The Frontstretch: Truckin' Thursdays: Is Rockingham Gone Forever? by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday September 12, 2013

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Truckin' Thursdays: Is Rockingham Gone Forever?

Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday September 12, 2013


What a week it has been … and it’s only Thursday. With all of the focus on Chase manipulation by Michael Waltrip Racing (and now potentially Penske Racing as well), pretty much any other news in the NASCAR world has been overshadowed. But that doesn’t mean nothing else is happening. Over at Rockingham Speedway, a sad story appears to be playing out, and the two Truck Series races we’ve enjoyed may be all that we have left to hold onto when it comes to the 1.017-mile oval.

On Monday, the announcement came out that all three races scheduled for November at the facility had been canceled. NASCAR was the first, canceling the K&N Pro Series East event that had been scheduled as the season finale for the series.

“It is unfortunate any time a race must be canceled,” NASCAR VP, Regional and Touring George Silbermann. “However, the race track failed to meet its obligations and we were forced to terminate the sanction agreement.”

Not long after NASCAR’s announcement, the UARA-STARS Late Model Series and CARS X-IR Pro Cup Series both followed suit. Of course, the announcements called into question whether the track would remain open, along with the status of any future Truck Series visits to the facility. While the announcements were expected to be addressed on Tuesday by track owner and president Andy Hillenburg, he has been largely silent through it all, posting a simple tweet saying “Some days are definitely harder than others.”

With Rockingham announcing the cancellation of all three races slated for November, it doesn’t bode well for the future of racing at The Rock.

Sure, it’s tough to think that we’ll lose the historic track once again, but perhaps the more upsetting part of the whole situation is just how much of a loss it would be for Hillenburg. When asked last year by Jenna Fryer with The Associated Press just how much he’d put into purchasing the speedway in 2007, upgrading it and bringing in events, including NASCAR’s return, his response was “all I have. Everything I’ve ever worked for I’ve put into this, because I believe in what we are doing.”

So here we have a man who’s sacrificed pretty much everything for his love of racing in an attempt to bring back the once-shunned track. And for two years, Hillenburg has put on a great show with the Truck Series. When it was first announced in September, 2011 that the Truck Series would return to The Rock as part of Hillenburg’s “goal to return Rockingham to its roots,” I couldn’t help but be excited. Despite the dismay of trimming the schedule from 25 events down to 22, the thought of returning the track I once watched the Cup Series guys run on (that was before I learned what great racing the Truck Series put on) excited me.

And come April, 2012, Hillenburg did not disappoint. The facility looked great, the buzz at the track could be felt through the television and by and large, fans seemed happy to have The Rock back in NASCAR. But this year, there were definitely noticeable gaps in the stands, the same thing that was cited as the reason the Cup Series was pulled and something fans of Rockingham’s return claimed there wouldn’t be. Blame it on the economy, blame it on NASCAR—blame it on anything you’d like. The fact is that there weren’t butts in the seat, and without people in the stands, it’s tough to turn a profit with the overhead needed to keep a track in good working order.

While there has been no official announcement from the speedway as to their future, it’s looking rather grim. Don’t get me wrong… I’d love to see The Rock around for many years to come, but it’s so important that fans actually get out and support the track that they so desperately want to save. You can reach out and tell Hillenburg how you stand behind him, but in the end, money talks and butts in the seat is the most important part of saving the track.

The question that remains though is whether it will be too little, too late, and if it is, it’s truly a shame.

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09/12/2013 07:51 AM

It would be sad if this happens. Rockingham always provided for good racing. What is even more sad if that there are rumors that Iowa is in financial trouble. Hope those are just that, rumors.

Tom Dalfonzo
09/12/2013 11:37 AM

I been saying that Rockingham Speedway should have a Cup race again for a very long time. Why won’t NASCAR ever listen to anything I say??!! Why is this track, as great as it is and as great of races it holds, in such financial dire straits? It should be a massive cash cow. This is yet another travesty in perhaps the LONGEST line of travesties in all of NASCAR history. Rockingham would not even be in this pickle to begin with if NASCAR would stop being so stupid and award a Cup race back to this track. Andy Hillenburg deserves a special award for all he did and all he put in to make Rockingham a viable racing entity again. It is not his fault that NASCAR does not care.

Ron Fox
09/12/2013 01:10 PM

Would be a shame to lose “The Rock” again. It’s one of the raciest tracks to ever host NASCAR racing. WHY the locals don’t support it is beyond me. I went there in 1989 when Mark Martin won his first Cup race. IF I lived closer (live in PA), I’d be there for EVERY race.

09/12/2013 01:12 PM

I never want to hear the crying for Rockingham again if it loses its Truck race. People had the opportunity to support it again, and they didn’t. I hope in the future if they build new tracks for Cup, someone clones Rockingham. Cup could use a high-banked asphalt 1.0 mile track again.

Bud Sudz
09/12/2013 04:16 PM

The issue for Rockingham is that you have a great track without a great population or corporate base.
Instead of sharing TV revenues with tracks that will in turn put a better product on the screen, NASCAR has raised sanctioning fees to the point that The Rock cannot put enough butts in seats/draw enough sponsorship to make money. The same thing cost South Boston, Hickory, Myrtle Beach and others in the Busch Series. Better racing fell victim to better (short term) revenue.
This is the beauty of the NFL’s revenue sharing that allows for small market parity. Sure, the bigger teams give up revenue, but the overall product is enhanced and everyone is profitable
If NASCAR would give up funding as a trade for getting better, more entertaining racing at places such as The Rock, Iowa, irwindale (vs. California) etc, they would win in the long run.

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