Home Local News Richmond County Tourism Board approves $89K in grants, including for Hoptoberfest, Dragway...

Richmond County Tourism Board approves $89K in grants, including for Hoptoberfest, Dragway and Cole performing arts

Nearly a thousand people sampled craft beer and chicken wings during the fifth annual Hoptoberfest on Saturday. See more photos on the RO's Facebook page.
William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Several grant requests were approved by the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority Board last week — including the now-canceled Hoptoberfest.

The Richmond County Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the annual craft beer and chicken wing festival, requested $15,000 from the RCTDA during the July 11 meeting — just one week before canceling.

Hoptoberfest, in what would be its eighth year, had been scheduled for Oct. 7 at Rockingham Dragway, its location since 2019 after outgrowing the parking lot of Richmond Plaza.

Changes for this year, according to the application in the agenda packet, included having fewer beers on tap “to highlight only the most popular brands” and using local entertainment.

“We feel this event is unique to our area and will attract potential brewers to Richmond County,” the application reads.

Hoptoberfest drew a record crowd of 1,800 in 2021, according to the application.

The Chamber had requested $5,000 in 2019 and 2021, and increased the amount to $10,000 in 2022. This year, the request was for an additional $5,000.

A budget included with the application shows the cost of the event to total $40,175, including $12,250 for marketing (advertising, merchandise) and $13,900 for “other costs” with the bulk of that expense covering the breweries.

The Chamber had planned to advertise in Mecklenburg and New Hanover counties “due to the growth of attendees” from those areas.

However, the Chamber announced on Tuesday that it was canceling the event, with President Kristi King saying Hoptoberfest didn’t line up with the organization’s mission of supporting and promoting local businesses.

Click here to read that story.

The board approved the request — which was the third-largest.

The highest amount requested came from Rockingham Dragway: $40,000 to help with advertising.

A driver does a pre-run burnout during the 252 March Madness no prep racing event at Rockingham Dragway March 11. See more photos below the story. Photos by William R. Toler – Richmond Observer

According to the application, new Dragway owners Dan Vanhorn and Al Gennarrelli are planning to implement an “aggressive, modernized marketing plan,” which includes advertising digitally and in various print formats (including Mopar Magazine).

Since taking ownership from Steve Earwood, the new owners have made many improvements to the track and surrounding property, thanks in part to a $485,000 N.C. Motorsports Relief Fund grant.

Click here to read about some of the improvements.

Among the upgrades scheduled for this year is a 16 feet by 8 feet, double-sided LED digital sign to promote events and sponsors of the track — as well other county events — and upgrading the website, both of which would appear to fall in the advertising category.

Funding for the sign was previously approved by the board to the tune of $97,985.82 and was paid out July 5, documents show.

The Rock’s events draw thousands of drivers and spectators from across the region, state, nation and world — and the track stays hot with events nearly every weekend.

Several events have been canceled or rescheduled due to weather, but there are more than 30 still lined up for this year.


“Since its inception, Rockingham Dragway has been a substantial contributor to Richmond County Tourism and we can guarantee that will not only continue, but further increase,” the application reads. “The legacy events remain in place which provide foundation to a schedule that brings racers, race teams, race families and fans from across the globe to our hotels and store fronts.”

According to the application, the Dragway has received a combined $130,000 from RCTDA over the past three years.

The second-largest amount approved was $25,000 for Cole Auditorium’s Performing Arts Series.

The application states that 22% of ticket sales for the most recent season were from outside of Richmond County, including patrons from Montgomery, Randolph, Anson, Moore and Union counties, as well as nearby South Carolina counties, with an average attendance of 550 people per show.

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performs at Cole Auditorium on April 13. Photo by William R. Toler – Richmond Observer

The Cole plans to use the advertising dollars to market the upcoming shows in distant, but drivable areas including the Triad (Greensboro), Monroe and Florence, South Carolina areas, according to the application.

Click here to read about the upcoming season.

“Exposing non-residents to our first-class facility at previous performances has resulted in renting the Cole for additional events which draw regional and state-wide attendees such as regional dance competitions, regional conferences, and weddings,” the application reads. “Such events have created a need for community hotel stays, gas station stops, and other return visits to our area.”

The board also approved requests of:

  • $4,000 by the Mangum Track Club for the the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic, which brings runners to Rockingham each fall
  • $5,000 by the Rankin Museum of American Heritage for A Giant Celebration, an event to honor the late Andre the Giant who lived outside Ellerbe during the latter years of his life and wrestling career.

Click here to read about last year’s Hinson Lake race.

Click here to read more about A Giant Celebration. (Note: More guests have been added since the initial story, including Jerry “The King” Lawler and Mark Henry.)

One event sponsored by the board earlier this year, Encounterquest, announced last month that it would be returning to Cole Auditorium in April of 2024.

Click here to read about this year’s event.

Funds distributed by the Tourism Board come from the local occupancy tax. All lodging establishments are currently in the city of Rockingham, with the exception of Ellerbe Springs Inn.

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.