Monday, January 11, 2016

COMMENTARY: Rockingham Speculation Gives Cause For Cautious Optimism

Not much of the news out of Rockingham Speedway lately has been positive. 

The legendary North Carolina oval – site of some of NASCAR’s most memorable moments -- has been inactive since April of 2013, when it hosted a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event. Since, then, the track has laid silent, floundering under a delinquent, $4.2 million mortgage, rumored ownership squabbles and a series of encouraging rumors that never quite seem to come true. 

Now, a new round of announcements has raised hopes that the track known as “The Rock” might still arise from the dead. The question is, can any of it be believed? 

The new X-Cup Series announced plans to run a number of events at Rockingham this season, with spokesman James Martin saying they would "hopefully" hold their first event there in April of this year. Martin told the Richmond County (NC) Daily Journal that the organization’s 10-race schedule is "all gonna be ran at Rockingham," with eight events to be held on the traditional, 1.017-mile oval track, with the remaining two contested on the infield road course.  

The National Auto Sports Association also has an event scheduled at Rockingham on July 2-3, and the Super Cup Stock Car Series says it will close its 2016 campaign with a race at Rockingham Speedway on Saturday, October 15. With a schedule that includes only eight dates – two of which are listed as “To Be Announced” with another as “Pending” -- the circuit’s pronouncement seemed shaky, at best. Series spokesman Joe Schmaling did little to calm those fears today, when asked to discuss his circuit’s scheduled event at “The Rock.”  

His terse reply? “I have nothing to release at this time.” 
Now there’s a confidence builder. 
A dozen announced events seems like an ambitious schedule for a venue that has not hosted the sound of racing engines in nearly three years. But Craig Northacker, a U.S. Army veteran who serves as executive director of, said today that he is confident in his ability to make it happen. 

Craig Northacker of
In January of 2015, Northacker announced plans to purchase Rockingham and convert it into a “Reintegration Center” for military veterans. At the time, Northacker said auto racing would be a major part of his organization’s effort to “reintegrate veterans back into society… with stability, financial security and an affordable home.”   

One year later, that plan is apparently still in place, though not much closer to fruition. 

“My plan for Rockingham is to create a facility that can serve the needs of our service veterans and their families,” said the Cold Spring Harbor, NY, native, who as a Certified Public Accountant has more than two decades of involvement in the entertainment industry. “We will be rolling out a number of educational, vocational and rehabilitative programs for our service men and women, all bound together by the racing.” 
Northacker confirmed that while he currently holds a three-year lease, he still intends to purchase Rockingham Speedway, despite difficulty negotiating with the former mortgage holder, Farmers and Merchants Bank. 

“The previous holder of the note made things very, very difficult,” he said. “We wanted to put $50 million into this facility, but (F&M) wouldn’t even talk to us. They made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the process to move forward.” 

It's been three years since "The Rock" roared.
Recently, however, F&M sold the outstanding note to Bill Silas, father of ARCA and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Brian Silas and co-owner of Rockingham Speedway, along with former racer Andy Hillenburg. Northacker said the sale of that note and the subsequent assignment of two deeds of trust and an assignment of rents and leases to Silas’ BK Rock Holdings, LLC, “cleared the way” for talks begin once again, in earnest. 
“I have been actively talking with Billy Silas,” said Northacker, “and we have begun to clear some of the road blocks that stand in our way.” 

Silas' attorney, Alan Armour, offered a less-encouraging assessment, saying, "It is my understanding that there are numerous parties who have shown, and continue to express, an interest in Rockingham Raceway, including Craig Northacker. However, to date, it is my understanding that none of the parties have presented any definitive proposals. 

"We are aware of numerous parties who desire to bring racing events back to the “Rock," said Armour.  "However, there is a lot involved, and until a definitive agreement is reached, there are no assurances that there will be any racing events in year 2016."

While declining to discuss any of the specific issues still facing the speedway, Northacker insisted that Rockingham can – and will – host racing events this season. 

“There will be racing at Rockingham in 2016,” he said. “I am the instigator of those recent scheduling announcements” from the Super Cup Stock Car, X-Cup and National Auto Sports Association circuits. In fact, Northacker revealed that he owns the fledgling X-Cup Series, saying, “That’s ours. We’re starting that up as part of our plan to revitalize the speedway.” 
Admitting that he “knows nothing about racing, really,” Northacker said he will leave the day-to-day operations of the circuit in the hands of Martin and others. And while admitting that considerable work must still be done to make his purchase of Rockingham a reality, he said he is confident that racing will resume at the Richmond County complex in April of this year. 
“Yes,” he said. “The simple answer is yes. We will make it happen.” 

Can Craig Northacker and bring Rockingham back from the brink of death? 

But talk is cheap, and after a year of empty promises, grandiose schemes and absolutely no progress, we’re not quite ready to bet the farm on them, just yet.  
Simply put, it remains to be seen whether Northacker and company can finally put some actual verbs in their sentences. After spinning their wheels for the last 12 months, it’s difficult to believe that anyone – no matter how well-intentioned -- can tiptoe through Rockingham’s legal and financial minefield in time to pull off an April, 2016 race date. 
As race fans, we wish them luck. But we’ve also learned not to get our hopes up.


  1. Exciting to read about the prospect of any racing at the Rock, but the major issue I see is that the future of the speedway will once again hinge on attendance, and I don't see fans packing the place out to watch one series run several times at the same place. NASCAR's strategy of going only to the speedways that could facilitate a large turnout has really backfired, because those tracks produce boring racing which has driven fans away, therefore creating attendance issues at those facilities as well. If the France administration wasn't so short-sighted, perhaps they'd recognize that the pursuit only of big money isn't necessarily what's good for the health of the sport. The bottom line is how entertaining the races are.

    1. The problems with this analysis remain that boring racing isn't exclusive to the bigger tracks - the objective reality remains Rockingham even in NASCAR's competitive apex (the 1971-84 period) only had decent racing - at its best Rockingham simply never held up competitively with the bigger tracks. Rockingham had become one of the most overrated speedways on the tour and the demographic in the area was already in decline by 1996-7; the idea implicit in analyses sympathetic with Rockingham is that its racing was somehow better and that if it had stayed it would have helped alleviate some of the sport's popularity issues - an idea with zero credibility behind it.

      NASCAR went to the bigger tracks because they are what the true backbone of its major touring series are - the sport's popularity was built on the superspeedway boom of 1959-71, it was NOT built on short ovals. NASCAR was right to drop Rockingham and North Wilkesboro because they were competitively inferior venues and their audiences were no longer credible racing audiences. Rockingham once and for all proved it is no longer a viable racing demographic with Andy Hillinberg reopened it with warm-weather dates and never sold out one race.

  2. Hi Dave - thanks for a well-balanced and fair representation of where things are at. I am putting a public response to the attorney's absurd comments and approach. He rejects the 10,000 veterans who have committed suicide since we tried to get this going to give them hope as diatribe which he dismisses outright. I am available to give you this information if you want it. In fact, it will help everyone understand why there have been so many unwanted delays because of the malfeasance we have continuously encountered.