Writing about “Rockingham Speedway” history could go in multiple directions. I could tell you about the multiple names of this historic speedway, the changing of the shape of the track. The owners of the track, the reasons why NASCAR doesn’t race here anymore, the mighty names of drivers here, or what other uses the track has had. Well, I am gonna do my best to tell you about all of these, which can be a whirlwind of information, so pull your seat belts tight one more time and hang on.
Officially “North Carolina Motor Speedway” opened as a 1 mile flat track in 1965, had major renovations to the track in 1969, and it returned as a “D” shaped track just over 1 mile in length with high speed banks. In 1997 Penkse Motor Sports Merged with the track owners and dropped the word “Motor” and was renamed “North Carolina Speedway” and Shortly afterwards the infield was reconfigured and removed the Road Course. Later the track will be renamed “Rockingham Speedway”, but will always be known as “The Rock”
In just 2 short paragraphs we’ve had 3 different names for the track, 1 nickname, 2 major reconfigurations and 2 owners. In additi0n to this, the track was obviously used for racing, but also used for NASCAR testing, a driving school, and televsion and movie filming. Talledaga Nights sound familiar? 3 The Dale Earnhardt Story, and even a UPS commercial with Dale Jarrett . And who can forget “Days of Thunder”? All of these had filming here.
The American 500, held in 1965 must have been something to watch with 43 cars starting and only 19 cars running at the end of the race. You would think it may have been an excessivly hot day with overheating causing so many failures, but I can find only 5 engine failures that day. The rest included accidents, clutches, oil leaks, brakes lines, oil pressure, and even some kind of fuel tank issue.
The Speedway held 2 “Grand National” races from 1966 to 2004 when International Speedway Corporation moved the fall race to California Speedway. When late February/early March races were postponed due to snow, track owners requested a later date, but rumors floated that the track’s only remaining NASCAR race was in jeopardy due the timing of the race(following the Daytona 500)which every track owner wanted the 2nd race of the season, and other newer tracks in the area, with”Darlington Speedway” and, “Charlotte Motor Speedway stealing attendacnce. Even with rumors that the last NASCAR race was coming, attendance still had 10,000 empty seats. The “Subway 400” on February 22, 2004,was the last “Cup” race at the track, and the real demise of the the track. Matt Kenseth held off up and coming rookie Kasey Kahne for the win by 0.01 seconds. However, “The Rock” was done with NASCAR Cup racing.
Joey Logano won the new racing contest at the track for the ARCA RE/MAX series. He won the pole, lead the most laps, and past Kenny Schrader with 5 laps to go for the win becoming the youngest winner in track history 1 day short of his 18th birthday.
Here comes another revamping of the track, but probably for the better. The road course is back in action in late 2007 with Bandelaros, Legends Cars, and Thunder Roadsters. 2years later Stock cars were running and all this racing brought back more attendance, however the attendance will never see the days of NASCAR Cup races. ” The Camping World Truck Series” held a few races there, but then rumors of the track owners being in financial troubles ended any NASCAR Premier Series racing at “The Rock”. Testing at the track had been an option for several years. “Little Rock”, a .526 mile track was built behind the backstretch and was used for testing, but mostly for “Fast Track Driving School” owned by Andy Hillenburg.
Alright, loosen the seat belts, let your window net down and grab a cool drink of water and everybody stick your hands out the window at the track that was once a premier NASCAR track. Lots of track changes, owner changes, name changes commercial usage, movie filming, and lots of things behind the scenes couldn’t keep this track up with NASCAR.
The track had many famous names like Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Kyle Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Buddy Baker, Junior Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, etc. and many more, and will always be remembered as that gritty, tire wearing, drivers kind of track.
I personally would love to see some kind of high level racing at the track again, but the location of the track, high attendance at close tracks, other attractions in the area, the condition of the entire facility, will most likely keep NASCAR’s top 3 series of off the racing surface.