and things like that. If they think this is going to help our sport grow, we've got to get in there whether we think it's right or wrong and do it with them."

Greg Biffle said during the 2007 NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder press conference, "Pat (Tryson, crew chief, who was subsequently released and joined Penske Racing) and I are going to Rockingham (January 18) with a COT to try to learn some things about them, bump stops and all of the things that are new on them, you know, because we are going to race them at Darlington. But those are going to be keys to making the Chase is running well with that COT car and getting our downforce cars to handle good."

Testing at Rockingham has become a premium because of NASCAR's rules limiting testing imposed since 2006 to the NASCAR-sanctioned open tests. NASCAR rules state testing at tracks not on the series in question is not controlled by the sanctioning body, and many teams evade the testing ban at such tests, which also include the Greenville-Pickens Speedway and Concord Motorsports Park (short tracks), and the Kentucky Speedway (Sprint Cup tests only). Testing at Rockingham is restricted to series that do not run at the circuit (NASCAR mostly), while restrictions to ARCA and USAR-sanctioned open testing apply in those two series because Rockingham is on both series' schedules in 2008. For NASCAR teams, the track has become one of the most popular tracks to test shorter to intermediate tracks on the circuit.

For the 2009 season, NASCAR imposed a blanket ban on testing at any track used by any of NASCAR's three national series or its Camping World touring events. Rockingham, unlike many tracks used in testing historically, is not on any of the series in question, and teams will use both tracks to run around NASCAR's testing ban.

With the opening of the new half-mile oval, the track expects more testing on both the half-mile and mile ovals.

Indiana Andy Revives The Rock

Speedway Motorsports put the track up for auction on October 2, 2007.

ARCA RE/MAX Series Series car owner and former driver Andy Hillenburg, who owns Fast Track High Performance Driving School, paid $4.4 million for the track. [2]

Hillenburg plans changes to the circuit, including adding a Legends Car oval and restoring the road course for more local racing at the circuit. Just hours after closing the deal for the sale, he called some sanctioning bodies to arrange dates for his new circuit. He hopes to have NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Camping World East Series races at the track in the future.

A 500-kilometer ARCA RE/MAX Series race took place during the weekend of May 3-4, 2008, featuring two rounds of qualifying and practice on Saturday and the Carolina 500 on Sunday. According to Hillenburg, it will be the richest race on the 2008 ARCA schedule and feature a starting field of fifty cars. Up and coming NASCAR star Joey Logano won the race at 17 years 346 days, the youngest to win a major race at the track, by passing Ken Schrader, who was making his 53rd start (39 NSCS, 13 NNS) at the track, after a caution. Logano dominated the 500-kilometer affair, winning the pole, leading the most laps, and passing Schrader with five laps remaining to win the track's return to major racing with Bill Venturini's Chevrolet. The 500k distance was not held again for ARCA, as ARCA will have a pair of 200-mile (320 km) races in 2009 at the track.

Two weeks later he was testing Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camrys at the circuit in continuing with the "unlimited testing" policy at the track for NASCAR Sprint Cup teams.

The USAR Hooters Procup Series has announced that the track it will host the championship final for the 2008 Four Champions playoff on November 1, 2008.

The road course has been restored, and in December 2007, testing on the road course commenced for the track's first week of racing, scheduled for January 5-6, 2008, on the road course for the Legends Cars, Bandolero, and Thunder Roadsters. The Thunder Roadsters could also race on the oval.[3]

A 150-lap street stock race was held on January 1, 2009, and track officials hope the street stock race, which is generally the entry-level class of racing at most short tracks, will become an annual race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered a pair of cars for the race, one for his car chief at Hendrick Motorsports and another for an Earnhardt Ganassi Racing mechanic who decided to race in the event. His brother-in-law, Jimmy Elledge (crew chief for Scott Speed in the Sprint Cup) also drove in the race.

The New Half-Mile

A new half-mile track (.526 miles) was built behind the backstretch for other classes of short-track cars and for the Fast Track driving school Hillenburg owns, and opened October 13, 2008. NASCAR Sprint Cup teams immediately christened the track for testing in preparation for the TUMS QuikPak 500 at Martinsville Speedway that ensuing weekend, as "Little Rock" is designed similar to Martinsville with 800' straights, 588' turns, and the inside lanes of the turns are concrete. As is the case for the 1.017-mile (1.637 km) oval, NASCAR testing is unrestricted.

The half-mile oval is unique in that instead of a traditional guardrail around the outside of the track, it uses gravel traps similar to road courses. Hillenburg said the intent is for economical reasons, as a car sliding into a sand trap will not damage a car compared to hitting a wall.

Hillenburg noted, “We've designed a track that can measure one's skill level and they can slide off into a sand trap and not a wall. I can now give parents a straight-up answer as to where their kids stack up.” [4] Jimmie Johnson was part of the opening group of drivers to test at "Little Rock," and blew a tire. He joking said he nearly ran into his own transporter because of the track's design that lacked the concrete wall for safety.[5]

The new half-mile track, with its intentional similarity to Martinsville, quickly became a testing venue for Sprint Cup teams in 2008, and it with NASCAR testing rules, will likely be a testing hotbed for Sprint Cup teams to test before Martinsville's two races in 2009, since new NASCAR rules prohibit testing on any track on the three national series or the Grand National division, and Rockingham is not on any of those schedules.

The track also has a 1/4 on Little Rock for the Bandolero's and Legend's Cars.

Film and commercial usage

The speedway has become a venue for active filming for movies, television programs, and television commercials, often with its venues being used for various facilities. Notable films include:

When it was part of the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, it also was a filming location for

References

  1. ^ a b Jayski's Rockingham Speedway Track Page
  2. ^ The nickname "Indiana Andy" is used to prevent confusion with another driver of a similar name in the World of Outlaws from Oklahoma.
  3. ^ Rockingham Speedway
  4. ^ http://www.gofastnews.com/board/racing-business-news/1342-rockingham-raceway-park-showing-why-nc-racing-capital-usa.html Rockingham Raceway Park is showing why North Carolina is the Racing Capital of the USA
  5. ^ http://www.nascar.com/2008/news/opinion/10/17/one.menz.jmenzer.martinsville.rain/1.html

External links

Coordinates: 34°58′27.05″N 79°36′37.51″W / 34.9741806°N 79.6104194°W / 34.9741806; -79.6104194

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