There once was a day when the big NASCAR Cup Series came through little Rockingham, North Carolina. Those who remember these races should consider themselves lucky, and a part of Rockingham and NASCAR history. For those of you who were not around to experience the adrenaline of the Rockingham NASCAR event, here’s the story of the track known as “The Rock.”
The Rock opened as the North Carolina Speedway on Halloween in 1965. The first race at the track, the American 500, was held the same day and won by Curtis Taylor, who zoomed around the track at an average speed of 101 mph to take home the $13,090 prize. (For comparison, today, the winner of the Coca-Cola 600 at nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway gets $6.6 million!) Legendary North Carolinian Richard Petty sat on the pole for this race, but finished 36th.
From 1966 to 2004, Rockingham Speedway hosted two Grand National Series (now known as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) races every year. The speedway hosted a range of other events outside of the Cup Series, including two Busch Series races, CARS Pro Cup Series, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The American Truck Racing events held in the early ‘80’s and popularized by the movie “Smokey and the Bandit II” were surely some of the most unusual!
In 1969, the Speedway was reconfigured with higher banking turns and a manually operated scoreboard. The track surface is abrasive compared to many other tracks, taking a toll on tires. The abrasiveness comes from the paving compound made from materials local to the area. This is a defining feature of The Rock.
The Final Race
In 2004, the track was sold to the International Speedway Corporation and simultaneously lost its fall date on the NASCAR schedule. After speculation it would lose its February date, the race went on as anticipated on February 22nd. However, this would be the last Cup Series race the track would see.
The Rock’s final race began with an early crash on the long stretch as Carl Long’s car rolled end-over-end several times. It would go on to be known as one of the best finishes of the 2004 season, as Matt Kenseth held off then-rookie Kasey Kahne on the last lap, winning by only one tenth of a second.
Due to a lack of attendance, ISC soon sold the track to Speedway Motorsports, who agreed to host no NASCAR events under its ownership. It’s possible that a lack of major tourist attractions in Rockingham, the small size of the city or the close proximity to Charlotte Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway hurt ticket sales.
Speedway Motorsports put the track up for auction in October 2007, and it was purchased for a little more than $4 million by Andy Hillenburg. Hillenburg owns Fast Track High Performance Driving School and brought the school to the track.
Major racing returned to the track with the ARCA Re/Max Series Carolina 500 in May 2008. Then up and coming NASCAR star Joey Logano won the race. Also, since 2008, The Rock has hosted the ARCA season-ending race, the American 200. This is the premier event of the year in Rockingham.
NASCAR returned to The Rock in 2012 with the Camping World Truck Series. The track also holds testing for many Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams. A half-mile, flat testing track dubbed the “Little Rock” was built behind The Rock. Due to the similarities, many Martinsville teams test for races on the track.
Whether you realize it or not, you may have seen Rockingham on the silver screen. It has become a venue for filming movies and television, including famous films like Talladega Nights, views into racing history like 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story, and even some UPS commercials!
This little track and town have certainly seen a lot of racing action, and both are clearly an integral part of American race history. Unfortunately, with racing come bumps, crashes and injuries. Luckily, drivers and fans alike can come to FastMed Urgent Care for personal care right in their neighborhood! Whether you’re racing sports cars, bicycles, or canoes, we can help with any non-emergent injury or ailment. Just come on in to a location near you. You could even bring your stories of NASCAR history with you!