I have been around racing for a long time. Growing up in Rockingham, you didn’t really have a choice. Going to the track became part of the routine every year – something to look forward to every spring and fall. Each time I went as a kid, I fell in love with the place a little bit more.
As I grew older, I started working in newspaper and got to cover races. Being in the pits and garage and media center gives you a whole different perspective on the whole thing, but, for me, did nothing to assuage the love affair.
Then it all went away. NASCAR pulled up stakes and left after the spring race in 2004. The track was sold to Bruton Smith and the track that hosted its first race on Halloween 1965 was shuttered.
This story is going somewhere, I promise.
In 2007, Andy Hillenburg bought the place and in May 2008, hosted an ARCA race. In the race the track hosted in October of that year, I went to work helping out in the media center, interviewing drivers, helping out with pre- and post-race ceremonies and transcribing quotes. In May 2009, I became the public relations director for the track.
Some people spend their entire lives chasing their professional dreams. For a few years, I got to live mine.
As I am writing this (Friday, May 14), it has been four years since we hosted the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Rock at Rockingham Speedway, the last race at the venerable track. It was my eighth event as the public relations director (and 10th at the track).
I have done a lot of cool things in my life, but those race weekends rank right behind the day I got married and the days my three kids were born.
While there, I got to work with some kids who are now big-time stars. I’ll never forget 17-year-old Joey Logano staining a bunch of firesuits with a Cheerwine or 14-year old Chase Elliott winning a late-model race in dominant fashion (he also won a USAR Pro Cup race there too). Chris Buescher won a pole there. I took Austin Dillon to take his SAT at Richmond Senior Saturday morning before an ARCA race. His brother Ty won the last ARCA race at the track and proceeded to grab the butts of the trophy girls in victory lane (one of who is my wife now). Kyle Larson won that last truck race. I watched Clay Rogers (who I have worked with in other capacities since) dominate the Pro Cup Series.
There were some pretty strange things that happened at the track. A street stock caught fire and was engulfed in the garage and started the race a few hours later. One time I helped load Brian Keselowski’s destroyed race car into his hauler with a big forklift. Bryan Silas destroyed the water barrels at the entrance of pit road in a street stock race in one of the most spectacular crashes I have ever seen.
I got to cut up and laugh with Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace and Humpy Wheeler and meet two of my childhood heroes, Tom Higgins and Bill Elliott. I also got to work with a bunch of great journalist and photographers. Some of those kids are now doing big things in NASCAR.
In addition to some great memories, I made a lot of friends among drivers, media and other members of the racing traveling circus.
It was a bunch of hard work and, despite the way it ended, it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. Those race weekends were some of the most rewarding, tiring and thrilling times of my life.
It really was a dream come true.