Profile: Steve Earwood

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Outside of the sport’s founding fathers, few individuals have had a bigger impact on drag racing than Steve Earwood.

By the Mopar Action Editor Photo by TheBruntBros

Steve Earwood at the mic during the 31st annual Mopars at The Rock. This is Steve’s final season as owner of Rockingham Dragway as he’s turning the track over to new owners.

          Outside of the sport’s founding fathers, few individuals have had a bigger impact on drag racing than Steve Earwood.

          Although he has distinguished himself the last 30 years as the owner/operator of Rockingham Dragway, Earwood already had Hall of Fame credentials when he purchased the track in the Carolina sandhills in 1992.

          As the first National Media Relations Director for the National Hot Rod Association, Earwood was as responsible as anyone else for helping the sport shed its black leather jacket image and attain mainstream acceptance. 

He developed personal relationships with prominent writers and broadcasters including legendary columnists like Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times, convinced them of drag racing’s viability and then connected them with the sport’s stars: Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney and others.

Those efforts led to feature stories on a host of individual racers and, ultimately, to coverage of the sport in publications that never before had even acknowledged its existence including the New York Times, the aforementioned LA Times and Sports Illustrated. 

In 1986, Earwood was tapped to handle the public relations and marketing challenges of Billy Meyer’s newly constructed Texas Motorplex outside Dallas which, largely through his efforts as VP of Marketing, drew what at the time was the second largest one-day crowd in NHRA history for its opening event.

From Texas, he returned to his native Georgia as General Manager of Atlanta Dragway which, during his tenure, underwent a $3.5 million total makeover that redefined it as one of the sport’s marquee facilities.

He also promoted IMSA road races, the SCCA National Runoffs, selected SCCA Trans Am events and served as Public Relations consultant to the late Raymond Beadle’s Charlotte-based “Blue Max” NASCAR team when it won the Winston Cup championship in 1989 with driver Rusty Wallace.

His move to Rockingham in 1992 enabled him to realize a lifelong dream of singularly owning and operating his own track using all the information gleaned from working within the industry for more than 20 years.

At The Rock, which before his arrival had for two decades contested only two races a year, he put in place one of the most diverse schedules in the country, one that included rock concerts and obstacle course races as well as drag races of every shape, size and description.

For 10 years, the track hosted the NHRA Winston Invitational, an event that became a destination for the sport’s stars even though it wasn’t officially a national event.  On Earwood’s watch, in 1997 it became the first event to pay $100,000 to both its Top Fuel and Funny Car champions.

Through the years, he has operated the track under sanction of both the NHRA and the IHRA and was recognized by both organizations for his efforts.  He was IHRA’s national Promoter of the Year in 2001 and 2008 and in 2019 accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NHRA.

 He also was recognized by the ADRA as its Promoter of the Year in 2015, was named Richmond County’s “Citizen of the Year” in 2010 and, for his efforts in promoting the Winston Invitational was honored as the NHRA Southeast Division Man of the Year in 1994.

An NHRA Southeast Division Hall of Fame member along with his brother, Terry, an accomplished drag racer, road racer and driving instructor, he was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2016 when he accepted the Founders Award from Garlits.

          A founding member of the North Carolina Motorsports Association, Earwood has served on the Governor’s Motorsports Advisory Council, is a voting board member of the National Fire Protection Association responsible for drafting document 610 that serves as a fire safety guideline for all forms of motor racing and serves on the board of Racers for Christ International.

          Although he never raced competitively himself, Earwood grew up in a motor racing family.  His late father Charles Earwood was Chief Steward for a number of road racing organizations including IMSA and SCCA and his brother was the Super Stock champion at the NHRA’s 1973 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

          Earwood gravitated toward drag racing in the 1970s while a student at West Georgia College.  His work in organizing the Southern Pro Stock Circuit and in promoting Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway caught the attention of NHRA officials including president Wally Parks, who hired him on a one-time basis to manage the organization’s public relations effort at the 1975 NHRA Gatornationals. 

          His over-the-top success in that initial trial won him a full-time job that quickly led to his being recognized as a Car Craft Magazine “Hi-Riser” for his work in overhauling NHRA’s public relations program. 

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