Rockingham Speedway’s Bill Silas broke his lengthy silence today in an exclusive interview with GodfatherMotorsports.com, clarifying his role in the operation of the North Carolina speed plant, discussing what went wrong and outlining his plans for the future.
It was announced
this week that the venerable speedway will go up for public auction on
Thursday, May 5 at the
Richmond County (NC) Superior Court, with the track, its grounds and
infrastructure being sold to the highest bidder. Silas confirmed that the sale
will take place, while disputing past descriptions of him as a part-owner of Rockingham,
along with former ARCA champion and NASCAR racer Andy Hillenburg.
“I have never
been a partner in the speedway,” he said. “I co-signed the note for Andy to
purchase the track. I saw it as something for my son Bryan to have a hand in at
some point in the future, but I was never involved in the day-to-day operation
of the track.
“I never thought
we’d make a ton of money, but I didn’t think we’d lose a ton, either,” said
Silas. “I thought we’d have it paid off in 10 years, and it would be a great
opportunity for Bryan. It has always been about Bryan.”
Silas said that
in his opinion, Rockingham’s financial downfall stemmed from a failure to
supplement its on-track activities with other, non-racing events.
“The first race
Andy booked was an ARCA show,” he recalled. “We spent $300-400,000 and never
made it back. That was a tough way to start. Sponsorships didn’t come through
the way we expected them to, and then we got hit with one of the biggest
financial recessions in history. The timing could not have been worse.
“We tried bringing
in the (NASCAR Camping World) Truck Series,” said Silas, “and it was a complete
financial failure. (The monetary strain) began impacting my main business, and
I started to realize that this was not working out the way we had hoped. I
suggested (to Hillenburg) that he either buy me out, or that we hang a ‘For
Sale’ sign out front, but he didn’t want to do that. He sincerely believed that
we could make it work.”
Silas said that
after some financial restructuring, he mistakenly believed that his name had
been taken off the bank note.
“I trusted that
my name was off the note,” he said, “but that was not the case.”
that he harbors no animosity or ill-will toward Hillenburg, who “put his life
on the line for that race track. He never misled me. He worked his tail off,
because he loves Rockingham Speedway and Richmond County. The decision was made
to run a second NASCAR Truck race, and again, there was no money (made). A lot
more money went out the door, with nothing coming back in.
“At a certain
point, it just doesn’t make sense to keep writing checks.”
Silas said that
in his opinion, Rockingham “should have gone on the auction block a long time
ago. You can’t keep throwing good money
after bad. I’ve spent more than $200,000 on attorney’s fees alone since the
last race there (in April of 2013). I bought the note from the bank. I have
spent millions of dollars. I’m spending money right now to get the track as
operational as possible for a future buyer.”
Silas said he believes
Rockingham could make money, if properly run.
“It can’t be
just racing,” he said. “Two or three races a year will not begin to pay the
bills. The track needs other (non-racing) events to draw people in. The place
is totally underutilized. When you’re paying 7.5% interest on a bank loan and
your payment is $37,000 a month, $22,000 of that is interest alone. That doesn’t
work unless you have cross-revenue from other events.”
Silas said he believes
Rockingham “will never be just a race track, ever again. Look at Charlotte
Motor Speedway,” he said. “There is something going on there just about every
day. They have 2-3 major racing events each year, but they’re putting something
in the bank just about every day.”
however, that he is not the man for the job.
“I have 1,000
employees in seven states,” he said. “I can only do so many things at the same
time. Running a racetrack was never part of my plan. I am stretched too thin to
do it myself, and Bryan doesn’t want to tackle it, either. The best thing to do
is hand it off to someone who can give it their full attention.
needs a businessman, not just a racer.”
to comment on statements made by Vets-Help.org executive
director Craig Northacker, who announced plans in January of 2015 to purchase
the speedway as the centerpiece of a “Reintegration Center” for military
veterans. He did say, however, that at various points, a number of individuals have expressed
interest in buying the track.
“At least 10
people have talked about buying Rockingham,” he said. “Unfortunately, not one
of them put forth a single dime. In fact, people got in trouble for using the
track, after being given permission to do so by people who had no authorization.
Locks were cut off gates by folks who thought they had permission to be there."
said he has been disappointed with the lack of support shown by area race fans,
as well as the unfair criticism he believes he has received from some members
of the racing community.
“I’m not going
to write checks all day, if people won’t support the race track,” he said. “The
people who criticize me are not the ones draining their checking accounts (to
keep Rockingham running). I’m not trying to kill the speedway, I‘m trying to
“On May 5,
someone is going to own this race track, debt-free,” he said. “Any previous
debts have either been paid, or forgiven by the courts. There is an opportunity
here for someone to make a clean start and do what it takes to make Rockingham
Speedway successful again.
“All it takes
is for the right person to step forward.”