We shared an article last month on our Facebook page about Rockingham and its purchase by new owners…and it reached over 14,000 of you who commented, shared and liked the post. Many of you reminisced about how you missed the old days of racing – so we thought we’d share a little about how “The Rock” got its start, had its demise and how a revival may bring racing back to Richmond County.
History of the track
The Rockingham track (nicknamed “The Rock”) opened its gates in the sandhills of North Carolina in October of 1965. Originally called the North Carolina Motor Speedway, the track got its start as a flat, one-mile oval. By 1969, the track was extensively reconfigured to a high-banked, D-shaped oval just over one mile in length. The track would eventually be renamed the North Carolina Speedway.
Landowner Bill Land and developer Harold Brasington, who also built Darlington Speedway, came together on the initial project. Like many large ventures, funding was a concern. So the owner and developer went to a local lawyer to get financial backers and then sold shares to locals for $1/share. At one time had about 1,000 shareholders.
The Rock’s first race back in 1965 was the American 500, a 500-lap race won by Curtis Turner. Many well-known NASCAR legends participated in that first race – including Cale Yarborough (who finished second), Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, Buddy Baker, David Pearson and Junior Johnson. Interesting fact: by the end of the race, only 19 of the 43 cars were still running!
Over time, the race track would host two grand national races each year: the American 500 and the Peach Blossom 500. For many years, the track had a successful run with these two mainstay races.
By the 2000s, sagging attendance and the removal of one of its key races left The Rock with only one race that was run at a suboptimal time of year due to weather. Eventually, the track would close in 2004. While praised for good raising and having nice sightlines for spectators, the facility didn’t keep up with other race tracks. Owners didn’t make infrastructure investments and lacked the modernization happening at other racetracks.
The Rock was sold in 2007 and used for American stock car racing for the next several years. It also served as a test track site through the mid-2000s. NASCAR had restrictions on running tests on active tracks – so Rockingham became an ideal location for drivers to test their cars before races. In 2012, the Rockingham track would host the inaugural Camping World Truck Series race. Finally, the track was used for film and commercials – including the well-known comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Famous race moments
One of the track’s most memorable moments came in its final race. The Subway 400 (formerly Peach Blossom 500) was the final race at The Rock in 2004. In that race, Matt Kenseth held off rookie Kasey Kahne on the last lap to win by only 0.010 seconds. It was one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history and possibly best finishes that season, according to diehard fans.
The 2004 Subway 400 was also known for a wild crash early in the race in which Carl Long flipped wildly down the backstretch. Race enthusiasts considered it one of the scariest wrecks seen in NASCAR at that time. Thankfully, Long was uninjured and quickly returned to racing.
(Want to see the crash? Check out this footage.)
The revival of The Rock…and expansion plans
The Rock – now formally called the Rock Entertainment Complex – was recently sold to a Raleigh-based developer who intends to renovate and reopen the venue as a multipurpose entertainment facility, which will most definitely include motorsports.
The new owner plans to have the Rock Entertainment Complex open every week for festivals and concerts. By hosting events year-round, he believes he will actually be better equipped for racing events. Discussions with NASCAR are happening, and time will tell what specific racing events show up at The Rock in the near future. However, the new owner is quoted as saying he wants to pay tribute to the past with the future. He hopes a more encompassing schedule of racing events and entertainment programs will make the complex more economically viable than when it simply hosted a handful of stock events per year.
The three-year revival will start with cleaning and surface work at the complex but evolve into more significant renovations. The goal for the 250-acre site is to have a variety of kinds of events filling the calendar all year – and the communities that neighbor the complex are very much on board with this. The local government is anticipating a multimillion-dollar impact on its local economy.
Richmond County is ready for The Rock to be a hub of activity again – for racing and more! So are we.