Race Weekend Central

Shakedown Session: Finally, the Rock Has Installed SAFER Barriers! (& What It Might Mean for NASCAR)

For years, many a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue NASCAR fan have long decried the lack of a NASCAR touring series date at Rockingham Speedway, also known as “The Rock” (not to be confused with the pro wrestler-turned-actor). But the big news coming out of Rockingham this week was the installment of SAFER barriers at a hefty $1 million per mile.

Now what could this possibly mean, pray tell? With a recent opening of four dates on the NASCAR schedule following Nashville Superspeedway unceremoniously dropping their Nationwide and Truck series dates for 2012, this could very well be the opening in the schedule that Rockingham needed to get back into the NASCAR fold.

From the inaugural race in 1965 at “The Rock” won by the legendary Curtis Turner until 2004, NASCAR in Rockingham was a time-honored tradition. But when California Speedway took over Rockingham’s NASCAR date, it left Rockingham abandoned for nearly three and a half years until veteran ARCA & NASCAR driver Andy Hillenburg bought the track for $3 million. Since then, the track has held a variety of lower-level stock-car racing series, such as the ARCA Series, the USAR Pro Cup Series, the PASS Late Model Series and various other regional touring groups.

The Time Is Now for a Return to Rockingham

But the biggest caveats that have plagued The Rock’s chances of bringing NASCAR back home has been a lack of attendance for the regional touring series events (Case in point: The USAR Pro Cup Series race this year at Rockingham drew a scant 500 fans. No, that is not a misprint. Five hundred fans.) If they can’t draw flies for regional races, the question is how on earth will they draw fans to their facility for a NASCAR event, especially one that is not going to contain the biggest names in the sport?

Granted, Iowa and Kentucky have done just fine, but Memphis, Gateway and Nashville all suffered from sparse attendance of their NASCAR events.

The second issue has been the lack of SAFER barriers at the track over the years. NASCAR officials and Rockingham officials have been having informal discussions about possibly bringing NASCAR back to Rockingham. But the main impasse for NASCAR and Rockingham officials over the years has been the lack of SAFER barriers. Track owner, Andy Hillenburg has long been delaying the installment of these walls until he felt comfortable about NASCAR coming back to the Rock.

And now, with this announcement of SAFER barriers being installed at Rockingham, this definitely qualifies under the category of “Things that make you go ‘Hmmm….’” Could this very well be a step in the right direction for NASCAR returning home to Rockingham? Granted, it’s not a Cup Series date, but to draw a good crowd for Nationwide & Truck series races would by far and away be a very positive step in the right direction.

At the end of the day, one cannot help but play devil’s advocate over the implement of the SAFER walls at Rockingham. Could this very well mean the roaring horsepower of NASCAR motors that purr like Eartha Kitt in her “Cat-Woman” days could very well be coming back to life at “The Rock”? While the SAFER barriers may or may not mean anything long term, one cannot help but contemplate the possibilities of NASCAR coming back to the Sandhills of North Carolina and be at least a little bit encouraged by this sign.

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