For those of you who watched Raceline this past Friday, you probably noted the comments made 2/3 of the way into the half-hour weekly show by co-host Tiffany Ricardo-Moore concerning Rockingham.
With all the speculation of next year's 2011 Cup schedule, that by all indications promises to deliever a shake up not seen in the sport since the 2004 Realignment that left many a Southern fan aggitated and disgusted (goodbye Rockingham, Southern 500 etc) no one is talking about NASCAR's two "lesser" series, the Camping World Truck and NASCAR Nationwide series which always seem to have plenty of speculation and turnover just the same.
In the past year's we've seen Mansfield, Ohio close up shop for the truck series, and Nazareth, PA no longer host NASCAR events, in addition to Pikes Peak in Fountain, Colorado. Just last year, Memphis and Milwaukee lost her events and it was recently announced that Gateway International in suburban St. Louis, Missouri will not host any events next year.
Yet, where is the similar outrage? Where is the similar coverage of these schedule changing events?
I get it, no one cares (as much) because these are seen as the minor league circuits they are. I admit, I don't care as much for "Cup Lite" as I do the Nationwide Series, or as I call it the "Busch Series;" not in reference to the 25 year sponsor that preceded Nationwide, but rather a mocking tribute to Kyle Busch who simply dominates the series and causes me not to watch.
Well, that may be changing. Not only did I watch the road courses this year (they are growing on me as a fan—cookie cutters are like Jimmie Johnson—bland, but in addition to the variety and challenges they offer, they piqued my interest.
But I also may watch a race (or races) at Rockingham next year, should they get one or both series to return.
While my friends and co-workers had been hoping, admittingly fruitlessly, for one or the other to return, Ricardo reported, albeit speculatively only, that "it would be nice if Rockingham returned" when brining up the topic of Gateway closing in the short segment updating the fans on the track.
While no webites will confirm or deny this, she did follow it up by saying that supposedly track owner Andy Hillenburg, when asked about the dates, responded that he'd "love to take them both" (presumably a truck and Nationwide date) "off the track's hands".
Not to jump the gun, or get anyone's hopes up, but I will believe it when I see it. Still, there is no reason why either date (or dates) couldn't work. Lets first look at the schedule:
The schedule makes it possible?
Nationwide Series: Gateway will host (or has hosted) the following two weekends in 2010:
Saturday July 17 and Saturday October 23rd.
Both dates bode well for the Southern track in Richmond County, NC as North Carolina and her fans love Saturday racing. The only problem is, Southerners have a long history with, and love for, Saturday Night Racing and without lights, Rockingham cannot quite provide that spectacle.
Still, Saturday is still known as race night in local circles, and considering Rockingham, North Wilkesboro and Darlington, the regions most Southern staples, and NASCAR originals, all got their claim to fame long before the mandate of lights made racing more appealing and profitable, it could work in the day.
Either could work in the NASCAR schedule as both would clearly be stand-alone dates at the track since Cup isn't coming back any time soon (if it ever can with the Freko lawsuit ruling).
As for the truck race, July 17, it ran on the same day as its Nationwide date. As for the Cup series, this weekend was one of the few off weekends.
However, the fall date will be run on the same weekend as nearby Martinsville Speedway in Southern Viriginia, making it very convienent for drivers such as Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Busch, among others, to pay one of NASCAR's pillar tracks her respect and 'do the double' that weekend.
Other than Charlotte, the stars could not have aligned more perfectly for the track to have life breathed back into it.
So who gets the dates?
Currently there are Gateway's 3 dates up in the air. So far, we know that one of those events, a Nationwide race, will go to Iowa Speedway, giving her a 2nd event in NASCAR's 2nd series.
Okay, one down, two to go. Rockingham gets her choice right?
Considering, Iowa's original Nationwide weekend is July 31st, we can scratch off the July 17 race also ran there as that is obviously far too close. Also trucks run there on July 11th making that 2nd truck date not likely to happen at that track.
So that leaves the hypothetical (based on this year's calander) October 23rd weekend for Nationwide to return to Iowa Speedway next season with a lone truck and Nationwide event up in the air.
Lets say Rockingham gets one or the other. Either a July 17th truck or Nationwide event would work, schedule wise in Rockingham (or anywhere else for that matter). The fans there, so NASCAR starved, will arrive in droves for the event many of us never thought we'd live to see return.
Splitting up the weekend, i.e. giving NASCAR one or the other, doesn't make much sense as that is just all the more travel that NASCAR would have to do going from Rockingham to another track on a weekend Cup isn't run. Why not just keep them both at one track?
Still, don't get us wrong, we'd be happy to take one or the other and like it.....
In The Rock's dying days, she only hosted 3,000 or so fans at some Nationwide events to which fan apathy was quickly affixed.
We all know that the track couldn't draw even as much as 40,000 fans, 10,000 below her capacity when everyone knew the end was near if people did not show up.
Weather, given with Rockingham's horrible dates of February following the Great American Race is a tough act to follow regardless of the weather, and chilly November did not help matters.
We aren't talking Cup here. No one is expecting you to draw 40,000 people anymore. Truck series generally draw 15-20,000 people. A bit more, 25,000+ for Nationwide.
Certainly a well promoted Rockingham return could do that on a consistent basis. It couldn't do any worse than the very tracks that lost the events in the first place. A July event would solve the weather issues and NASCAR might just be too busy promoting its new babies in Iowa, Kansas, complete with two dates now, and Kentucky to care about an adored country track in the Deep South of yesteryear.
"Enjoy your second-tier series" they'd say. "Look at those dumb rednecks, getting all excited about a lowly truck date."
Asked in an interview with NASCAR.com last year if NASCAR were to "come to us now" (about a return to the track) Hillenburg replied: "I'm not quite ready as a promoter...." and "First I need to learn more as a track operator."
Well, one has to wonder how many more tracks have to close before Hillenburg gets the chance he's earned, to show what he can do and that Rockingham deserves to be back.
One also has to wonder how many more chances Rockingham will get (as a Nationwide and truck date just lay there for the taking) begging the question, if not now, when?
I'd just hate to see The Rock blow its chance, overplay its card, drag its feet, and run out of chances. Andy couldn't have predicted the economic decline the continues to eat tracks up. Here's hoping he's got a little surprise for us soon as he takes advantage of a dream many never thought possible.
Much like the 2011 Cup schedule, the chairs the the table are filling up fast. Let's just hope NASCAR saved Rockingham a seat at the adults table (once again).
Information and references from Raceline tv show, Raceline.com, Tiffany Ricardo-Moore, Jayksi.com, KSDK.com (St. Louis), NASCAR.com, Scenedaily.com, and wikipedia directly contributed to the content in this article.