Mike Neff · Thursday August 25, 2011
Rockingham Raceway went up for auction on October 2, 2007 and Andy Hillenburg was able to purchase the speedway from Bruton Smith’s SMI for $4.4 million. He brought racing back to the facility the next year with a much publicized ARCA race, which featured a young Joey Logano eventually got the best of popular NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader. Since that point, Hillenburg has been working hard to restore the speedway to its former popularity, hoping to see the return of NASCAR racing. Frontstretch had a chance to talk with Hillenburg after the announcement that SAFER barriers are going to be installed at the track in two different phases over the last four months of 2011.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch.com: You’re in roughly your third year of bringing Rockingham back. Are you happy with where you are, and do you feel like you’re on pace to getting where you ultimately want to be with the facility?
Andy Hillenburg: I’m very happy and I am very proud of where we are at. I set pretty lofty expectations of myself and I really thought I’d be a little further along, but I wasn’t counting on the economic slowdown that happened right after we purchased the track. Had the world been the same as it had been the previous five years, I feel like we’d be a little bit further ahead but, for being in this kind of environment, yes I am very proud and very happy with what our progress has been.
Neff: Your schedule seems a little sparser this year than it has been in the past. Is that due to the economic slowdown as well, or is it an approach you decided to take to have fewer events and focus more on them.
Hillenburg: Actually we’re the same as we were. We’re at three events, which is where we were last year. The timing is a little different. We moved the one event closer to November where we’ve got two kind of on top of each other, but last year we ran three as well so we’re still the same.
Neff: You made an announcement that you’re adding SAFER barriers. That is a major financial commitment. Was that spurred on by Brian Keselowski’s wreck during the USAR Pro Cup race this spring, or was it something you had been previously working on?
Hillenburg: We’ve been working on this from day one. We can go back to some of my comments on the day of the auction. I believe I was asked about SAFER barriers. Being a former driver myself, these guys are my friends and my family, so to speak, so I want to do the best possible job for them regardless of who is racing there.
Neff: With the SAFER barrier installation in progress, the rumors have begun about the addition of a Truck race and/or a Nationwide race. Have you had any preliminary discussions with NASCAR about that?
Hillenburg: Yes, there have been preliminary discussions. I can’t give you an outcome yet, but it is something that we have been working towards since day one and it is something that we would like to see. It hasn’t happened yet, but there are finally realistic discussions taking place yes.
Neff: In looking at the attendance at the Spring UARA / USAR Pro Cup race, it was definitely sparser than we would like to see, and obviously the economy is part of that. Is that something you worry about that, if you do land a Truck and / or Nationwide race you’re going to have trouble bringing in a crowd? Or do you think the NASCAR name is going to be enough to give you a decent crowd?
Hillenburg: That’s too early to say without actually having a NASCAR race in place but, if it were to come to pass I would definitely think that would help. At the same time, as a promoter, I am experimenting as well. Different types of advertising packages, lots of advertising, very little advertising. Basically I feel like I’m going to college learning how to run events, and I’m doing so by running these smaller events so I can learn and learn by having more of them. I can learn at a faster pace than just running one event per year.
Neff: How is your relationship with the folks at Inex running Legends and Bandoleros at the Little Rock track?
Hillenburg: That has been super. Our spring race was a tremendous success, our spring series. That is something we will definitely have next year. We would like to expand upon it, but I’m not quite ready to yet because we are constantly doing things at the track between testing and driving schools, and it is a matter of making more work. You will definitely see the spring Legends and Bandolero series back and hopefully we can develop a summer or fall schedule as well.
Neff: A lot of local Late Model guys love the big race at Martinsville every year and, since Little Rock is very much like that track, has there been any discussions about putting in some more stands and possibly having Late Model races at the small track?
Hillenburg: That’s one of the things that is long term but, I’m still a couple of items away which is why we haven’t so far. We need a catch fence, a safety fence that separates the crowd area from the race track, the cable fence type. Once we get that then we’ll start dabbling with one off bigger car events. That is something I feel like, going back to your very first question, that is something I had hoped to already have in place and I don’t, but it is coming.
Neff: What would you like to say to the fans out there?
Hillenburg: First I’d like to say a big thank you to all of the fans who are helping rebuild the Rock. We get cards and letters from all over the world wishing us luck and success and we want to thank all of those people. Stay tuned. We hope to keep building and improving the Rock back to the greatness that it always had.
Hillenburg and his crew are constantly trying to upgrade the facility while balance their desires with the daunting economic environment that businesses in that region of the country are faced with these days. The addition of SAFER barriers will be a huge step towards improving the safety of whatever participants race at the track, and hopefully will lead to the return of NASCAR national touring series races to the historic facility again soon.
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