The Rock rises from the ashes in NASCAR circles

In perhaps the most popular case of rebirth since the first mythological phoenix burst into flames only to reemerge feeling quite frisky, Rockingham Speedway has risen from its own ashes in a most spectacular fashion.

Unlike that original firebird, however, in Rockingham’s case, rebirth was far from a sure thing.

The former North Carolina Speedway, now known as Rockingham Speedway, is one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks. Designed and built by Harold Brasington, who also created legendary Darlington Raceway, the one-mile track hosted annual Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series weekends until February 2004, when it fell victim to NASCAR’s expansion and realignment.

Fans and competitors alike lamented the loss; Rockingham is a feisty little track, and consistently hosted some of the most exciting races of the year. But without the huge economic boost provided by a NASCAR weekend, most speedways simply can’t stay alive. In other words, it’s time to lock the doors and hang up the Gone Fishin’ sign. Elvis has left the building.

Andy Hillenburg apparently has no appetite for either angling or Elvis emulation. The former driver and team owner had been operating his popular Fast Track High Performance Driving School at Rockingham for over two decades, along with filming racing movies and TV commercials, and was in no hurry to leave that particular building.

“This process started a long time ago, well before Rockingham was even available,” he says. “There’s such a history here, and I’m such a history buff that it was disheartening to see all that history basically rusting and rotting away. It was just becoming a memory, and all that passion for the sport became involved with the other things we had going on, and that kind of led to the idea to buy it. That was the first step.”

The second step was somewhat pricier. When The Rock was placed on the auction block in 2007, Hillenburg was the highest bidder, purchasing the track at a “fire sale” price – relatively speaking – of $4.4 million.

“There’s such a legacy here. In my opinion it was one of the building blocks, part of the foundation of the sport. We need to be able to start propping that area back up, and making sure Rockingham has its proper place in the sport that a lot of people felt it should have all along,” he says.

It was somewhat of a trial by fire without the help of NASCAR’s glitz and glamour, but Hillenburg and his team rose to the challenge. Over the course of the past 3 ½ years, Rockingham Speedway has remained viable, hosting ARCA/ReMax and Hooters Pro Cup Series events, continuing to operate the driving school, and serving as a popular testing venue for NASCAR’s top series.

They kept busy, but they never took their eyes off the ultimate prize; a NASCAR race. “All this time we’ve been trying to work up to that point, learning what we need to do and how we need to do it; the SAFER barriers we installed are a good example. It was a natural evolution, so to speak. The fans came through and said they wanted Rockingham.”

They got it. No longer hampered by the unfortunate schedule dates, bad weather and subsequent poor attendance that formerly plagued the speedway, NASCAR announced in September of last year that The Rock would host the Camping World Truck Series in 2012.

NASCAR had given Hillenburg one shot. He fired it, and hit the bulls-eye. The inaugural Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 presented by Cheerwine is not only in contention for the title of longest race name of the season, but will surely go down as the most sentimental favorite. Fans filled the grandstands to near-capacity, with Sunshine, Blue Skies and 80 Degrees (who I believe is also a rap artist) being three of the most welcome guests.

Then, a close, competitive race landed crowd-pleaser and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series superstar Kasey Kahne in Victory Lane. What more could a guy hope for?

The answer, of course, is the chance to do it all over again.

“We are pressing forward. It would be great to have the Truck Series back here, but you can’t take anything for granted. I feel like we did the best we could do, based on the knowledge that we had. Hosting NASCAR is a privilege, and it was an honor to bring an additional NASCAR weekend back to the Carolinas,” Hillenburg says, adding, “I feel confident in saying that if I get a second chance from NASCAR, I can do even better.”

Andy Hillenburg could teach the phoenix a thing or two about how to rise from the ashes in style. At Rockingham Speedway, that fire sale is now burning like a house afire.

For more information on upcoming events at Rockingham Speedway, visit www.rockinghamspeedway.com.

NASCAR columnist Cathy Elliott is also the author of the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR.” Visit her online at www.mybrainonnascar.com.

