ROCKINGHAM — More than 100 cars wound their way around the Rockingham Speedway roval this weekend during the National Auto Sport Association’s Speedtoberfest — the organization’s return to the track for the first time in nearly 15 years.
“NASA is basically a driving school, we teach people how to drive race cars,” said Jim Pantas, Southeast regional director for NASA.
“Most people start with their street car and then they work their way up to amatuer racing and we actually have trained quite a few pro racers.”
NASA is headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has nearly 20 regional offices across the country.
The Southeast Region, based in Mount Pleasant in Cabarrus County, has been around for about 25 years, Pantas said.
NASA held events at Rockingham in 2004, 2005 and 2007 when the track was under the ownership of Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc., and one year under former owner Andy Hillenburg, according to Pantas.
“We love the track, Pantas said. “And the new management is wonderful; couldn’t ask for anything better. They’ve definitely sunk a lot of money into this place and it’s going to be phenomenal when they get done.”
Pantas added that the drivers also enjoyed racing around the course: “It’s a fun track.”
The course for the weekend event had drivers zipping along the front stretch, around turns one and two, and down the Thunder Alley backstretch before essentially making a U-turn to enter the infield road course just before turn three. The cars then ran along the backstretch of the road course, rounding the corner to the front stretch before entering the oval again in turn four.
Rockingham Speedway has long been notorious for its abrasive surface resulting in tire wear.
“There’s always tire issues at any racetrack,” Pantas said. “The track hasn’t been repaved in a while and when they repave it, it’ll be phenomenal.”
Pantas added that most of the drivers run a more sturdy Toyo tire, which is “one step softer than a street tire.”
“So they’re a pretty good track tire and they last many weekends, so that my drivers can afford to do this,” Pantas said.
He added that the design of the road course results in drivers sliding sideways, which also contributes to tire wear. Several other tracks used by NASA have similar designs.
According to Pantas, there were around 150 drivers registered for the weekend. NASA events usually draw around 250, but Rockingham was added to the schedule late in the year, he said, adding that they’re hoping to have more when they return next year.
One of the races Saturday afternoon featured Mazda Miatas and ‘87-’92 BMW E30s.
“Both types of cars are called ‘spec cars,’ so they’re all built to the same (specs) — same shocks, same springs, same everything — so they’re identical cars racing against each other.”
He said the lap times of both cars are virtually identical.
There were a total of five races slated for the weekend, including a fun race in which all drivers could participate — including those who drove Chevrolet Corvettes and Camaros and Ford Mustangs.
NASA has one event scheduled at Rockingham Speedway Oct. 14, 2022 and Pantas said they’re hoping to add another in the spring or summer, depending on the track’s availability.
All NASA races are free and open to the public to attend, aside from a December event in Atlanta, Georgia, that serves as a toy drive.