Rockingham Speedway

Top 5 moments at former NASCAR tracks

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While seven Cup Series races were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there wasn’t a race scheduled for this weekend due to the Easter holiday.

The past few weekends we’ve taken a look at memorable moments at the tracks the Cup Series would have raced at on that particular Sunday.

With no corresponding track this weekend, we decided to go off the beaten path and look at moments from tracks that NASCAR no longer visits, which includes some that no longer exist.

Let’s get started.

 1. ‘They ought to fine that son of a (expletive)’; North Wilkesboro Speedway

It was an odd role reversal on Oct. 15, 1989.

With four races left in the season, Dale Earnhardt was 35 points behind Rusty Wallace and three laps away from clinching a dominating win at the short track located roughly 90 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Earnhardt, who would lead 343 of the race’s 400 laps, was leading on the final restart with three laps to go, as Ricky Rudd started alongside him.

Earnhardt kept the lead all the way to the white flag. Rudd tried to pass Earnhardt on the inside as they entered Turn 1. Their cars made contact, which sent both into a spin.

That opened the door for Geoffrey Bodine to take the lead and win the race. Rudd finished ninth and Earnhardt placed 10th.

Afterward, Earnhardt displayed the kind of anger usually seen from someone who had been spun by Earnhardt himself.

“They ought to fine that son of (expletive) and make him sit out the rest of the year,” Earnhardt declared to ESPN after the race.

Instead of leaving North Wilkesboro with 185 points, Earnhardt earned 144 points and lost two points to Wallace. Earnhardt would win the season finale three races later at Atlanta, but Wallace claimed the title by 12 points.

North Wilkesboro’s final NASCAR race occurred seven years later in 1996.

 

2. No sponsor, no problem; North Carolina Speedway (Rockingham)

Victories like Matt Kenseth’s first in the Xfinity Series just don’t happen.

Driving an unsponsored No. 17 Ford for Robbie Reiser (the Lycos decals on the rear quarter panels were there to express gratitude to the company for their Daytona sponsorship), Kenseth earned the win on the 50th birthday of NASCAR.

He just had to go through a fellow future Cup champion to do it.

After chasing him down in the late stages of the race, Kenseth got to Tony Stewart’s bumper with less than five laps to go.

On the last lap, Kenseth gave a tap to Stewart’s rear bumper as they exited Turn 4, sending Stewart up the track and allowing Kenseth to get beside him. It was a drag race from there with Kenseth beating Stewart by a car length.

That wasn’t Kenseth’s only big moment at Rockingham. Six years later in 2004, he beat Kasey Kahne in a photo finish to win the final Cup Series race at the track.

 

3. Two in a row for Tim Richmond; Riverside International Raceway

The first 11 races of the 1987 Cup Series season were held without Tim Richmond in the field. The Hendrick Motorsports driver sat out while he suffered from a mysterious illness that eventually was revealed as AIDS.

Richmond returned on June 14 at Pocono and promptly won, leading the final 47 laps and beating Bill Elliott.

A week later, Richmond’s comeback continued at Riverside International Raceway, a road course Richmond had won at three times before.

Richmond led the final 10 laps after passing Phil Parsons. He beat Ricky Rudd by 1.5 seconds.

It would be the last win for Richmond, whose last nine wins occurred over 19 starts. He would start the next six races after Riverside with his final start coming at Michigan.

NASCAR held its last Cup race at Riverside in June 1988.

Richmond died on Aug. 13, 1989 from AIDS complications.

 

4. The King earns final title at Ontario Motor Speedway

The 1979 Cup championship came down to the wire.

When the series held its season finale at Ontario Motor Speedway in California, Darrell Waltrip entered the race with a two-point advantage over Richard Petty, who had trailed Waltrip by 229 points in August.

Waltrip’s title hopes were dashed on Lap 38 when he spun trying to avoid a spinning car. The caution came out two laps later, trapping Waltrip a lap down. Waltrip never got back on the lead lap. Petty finished fifth and Waltrip placed eighth.

Petty ended the year 11 points up on Waltrip and claimed his seventh and final Cup championship.

Ontario would host its final Cup race the following year, ending a nine-race run that began in 1971.

 

5. NASCAR’s last hoorah at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis

The 2011 Xfinity Series season included the series’ last visit to Lucas Oil Raceway, the short track formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park.

After a 30-race tenure, the series would move to Indianapolis Motor Speedway the following year.

But the .686-mile track provided some drama in its sendoff.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dominated the event, leading 189 laps until a late-race restart.

With three laps to go in the scheduled distance, Brad Keselowski went to Stenhouse’s inside as they headed toward Turn 3.

When they got to the turn, Keselowski’s car went up the track and into Stenhouse’s, almost putting him into the wall.

