Racing will remain in North Carolina's Sandhills. Andy Hillenburg made sure of that Tuesday.
Hillenburg, a former racer and owner of a Harrisburg racing school, bought North Carolina Speedway -- known as "The Rock" -- for $4.4 million at auction Tuesday.
With a bluegrass band playing in the background, Hillenburg walked along the front stretch of the 1-mile track after the auction and said he would bring a race back to the track in 2008 -- the first time a race has been held at The Rock since 2004. When he sees how that goes, he'll know more about what his vision for the 1-mile track will be.
"I've got to let a little water go under the bridge first," said Hillenburg, who outbid eight others, one of which was a representative of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress. "Then I'll see if I've got a realistic five-year plan or a 10-year plan."
It's been three years since The Rock lost its spot on NASCAR's Nextel Cup schedule as races went to larger, more lucrative markets. The track was sold to Speedway Motorsports Inc., in 2004 and what would happen to the 244-acre property had been a hot topic in racing circles and in Richmond County.
"We're glad he got it," said SMI spokesman Jerry Gappens. "Of course, we would have liked more for it. But I don't know how you really put a price on it."
SMI purchased the track (and the race date that went with it) for about $100 million. It has a tax value of $30 million.
"We're so glad somebody with a real passion for the sport has bought the track," said Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin.
"I'm glad they'll still have racing here," said James Guthrie, a fan from Lumberton who watched the auction. "There's been rumors going around that they'd knock the place down and sell it for scrap or salvage. This is a good way for it to go."
Hillenburg, 44, drank a champagne toast with friends and family in the track's infield media center about an hour after the sale was complete then watched his son take a few hot laps around the track in his gold Cadillac.
He will probably try to attract an event from the Auto Racing Club of America (ARCA) or the Hooters Series to The Rock in 2008.
Hillenburg's motorsports experience is wide ranging. He is a former ARCA champion who will field a car in that series' race this weekend in Talladega, Ala., as well as in NASCAR's truck race there.
Hillenburg also has supplied cars and driven for movies ("Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," "Herbie Fully Loaded" and TV's "The Dale Earnhardt Story" are on his resume).
He ran in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 (finishing 28th when a broken wheel bearing forced him from the race), as well as 16 Cup series races from 1991 through 2004.
Hillenburg drove in five races in '04, finishing just one: The Subway 400, the final Nextel Cup race at The Rock.