Home Local Sports Drivers test tires at Rockingham Speedway ahead of March race

Drivers test tires at Rockingham Speedway ahead of March race

Six drivers tested Hoosier tires at Rockingham Speedway on Tuesday in preparation for the upcoming CARS Tour race in March. See more photos at the bottom of this post.
William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — For racecar driver Travis Miller, making laps around the historic Rockingham Speedway was an early Christmas present.

Miller, a Jacksonville native, was one of six drivers participating in a tire test Tuesday for the upcoming CARS Tour race in March 2021.

Three of the cars were from the CARS Tour and the other three were from the Carolina Mini-Stock Challenge, which will run a 20-lap race prior to the main event, according to Rockingham Speedway Race Promoter Charlie Hansen.

“We’re super excited,” Hansen, who is working with co-promoter Mike Stodder, said about the upcoming race — the first since the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in April 2013. “It should be epic for the CARS Tour and for Rockingham.”

Jack McNelly, owner of the CARS Tour, said he was approached by Hansen, who asked if he would be interested in bringing the tour to the speedway.

“I jumped at the opportunity,” McNelly said.

The speedway previously hosted tire testing events for the Super Cup Stock Car Series and the ill-fated X-Cup series — the latter of which was planned to be exclusive to the Rock — in 2016, but neither event happened due to legal wranglings, as previously reported by this writer in the Richmond County Daily Journal.

Like the drivers, McNelly is excited to bring racing back to Rockingham.

“The history, the heritage that this place has is second to none,” McNelly said at the track’s garage as a car roared down Thunder Alley. “And just walking around the grounds, you can just close your eyes and hear 100,000 people cheering for Cale Yarborough or Richard Petty …

“And to think that this place has sat idle for seven years, with no activity, what a shame,” McNelly continued. “If we can be a small part of bringing (it) back to life, it’ll be fantastic.”

CARS Tour events generally draw crowds of 1,000-4,000, according to McNelly. 

Hansen said he doesn’t believe the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have any effect on the event.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s current executive order, which is set to expire Jan. 8, limits capacity of large outdoor venues to 7%.

With a seating capacity of 70,000, Hansen said “we’re looking at around 4,900 people, and we feel like that would be a fair number of fans for a CARS Tour event.

McNelly is no stranger to Rockingham Speedway.

He was the owner of a Nationwide — now Xfinity —  team that first raced at the track in 2001 and of a Pro Cup team that raced there about a decade later. The driver for the last Nationwide race was Regan Smith.

McNelly was also at the 2013 truck race.

Tuesday’s cool temperatures in the lower 40s were ideal for tire testing, according to McNelly.

“You don’t want to try to figure something out when it’s blazing hot,” McNelly said. “Thinking ahead, when we race here on March the sixth, I’m guessing we’re going to have about the same type of weather — within five to ten degrees … I think we’ll be fine.”

With track sitting with no action for so long, McNelly said there would be “a tremendous amount of grip” and all the rubber laid down by previous races has washed out over the years.

“So it’s going to chew up tires,” McNelly continued. “So I’m anxious to see how the tire we brought here for the test stands up.”

The tires used in Tuesday’s test were made by Hoosier.

A week after the race was announced, Dale Earnhardt Jr. expressed concerns about the condition of the track.

But the drivers on Tuesday gave it a green flag.

“It was awesome, it feels good,” said 26-year-old Jared Fryar.

Fryar, of Trinity, has been racing since the age of 9, starting off on quarter midgets before moving on to Legend cars and Late Models. He won the 2020 Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour Championship last month at Pickens-Greenville Speedway in South Carolina.

This was his first time driving at Rockingham Speedway, though he did attend one race at the track.

One challenge for the drivers was the size of the speedway itself.

They’re used to running on quarter-mile tracks and occasionally up to half-mile tracks, so the 1.071-mile oval was different.

“It’s definitely big,” Fryar said. “It was definitely a reach for us.”

Both Fryar and Miller compared Rockingham to Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.

“We ran Late Models at Bristol and the speed and banking kinda reminds me a lot of that,” Fryar said. “The length of the track is a lot longer, but everything was good … it’s got a lot of speed, I feel like the racing’s going to be good.”

Jacksonville native Travis Miller straps in before going out for his second run.

Miller said the speeds were almost the same.

“It’ll be awesome to see what the different cars will do in the straightaways,” Miller said. “Everybody’s going to be close to the same in the corners, but the straightaway difference is going to be a factor.”

Miller is going into his 21st season and has been racing front-wheel-drive cars for the past 18 years. Rockingham will make his 22nd track.

“This is my first mile track, so it’s a game changer,” Miller said.

He came to Rockingham for the last two races as a fan, but “never imagined in a million years that they’d allow our cars.”

It was also his first time on a track since a power-steering failure resulted in a wreck.

Miller said the track was “a little bumpy,” but during his second run he was able to almost “flatfoot” through in fifth gear in his modified 2008 Honda Civic SI.

Fryar said he thought the racing surface was “excellent.”

“It’s just like any other racetrack we race on, it’s got age, it’s got character, it’s got bumps it’s got cracks — that’s all normal to us,” Fryar said. “I think it’s in excellent shape for racing … no rubber put down on it yet, but I think when the other cars get out there and get more rubber, get a groove going, then I think things will be great.”


Fryar and Miller both said they were thankful for the opportunity to try out Hoosier’s tires on the legendary track.

“It’s not often we get to go to a venue like this big to race, so it’s definitely special,” Fryar said.

“I told the fellows we’re not here to break the track record, but you try to tell that to three race car drivers,” McNelly said.

The only time McNelly knew about at the time was 25:29. According to the speedway’s Wikipedia page, Rusty Wallace set the lap record in 2000 at 23:167.

Both drivers are looking forward to the March race.

“I feel like I’ve got a solid car to bring to the main event,” Miller said.

Leading up to Tuesday’s test and the upcoming race, Rockingham Speedway has undergone a slight makeover.

“There’s been a lot of headway made trying to get the facility back up to where we can host events here,” Hansen said, including clearing the racing surface of grass, repainting “Thunder Alley” on the backstretch and making repairs to the bathrooms and concession areas.

Hansen said the event should be a huge economic boost to Richmond and surrounding counties, “which is super important for this area.”

“Everybody’s excited,” about racing’s return to Rockingham, Hansen said. “The racers are excited, I know the counties are excited … the whole racing community definitely is excited.”

For more information about the event, including tickets and camping, visit racetherock.com


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