But it was enough for Keselowski to take the lead. He would survive another restart to take the win.

 

NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge to debut Monday

Photo: NASCAR
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Reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch, three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. are among the headliners in the NASCAR America presents the NBC eSports Short Track Challenge.

The week-long event begins at 7 p.m. ET on Monday on NBCSN.

From Monday-Wednesday, six different drivers will compete in two timed races in Cup Series cars at an iconic track at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The top two finishers from each night will advance to the championship race at the virtual Martinsville Speedway on NBCSN.

Monday night’s races will be at a virtual Rockingham Speedway

Tuesday night’s races will be at a virtual Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.

Wednesday night’s races will be at a virtual Myrtle Beach Speedway.

Thursday night’s championship race will be at a virtual Martinsville Speedway.

Here is the driver lineup for each night:

Monday at Rockingham Speedway: Kyle Busch, William Byron, Austin Dillon, Parker Kligerman, Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace.

Tuesday at Lucas Oil Raceway: Justin Allgaier, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, Harrison Burton, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Wednesday at Myrtle Beach Speedway: Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Timmy Hill, Ryan Preece and Myatt Snider.

“We’re proud to continue our successful collaboration with iRacing and NASCAR, which began last year, to produce the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge,” said Jeff Behnke, vice president, production, NASCAR on NBC and NBCSN. “Thanks to all the drivers from the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series for joining in what should be four consecutive nights of entertainment and fun for all the great race fans and viewers.”

“Of all of the events we’ve been putting together for real-world pros, the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge should be one of the most fun,” said Steve Myers, iRacing executive producer. “So many of the top drivers in NASCAR have honed their skills on both local short tracks and iRacing, and combining the two for a virtual week-long showdown should deliver plenty of excitement. We can’t wait to see who takes the checkered flag and bragging rights!”

This marks the latest collaboration between NBC Sports and iRacing, which began in 2019 when NBC Sports telecast the first-ever eNASCAR live event on television. NBC Sports and iRacing teamed up to present the 2019 eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Championship in a two-hour event live on NBCSN last October. Earlier this year, it was announced that six races of the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Playoffs will air live on NBCSN later this fall.

NBC Sports NASCAR commentators Rick Allen and Steve Letarte will call the action, including interviews with drivers during the races. Jeff Burton and Marty Snider will host the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge via Zoom.

March 18 in NASCAR History: David Pearson begins epic 1973 run at Rockingham

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David Pearson never competed in a full NASCAR Cup Series season. The closest he came was making 48 of 49 starts in 1968.

Despite this, he ended his career with three titles and 105 wins.

Even in a regular part-time role, he still beat up on the competition.

And in 1973 when Pearson made only 18 of 28 Cup events, he really beat up on them. He won 11 times, including a stretch of nine wins in 10 races.

It started on March 18 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham.

For Pearson, it was his third start of the year after missing the Feb. 25 race at Richmond. Driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Mercury, Pearson started on the pole alongside eventual season champion Benny Parsons.

David Pearson drives into victory lane after winning the Carolina 500 (YouTube).

For 492 laps, the competition chased the “Silver Fox” as Pearson led every lap but the 73rd while he pitted under caution (the Wood Brothers’ crew could get Pearson out of the pits in 20 seconds!).

Oh, and he lapped the field.

In the closing laps, Cale Yarborough ran in second one lap down. He did this after his seat broke away from the roll cage, forcing him to hold on with one hand and drive with the other.

Then misfortune struck Pearson with five laps to go when he ran over an exhaust pipe and cut his right-front tire.

With the caution out for debris, Pearson pitted for fresh tires as Yarborough made up his lap.

But Yarborough didn’t have enough for Pearson, who dashed out to win by 3.8 seconds in a three-lap shootout.

“I just knew I was a goner when I hit the metal,” Pearson said after the race according to the book “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era: 1972-1989.” “I didn’t see it in time to dodge it. It would have been a shame to have led all those laps then lose. I sure was glad to see that caution flag come out.”

Fifth place in the race, Dick Brooks, finished six laps down. 10th place, Bill Dennis, was 19 laps down.

The only time Pearson wouldn’t win in his next nine starts would be the World 600, when he placed second to Buddy Baker. They were the only cars on the lead lap.

Pearson would finish third or better in his next 12 starts. He’d cap off the year by completing a sweep of the Rockingham races, winning the season finale over Baker as the only driver on the lead lap.

Zack Novak conquers The Rock to win second NASCAR America’s iRacing All-Star race

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Zack Novak held off a strong last lap challenge by Michael Conti to win the eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series All-Star race held live Thursday on NASCAR America and televised on NBCSN.

Novak, who drives the No. 6 Ford Mustang for the Roush Fenway Racing esports team, claimed the win on a virtual Rockingham Speedway, forcing Conti, who drives for JR Motorsports, down low coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap of the 90-lap event and was able to hang on to take the checkered flag.