Comments

comments

Dash deals Pelicans third straight defeat in opener

Dash deals Pelicans third straight defeat in openerThe Myrtle Beach Pelicans were blanked 6-0 by the Winston-Salem [more]

Wild finish halts Mutiny's season in regional semis

Wild finish halts Mutiny's season in regional semisThe Myrtle Beach Mutiny's season come to a close in [more]

Kelly is lone Chanticleer on All-Sun Belt preseason list

Kelly is lone Chanticleer on All-Sun Belt preseason listCoastal Carolina sophomore Silas Kelly was named preseason All-Sun Belt [more]

Coastal football picked to finish last in Sun Belt East

Coastal football picked to finish last in Sun Belt EastThe Sun Belt Conference released the results of its preseason [more]

Sellout crowd sees P-Nats deal Pelicans another loss

Sellout crowd sees P-Nats deal Pelicans another lossJared Young blasted a home run Thursday, but the Myrtle [more]

Coastal's Ellis earns honor from first college program

Coastal's Ellis earns honor from first college programForty-four years after taking his first college job at Cumberland [more]

P-Nats preempt Pelicans' winning streak in opener

P-Nats preempt Pelicans' winning streak in openerThe Potomac Nationals ended the Myrtle Beach Pelicans' six-game winning [more]

Coastal's Schnall named among top D1 assistants

Coastal's Schnall named among top D1 assistantsCoastal Carolina associate head baseball coach Kevin Schnall was named [more]

From MB to Majors: 20th Anniversary Pelicans Team

From MB to Majors: 20th Anniversary Pelicans Team In 20 seasons of Myrtle Beach Pelicans baseball, more than [more]

Pelicans shut out Woodies, return home on hot streak

Pelicans shut out Woodies, return home on hot streakAlex Lange fired five shutout innings and Yeiler Peguero added [more]

Local hoops team claims second crown this week

Local hoops team claims second crown this weekApparently one tournament championship this week wasn't enough for Big [more]

Mutiny enters playoffs on seven-game unbeaten run

Mutiny enters playoffs on seven-game unbeaten runThe South Atlantic champion Myrtle Beach Mutiny wrapped up the [more]

Pelicans ride long ball to fifth consecutive victory

Pelicans ride long ball to fifth consecutive victoryThe Myrtle Beach Pelicans blasted a season-best three home runs [more]

Hudson tosses Pelicans to fourth consecutive victory

Hudson tosses Pelicans to fourth consecutive victoryBryan Hudson was brilliant for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans on [more]

MB's Vaugh runs the table, wins SC Junior Match Play

MB's Vaugh runs the table, wins SC Junior Match PlayDespite qualifying in the middle of the pack for this [more]

Pelicans slam door on Wood Ducks in opener

Pelicans slam door on Wood Ducks in openerWith the bases loaded and one out in the bottom [more]

Mutiny tops Tobacco Road to defend division crown

Mutiny tops Tobacco Road to defend division crownThe Myrtle Beach Mutiny had a golden opportunity to clinch [more]

Promoted ace Lacy makes strong debut for Pelicans

Promoted ace Lacy makes strong debut for PelicansRollie Lacy was brilliant on the hill in his Myrtle [more]

Strand team holds home court, wins national title

Strand team holds home court, wins national titleA basketball team made up predominately of Horry County players [more]

CCU's Chavers nets fourth Freshman All-American nod

CCU's Chavers nets fourth Freshman All-American nodCoastal Carolina centerfielder Parker Chavers was named second team Freshman [more]

Five local athletes qualify for National Junior Olympics

Five local athletes qualify for National Junior OlympicsFive members of the Myrtle Beach Track & Field Club [more]

Pelicans' batters break out wood on Woodstock Night

Pelicans' batters break out wood on Woodstock NightP.J. Higgins notched four hits, including a three-run home run, [more]

Pelicans open homestand with 3-1 loss to Mudcats

Pelicans open homestand with 3-1 loss to MudcatsThe Myrtle Beach Pelicans fell 3-1 on Monday night in [more]

Pelicans lose four leads to fall in extras, return home

Pelicans lose four leads to fall in extras, return homeThe Buies Creek Astros tied the game four separate times [more]

Horry Post 111 opens run for AL state championship

Horry Post 111 opens run for AL state championshipHorry Post 111 will begin its quest for an American [more]

Dash deals Pelicans third straight defeat in opener

Dash deals Pelicans third straight defeat in openerThe Myrtle Beach Pelicans were blanked 6-0 by the Winston-Salem [more]

Wild finish halts Mutiny's season in regional semis

Wild finish halts Mutiny's season in regional semisThe Myrtle Beach Mutiny's season come to a close in [more]

Comments are closed.

© 2018 Grand Strand Sports Report · RSS
Myrtle Beach Web Design
Kayaking in Myrtle Beach