A history rich in NASCAR fame did not save Rockingham from a fate that befalls most old speedways. Rockingham was dying. Living in the shadow of Charlotte Motor Speedway an hour away, low attendance, and legal drama led to NASCAR officially leaving Rockingham in the early 2000s. There were some large events scheduled periodically over the next decade, including truck series races, but the finances continued to point in the opposite direction, and ownership of the property changed hands a few times. For many, this track is “home” and grassroots efforts have continued to campaign to bring the track to its former glory.
However, the winds of change continue to blow, and Rockingham appears to have its sails set in the right direction to capture that wind. Older NASCAR tracks are seeing a revival of sorts. Speedways such as Winchester and North Wilkesboro have been given makeovers and have had the spotlight shifted back toward them by racing fans new and old that want to recapture the magic of old school circle track racing. Rockingham is no different and received a fresh repave in 2022.
Rockingham has been on and off the NASA Southeast schedule since the early 2000s, running part of the oval as well as the road course section of the infield. The unique opportunity to race on a NASCAR banked oval not named “Daytona” is not one to pass up. There are few tracks on the NASA calendar where you can feel the unreal levels of grip and length of time flat out like a NASCAR roval.
However, with the NASA Southeast 2024 schedule revealed to not include Rockingham days before the event, it dawned on many that this may be the last chance they have to experience this track — and the last chance to have a Spec3 lap time in the books there. We mentioned previously that Rockingham was repaved, but what we did not mention was that only the NASCAR oval surface was repaved. The infield road course section remains in the neglected/authentic/rustic — or whatever adjective you choose — state it has been in for many years. Lone jersey barriers dot the grassy run-off areas throughout, acting as the last ditch effort to keep your car from hitting the telephone poles they conceal behind them. Like we said, it’s a unique experience.
Spec3 is seeing growth across the United States, including California, the Great Lakes, and the East Coast. One region seeing the most growth is NASA Southeast. The Southeast Spec3 field is finally hitting its stride as more cars are completed and drivers complete competition school. This October event was attended by the first Spec3 field to take on Rockingham. Several other soon-to-be Spec3 racers drove their builds-in-progress in HPDE and cheered on the racers as they battled on the Roval.
Andy Schmidt, Justin Hite and Chris Araj took their first competition green flag at Rockingham on Saturday in the rain. Some on Toyo RRs and some on Toyo RA1s, they struggled to find grip among the Rockingham racing veterans in other classes. Justin Hite qualified P1 with a soggy 1:20 lap time with Schmidt and Araj behind.
Race one on Saturday kicked off after 4 p.m. and the track was beginning to dry off from the rain earlier in the day. All three racers found their bearings on the drying surface and shaved more than 10 seconds from their rainy qualifying times as they battled among Lightning group traffic composed of Spec E30s and Spec Miatas. Several “four-off” excursions took place, but no damage was sustained and the racers trudged on through the damp conditions. Justin Hite was able to hold onto the lead with Schmidt and Araj battling across the line a second apart. The fastest lap time of the group being a 1:10.4 by Andy Schmidt, which was the first Spec3 lap record at The Rock.
Race two was early on Sunday with the grid positions set by the race one finish. All three racers were able to shave off more time and Andy Schmidt took first place. Schmidt ran a 1:07.9 and beat the record he set the day before by almost 3 seconds. No doubt, times in the 1:06’s and the fastest time in Lightning was on the table for race three. Chris Araj took second and Justin Hite took third in race two.
Race three is when things got interesting and the true nature of Spec3 shone through. Hite was able to slip past both of his competitors to take the lead early in the race. Schmidt and Hite duked it out, trading first place over and over until Hite experienced oversteer entering the infield section and had to correct. This slip-up allowed Schmidt and Araj to squeeze by. Hite stormed back to the pack and squeezed by Araj in the penultimate turn with enough steam to make a run for the lead through the banked oval section of the track as the checkered flag flew.
All three racers left with smiles on their faces, and the crowd of HPDE drivers building Spec3s with one eye on their project and another on RaceHero got a show to inspire them to keep working toward their competition license.
Next up for the Southeast Spec3 gang is Carolina Motorsports Park where at least one more rookie intends to take competition school in his Spec3 and join the grid. Spec3 also will have a field at New Jersey Motorsports Park the same weekend in November with NASA Northeast.
As for the future of Rockingham Speedway, only time will tell!
Ride along for a NASA Southeast Spec3 Race with Chris Araj at Rockingham Speedway in October.