 

The 16-year-old Novak, from Clinton, Connecticut, leads the Peak Series points standings — he won last year’s Ignite Series championship — and goes for the $100,000 prize pool on October 10, which will also be televised on NBCSN.

I don’t even have a driver’s license yet. — Zack Novak

“I don’t even have a driver’s license yet,” Novak told NASCAR America analysts Krista Voda, Parker Kligerman (who also competed in the race in the NBC Sports simulator in Stamford, Connecticut) and former NASCAR Cup driver A.J. Allmendinger. “It was extremely hard to pass but Conti is a very good driver and kept putting pressure on me.

“I just tried to hold the top as much as I could and make it hard for him. The top line came in real good there, a lot better than I expected, and we luckily had a real good finish for everybody watching and it was really fun to race him and battle side-by-side.”

Finishing third through fifth in the 32-driver field were 2017 series champion Ryan Michael Luza (Flipsid3 Tactics), Logan Clampitt (Burton Kligerman Esports) and Nathan Lyon (Letarte Esports).

Sixth through 10th were Ashton Crowder (Burton Kligerman Esports), Matt Bussa (Williams Esports), Chris Overland (Wood Brothers), Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Brian Schoenburg (Williams Esports).

The race was the second iRacing event broadcast on national television, and included NASCAR On NBC analyst Parker Kligerman and teams owned by real NASCAR organizations, tracks and drivers, including fellow NBC analysts Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte.

“The return of iRacing eNASCAR action to live television on NBCSN for a second All-Star race provides viewers with a unique outlet to enjoy simulator racing at its best,” said Jeff Behnke, Vice President of NASCAR Production, NBC Sports. “The growth and popularity is impressive on many fronts, and with a variety of NBC announcers moonlighting as owners, fans will get first-hand, expert analysis during the broadcast.”

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‘The Rock’ to become part of entertainment complex, with eventual return to racing

The last racing at 'The Rock' was a Truck Series event in 2012. Photo: Getty Images
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Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, “The Rock” – a.k.a. North Carolina Speedway and Rockingham Speedway – is once again coming back, albeit in a reinvented form.

In presenting his recommended long-term budget covering 2019 through 2021, North Carolina Governor Ray Cooper has proposed the state give $8 million for capital improvements for what will be known as “The Rock Speedway and Entertainment Complex.”

The money will go towards upgrading the Speedway and its grounds, as well as the adjacent Rockingham Dragway — a combined space of 550 acres and 10.5 million square feet — into what Cooper calls a “world class events venue and (to) attract additional investment and visitation to south central North Carolina.”

Among events planned for the entertainment venue are concerts, fairs, festivals and more.

According to Cooper’s budget, the state’s $8 million investment will result in needed infrastructure improvements including “wastewater and water extension, a pedestrian bridge, repaving the speedway, upgrades to speedway facilities and dragway, bathrooms, and Grandstand repairs/erosion control.”

The budget also requires that for every $3 that the state invests, there must be an additional $1 non-state match to round out the funding for the overall $11.45 million project. That non-state match will likely come from a variety of sources including Speedway owner Dan Lovenheim, who purchased the facility last year from BK Rock Holdings, Dragway owner Steve Earwood, and Richmond and Moore counties.

While Rockingham Dragway remains an active motorsports venue with a full slate of drag racing and other events throughout he year, “The Rock” last saw major on-track action in 2012 when it hosted a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series event.

Shortly after acquiring the Speedway, Lovenheim told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio several months ago about racing returning to The Rock, “At this early juncture, all doors and paths are open and on the table. We are in discussions with NASCAR. We are in discussion for several events. At this point, unfortunately, I cannot be specific for what, when and how.”

However, Lovenheim added, “I can say that racing will be an integral part of the Rock Entertainment Complex’s future.”

The area is preparing for one of the biggest events it has ever hosted, the Epicenter, a three-day music festival on Mother’s Day weekend, May 10-12, at the Rockingham Festival Grounds, spread across both the dragway and speedway properties.

70 bands are expected to perform. Among headliners for the show, which is expected to draw as many as 110,000 fans and bring a $40 million infusion into the local economy for hotels, restaurants and the like, are Foo Fighters, Judas Priest, Korn, Evanescence, Tool, Bush and Rob Zombie.

Los Angeles-based production company Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP) recently signed a 10-year contract to bring the annual music festival to the Speedway and Dragway grounds.

Richmond County economic development officer Martie Butler told ThePilot.com, “So many people recognize ‘The Rock.’ It is a very iconic fixture, but a lot of companies have left our region. We look at this as a phoenix approach. Here we have this massive NASCAR fixture and it is a reinvention of this great icon.”

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