Sources: Rockingham to host Trucks

Updated: September 2, 2011, 10:58 PM ET
By Ryan McGee | ESPN The Magazine

Rockingham Speedway will host a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, tentatively scheduled for the second weekend of April 2012, sources have told ESPN The Magazine.

The announcement will be made Wednesday afternoon during a news conference at the one-mile racetrack.

The event will mark the track's first NASCAR event since the then-Winston Cup Series held its 78th and final race at "The Rock" on Feb. 22, 2004.

As part of a court settlement, International Speedway Corporation, NASCAR's track ownership arm, sold the track to Speedway Motorsports Incorporated and Bruton Smith. After a series of schedule changes Rockingham's race date was essentially moved west to SMI's Texas Motor Speedway.

The track formerly known as the North Carolina Motor Speedway hosted a total of 120 national NASCAR events between 1965 and 2004, but this will be the track's first Truck Series race.

Last month ESPN The Magazine first reported that the Rockingham Speedway was investing in SAFER "soft wall" barriers.

That news, added to closing of the Nashville Superspeedway, host of two races each in NASCAR's Camping World Trucks and Nationwide Series, immediately led to garage speculation that NASCAR might be returning.

The sanctioning body will not hold a national touring series event at a racetrack that does not feature the SAFER energy-absorbing barriers.

Track owner Andy Hillenburg, who saved the track at auction on Sept. 27, 2007, had long maintained that he couldn't afford make the SAFER investment -- estimated at $1 million a mile -- unless he felt like a NASCAR event was imminent.

Last month track general manager Robert Ingraham said the addition of the SAFER barrier was safety driven but added: "If it looks like we are being proactive about attracting a larger event, that's not an accident."

Hillenburg has kept the complex open with races from smaller non-NASCAR divisions, but openly admits that drawing crowds has been a struggle.

When ARCA didn't return to "The Rock" this season it was viewed by many as a potential death blow to Rockingham's chances to lure NASCAR back.

That will change in 2012.

Hillenburg, who drove in both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500, has also been a team owner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Upon the SAFER barrier news, NASCAR president Mike Helton told ESPN.com's David Newton that while he "wouldn't want to give anybody false hope," the installation of SAFER barriers "gives us more options". He added: "A lot of it might have to do with the fact that a lot of teams test there. So I wouldn't read too much between the lines.

"But with SAFER barriers in place that's an obstacle that would be cleared."

Senior writer Ryan McGee covers motorsports for ESPN The Magazine.

Ryan McGee | email

ESPN The Magazine, NASCAR