Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Rockingham Saga Never Ends

1969 American 500

The saga of North Carolina Motor Speedway continues as the track has effectively shut down again and headed for auction.   No doubt quite a few fans are angry at this occurrence,  as the view that NASCAR needs to go back to Rockingham continues being circulated in fan circles.  

The reality, though, is the track was a victim of an eroding fanbase - at its peak it seated some 60,000, but that began eroding by 2002.   Though the circumstances behind the track losing its NASCAR dates remain bothersome - the track had been purchased by Penske Speedways, then when that arm of the Penske empire went up and had to be merged into International Speedway Corporation it wound up being part of the deal that finally got Speedway Motorsports Inc. the second date for Texas Motor Speedway that had been a running controversy.  

Some fans oversell the quality of Rockingham's races.  Not that The Rock lacked quality competition - the 1977 Carolina 500 for one saw numerous hard battles for the lead despite an epidemic of crashes that dragged it to an average speed below 100 MPH; the 1981-85 period may have been the track's heyday, and the 1984 American 500 was undoubtedly a highlight of the track's history.   The track's competitiveness declined markedly with the switch to radial tires and the deterioration of its surface, to where pitting for tires every 40 to 50 laps became the norm until it was repaved in 1994.   With the new pavement the track saw a stunning Busch Series 200-mile finish and the track reached another apex in the controversial Goodwrench 400 in 1996.

From then on, though, the track's fortunes never got better with the change of ownership, declining attendances, and the eventual end in 2004.  

The resurrection of the track by Andy Hillinberg was viewed with genuine hope but it has ended in acrimony, shown in an ugly controversy on the Dave Moody blog between Bill Silas, a businessman involved in the ownership of the track, and Craig Northacker of the Vets-Help website, whose response to Silas' initial interview led to an angry retort from Moody himself.

The way to save the speedway is for the area's fanbase to come out and support it.   This is what Darlington's fanbase did when Darlington was dropped to one race in 2005.  

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