ROCKINGHAM — Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday proposed spending $45 million on motorsports in the Tar Heel State, including $10 million to Rockingham Speedway and Entertainment Complex.
The proposal comes as part of Cooper’s American Rescue Plan budget on how to spend $5.7 billion in federal funding to invest in the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to Richmond County’s historic track, Charlotte Motor Speedway and the long-idle North Wilkesboro Speedway would also receive $10 million each. Both tracks are owned by Speedway Motorsports Incorporated — which used to own The Rock.
The proposal also calls for a non-state match of $1 for every $4 spent by the state with county governments and the venues partnering to fund “needed infrastructure” including:
- Water and wastewater extensions
- Pedestrian walkway enhancements
- Speedway repaving
- Upgrades to facilities and dragways (if applicable)
- Bathroom fixtures and maintenance
- Grandstand repair
- Erosion control
Justin Jones, vice president of operations at the speedway, was unaware of the news until the RO called for a reaction.
“That’s great news,” Jones said, surprised.
“I am excited, motivated and thankful for the opportunity for assistance the governor is willing to give us,” Jones added. “With that kind of assistance, it would hyper-speed our efforts in renovations, getting the speedway back to its former glory.”
The speedway staff has recently been working on upgrading the facility, including installing LED lighting along the infield; and MB Drift, which has scheduled its entire 2021 season at Rockingham, is helping to repave the road course.
County Manager Bryan Land said he was “thrilled” to see the news, adding that he and Economic Developer Martie Butler “have been working on this possibility for sometime now.”
“This would help upgrade the facilities and also allow funding for much needed infrastructure upgrades,” Land added. “Obviously it would need board approval for the match but the possibilities for concerts, races and other outdoor entertainment … could be endless. I feel the board would view the match very favorably.”
The proposal also calls for giving $10 million to the N.C. Department of Commerce for grant program for other motorsports facilities, as well as $5 million to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources “to develop, connect, and market new and existing natural and cultural tourism trails, including a Motorsports and Moonshine Heritage Trail.”
Gene McLaurin, chairman of the board of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, which works closely with NC Commerce, said the governor “recognizes the importance of the motorsports industry to North Carolina.”
McLaurin said Cooper has attended races at Rockingham in the past, adding that the two have spoken “a number of times” about how important the sport is to the state’s economy.
In 2019, the governor proposed in his budget $8 million for improvements at the speedway.
“We have a lot of jobs throughout the state that are part of the motorsports industry,” including racing teams headquartered from Charlotte to Mooresville and other parts of the state, McLaurin said. “And I think racing has a future in this state.”
According to the governor’s plan, motorsports is a $5 billion industry and leading tourism generator for North Carolina.
“This is an opportunity, with these American Rescue funds, to help not only Rockingham, but the motorsports industry in general to flourish and be successful in the future,” McLaurin said.
The former state senator and Rockingham mayor said there are several infrastructure improvements needed to “enable us to bring top-tier racing back” to the area.
McLaurin served as mayor of Rockingham when NASCAR was here, left and came back.
“Will NASCAR come back? I can’t obviously answer that question,that’s NASCAR’s decision” McLaurin said. “But if we can make improvements to our track in Richmond County .,. Then it opens all kinds of doors for top-tier racing (and motorsports events) to return to Rockingham Speedway.”
And not just motorsports, McLaurin added, both other events like concerts and festivals.
“That facility has tremendous potential and I think the governor and his staff see that potential,” McLaurin said. “And they want to help rural North Carolina and this is a way to do it.”
While the dragway isn’t specifically mentioned, McLaurin added that there is an opportunity to help that venue, as well.
The speedway and Rockingham Dragway teamed up in 2019 to host Epicenter Festival, but the promoter decided to move the event to Charlotte Motor Speedway.
McLaurin pointed out that the plan still has to go through the legislature and hopes the members of the General Assembly recognize the potential as he and Cooper do.
The proposal also calls for, among other things, investing:
- $1.2 million in broadband access and affordability
- $800 million for water and wastewater systems
- $350 million in the NC Guarantee Scholarship
“This pandemic brought us a once-in-a-generation challenge. And these funds have brought us a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Cooper said in a statement. “North Carolina’s funding from the American Rescue Plan positions our state for a shared recovery and allows us to create a North Carolina that works for all.”
See the entire proposal as an attachment.
Russell Parker contributed to this story.