Profile: Rockingham Dragway


North Carolina Track Among Nation’s Most Active and Most Diverse

          Rockingham Dragway, which fronts U.S. Highway 1 just north of the city of Rockingham, is in its sixth decade of operation as an upper echelon American drag racing facility, one that for all but three years since its construction has hosted at least one major event under the sanction of either the now defunct American Hot Rod Association (1969-1970), the International Hot Rod Association (1971-1988 and 1999-2014) or the National Hot Rod Association (1989-1998 and 2014 to the present).

          Built in 1969 by developers Bill Land and L.G. Dewitt as a companion to the NASCAR oval track that occupied real estate across the highway, Rockingham Dragway today is one of the busiest dragstrips in the country. 

          Thirty years before the construction of the current wave of “supertracks,” Rockingham Dragway set the standard by which most facilities still are measured today. 

          Not only was it one of the world’s first purpose-built dragstrips, it also was one of the first to feature paved pits, permanent restroom facilities, permanent concrete grandstands and VIP amenities including corporate suites with an unobstructed view down the track.

          Under the direction of Steve Earwood, who assumed ownership in 1992, Rockingham has undergone a complete facelift that has enabled it to keep pace in an ever-changing marketplace.

          The NHRA Southeast Division Man of the Year during the time that his track played host to the NHRA’s Winston Invitational, the largest and most successful NHRA-sanctioned event ever produced outside of the national point series, Earwood supervised several expansions of the pro and sportsman pits, an upgrade of the scales and timing operations, erection of new read-out scoreboards and installation of a high tech Musco lighting system to enhance the track’s night racing program.

          He arranged for the first re-paving of the quarter mile surface since the track’s construction and, unhappy with the result, had the work done two more times to get it right and a third time to maintain its integrity.  Among the construction projects completed on his watch were a new ticket office, new concessions buildings, crossover bridge linking the pro and sportsman pit areas, concrete guardwalls that run the length of the quarter mile and re-paving of the main entrance road.

          Earwood also changed the track’s personality by transforming it from a dragstrip that for two decades contested just two races each year to one that in 2022 will host more than 90 days of motorsports, another 100 days of private testing and a spattering of non-racing events including the Apple Chill Festival and the Rugged Maniacs physical fitness challenge series.

          Known for its diverse schedule, The Rock this year will for the first time play host to the jointly produced NMRA/NMCA (National Mustang Racing Association/National Muscle Car Association) All-Star Nationals, featuring some of the nation’s quickest and fastest Pro Mods and factory street cars, as well as to the Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings and Donk Racing, featuring competition between big wheel classic cars.

Also relatively new to the schedule are International Roll Racing Association events featuring rolling start drag races, a trio of Dig or Die no prep racing events and Street Car Takeover, all of them a part of a grass roots renaissance in the sport.

Among the track’s anchor events are the AMRA Jim McClure Memorial All-Harley Nitro Finals, contested this year for the 31st time, the Mopars at the Rock all-Chrysler expo, also celebrating its 31st Rockingham birthday, the Big John Memorial Weekend Bracket Championships, the Super Chevy Show series, the Modern Street Hemi Shootout Series, the Import Faceoff series, the NHRA Weekend Doubleheader featuring a Lucas Oil Series division race and an NHRA National Open event and the Thanksgiving weekend Holiday Jr. Jam devoted to the sport’s next generation of stars.

          A charter board member of the North Carolina Motorsports Association, a charter member of the Governor’s North Carolina Motorsports Advisory Council and a Racers for Christ International board member, Earwood has helped create several successful franchises including the Carolina Coalition Series, the Racers Appreciation Bracket Series and the old MIRock Superbike Series.

          For his efforts, he has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NHRA (2019), two Promoter of the Year awards from the IHRA (2001 and 2008) and a Promoter of the Year award from the ADRL (2015).  A member of the Southeast Division Hall of Fame, in 2016, he was inducted into Don Garlits’ International Drag Racing Hall of Fame as recipient of the Founders Award.

          The biggest difference between Rockingham Dragway, then and now, is the weekly activity that provides an alternative to illegal street racing.  On several weekends, the track is open to grassroots racers, offering supervised time runs and grudge racing as part of the MXA street drags program. 

          Although traditional drag racing remains the track’s principal revenue source, Earwood never has been averse to an offbeat promotion or two.  Among other non-automotive events, his track has hosted the Lollapalooza series, a Metallica concert and the Epicenter Festival featuring Judas Priest and the Foo Fighters, among others.

          And, finally, for those enamored with minutiae, the domain name, which today connects to the website of former pro wrestler-turned movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, originally belonged to the racetrack.  Earwood sold the name to Johnson at the turn of the century just as the latter was beginning his movie career.

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