Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is at Rockingham

Saturday (May 15) was the first of four days of racing at Rockingham Speedway this year. The UARA Stars and the USAR Pro Cup Series hit the historic track and put on two great races with passing all over the track and tight battles for the lead right down to the end of both events. Unfortunately there aren’t very many people who can share their personal experiences with others about the day at the track because there were only a little over 500 people in the stands. Five hundred!!!!!

That kind of a crowd is average to poor for a small local short track, not a major facility that is trying to become relevant in racing circles again. The people of the area surrounding Rockingham should be embarrassed over such a horrible showing and the people who run the track cannot be blamed if they don’t bother to bring any more races back to the track next season.

In 2004, the last NASCAR race was held at Rockingham and the track was shuttered for four years until it hosted an ARCA race in 2008. The fans who were upset over the movement of the Cup dates away from the track and the four year drought of racing at the facility showed up in outstanding numbers to support the event. National exposure during the NASCAR races leading up to the race date certainly played a role in getting people to show up at the track along with the sentiment that the older tracks were being shunned by NASCAR.

The track continued to host ARCA races along with the Frank Kimmel Street Stocks and USAR Pro Cup until this season when the ARCA series decided not to come back to the track. The end result is that there are only four race weekends this year, a Chump Car series race, the Frank Kimmel Street Stocks and two weekends of UARA/USAR Pro Cup racing.

The fans in the region don’t have to come out and support a long racing season or a year-long track championship with a weekly racing series. There are four dates that are spread across the calendar for the most part, although the second weekend for UARA/USAR and the Street Stocks both race in November.

The economy is certainly still struggling to recover from the downturn of the last couple of years and the area around Rockingham has certainly been hit very hard with the loss of all of the textile industry jobs that made up most of the economy of that region. However, there are still thousands, if not millions, of race fans within a two-hour drive of the track who did not have a NASCAR touring series race to steal them away this past weekend.

Tickets for the event were $20 if purchased in advance and allowed fans to watch two races for the cost of one ticket. Heading to a track for an event is certainly not a cheap endeavor, but the people at Rockingham have gone out of their way to try and bring well known, established series to the track for a reasonable price.

Fans screamed and hollered when the NASCAR national touring series races were taken away from Rockingham and they made all sorts of excuses about why the attendance was lacking. The time of year was frequently cited because the race dates for Rockingham were always in March and November, when weather can be spotty at best in the region of North Carolina where The Rock is located.

Well this weekend was not perfect because there was the potential for rain in the area. However, anyone with a computer, an iPhone, an iPad, a Mac, a television, a weather rock or a phone could have easily figured out that the rain was not going to impact the start of the races and the weather ultimately ended up being very comfortable. Sure, driving an hour and a half to see a race that might not run can be a hindrance, but with very little effort fans could have easily determined that weather was not going to be a problem Saturday.

But the fans are not the only ones who are failing to folks at Rockingham either. The media center in the infield of the track was vacant for the most part this weekend. There were two representatives from Frontstretch, one from a local paper and two from Speed51. No local news stations were represented. SPEED, ESPN, FOX, Circle Track, Sporting News, Yahoo or any other national outlet, be it print or electronic, were not in attendance. All of those have multiple individuals who live in the Charlotte area, which is only an hour and a half drive from the track, and not one of them sent anyone to cover the race live.

Sure it is UARA and USAR, but they’re series that have the future stars of racing running equipment that is capable of getting in the neighborhood of 170 mph at the end of the straights. Some of the teams involved in the series have support from Cup teams and are sporting drivers who are signed to development contracts with the top organizations in the sport. The local media especially, and the national media to an extent, should be ashamed that they did not have any kind of coverage at the racetrack.

Rockingham is a great racetrack and would be a fantastic location for a Nationwide or Truck Series race. Fans of the facility have been harping since the Cup dates and associated support series left that NASCAR should at least bring the Trucks and/or Nationwide series back to the track. In fact, they’ve even tried to point to the success of the first ARCA race that took place in 2008 when far more fans than show up at a normal ARCA race were in the stands.

Unfortunately, NASCAR is not about one-time attendance. They want to see continued support for racing at a facility before they’re going to make a commitment to bring one of their big three series to a track. If the fans of Rockingham don’t step up and fill some seats in the fall for the UARA/USAR weekend, then there will be no shot of a Truck or Nationwide race any time in the foreseeable future.

Before you try and point the finger at Rockingham and say that you didn’t know they were racing this weekend, there was quite a bit of effort put into marketing the race, although it was not marketed heavily in the Charlotte, Raleigh or Columbia markets. In the past The Rock has attempted to market in the Charlotte area but they’ve been run over by Charlotte Motor Speedway. With their limited budget they focused most of their marketing in the Fayetteville, N.C. market because it is the closest to the track and generally the greatest return from marketing is from the local area.

With that said the effort put forth by Rockingham Speedway was far from lacking. Andy Cagle, the head of PR for Rockingham, confirmed to Frontstretch that they did do some limited radio advertising in the Fayetteville market. He and Andy Hillenburg, the track owner, appeared on 10 different radio shows to promote the races. They also sent out 25 press releases which each garnered 25,000 impressions and distributed posters to local establishments.

Finally they distributed in the neighborhood of 40,000 free tickets to kids in the area. The speedway does not have a huge marketing budget to compete against ISC or SMI in the bigger markets in the area but did quite a bit of work to get the word out locally that the races were taking place.

Rockingham Speedway is a great racetrack that affords outstanding racing most of the time (they all can’t be great) and the view from most every seat in the facility is good. Getting to and from the track is not very difficult with signage posted on roads leading to the track from all directions. And parking is easy and, until the crowds get enormous again, getting out after the race is very quick.

Fans have bemoaned the demise of the smaller-market racetracks as NASCAR has grown and moved the race dates away. One thing is for sure, unless the fans and media step up and support Rockingham, there won’t be any bigger races coming back any time soon.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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