NASCAR & Auto Racing

Good racin' in Rockingham

It has already been a decidedly happy new year for racing in Richmond County. Good things are happening on both sides of U.S. 1 just outside of downtown Rockingham.

Rockingham Dragway owner Steve Earwood announced last week that the final event in the nation's premier Harley-Davidson motorcycle drag racing series will be at his track Oct. 17-19, adding to his track's already-busy schedule.

On the other side of the street, Andy Hillenburg threw open the gates for the first time as owner of the "new" Rockingham Speedway last weekend, crowning winners in nine divisions of legends, bandolero and thunder roadster competition.

Hillenburg bought the track from Speedway Motorsports Inc. at an auction during October, and since he took possession of the property Nov. 1 he's found himself doing a lot of glamorous work as a track owner.

"If you had been here Monday morning you would have found me cleaning bathrooms and taking out the trash," said Hillenburg, who has another round of legends activity scheduled today.

"We're going after the niche of being the biggest small track on the block," Hillenburg said. "We're sort of trying to be the country store, sort of mom-and-pop operation."

That doesn't mean Hillenburg doesn't have ambitious plans. After today, focus will shift to getting things ready for the signature event of the inaugural season -- a 500-mile race for Automobile Racing Club of America cars set for May 4.

Hillenburg said he has taken orders from 14 states for the Carolina 500.

"We've had people who always had the same seats for the NASCAR races here come back already and buy those seats" for the May race, Hillenburg said. "We started selling tickets three or four weeks ago, but we didn't really tell anybody. Now we're starting to jump up and down a little bit and say they're on sale."

There's also a Hooters ProCup series race scheduled for Nov. 1, and Hillenburg hopes to announce a third major event for 2009 by early spring.

He said he's learning his job as a track operator, figuring out that things like ordering paper towels and toilet tissue and getting the phones turned on don't take care of themselves.

The track was in good shape, he said, and safety inspections have been done on the catch fences and grandstands. The large grandstand on the backstretch has been disassembled. It wasn't part of the sale and will be trucked to Concord for use at the new drag racing facility being built at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Hillenburg said he feels a sense of responsibility to make his attempt at reviving Rockingham's oval a success. "A lot of people have wanted this to work and have offered to help me any way they can," he said. "I don't want to let them down."

If Hillenburg needs advice immediately, all he needs to do is cross the highway to see Earwood. Things seem to humming along quite nicely there.

Rockingham Dragway again will play host to a pair of International Hot Rod Association events during 2008. The IHRA Spring Nationals are set for April 18-20, and the World Finals will close the IHRA season Oct. 17-19.

The new event for Earwood is the All-Harley Drag Racing Association event, the Screamin' Eagle Performance Parts Nationals.

"It's a tremendous honor for us," said Earwood, whose track has hosted AHDRA events for 16 years but never had the finale. "It's a race that always has been one of the most successful in the series, but now it will have the added prestige of being the last one in which points can be earned."

Rockingham racing

 For tickets at Rockingham Speedway, call 910-205-8800 or go to rockinghamracewaypark.com and print a ticket order form.

 For tickets and information about Rockingham Dragway, call 910-582-3400 or go to rockinghamdragway.com

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