Dragway to race under NHRA umbrella

Rockingham Dragway, one of the most iconic drag racing facilities in the country, will operate under the sanction of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) beginning Jan. 1, and will host one of the Southeast Division races in that organization’s Lucas Oil Series, track owner Steve Earwood announced today.

Dragway“I think it is the right thing to do for our racers and our track at this time,” Earwood said.  “I take great pride in what we achieved during our association with the IHRA and I wish Jason Rittenberry and his people nothing but continued success moving forward.

“However, we think the timing is right to host one of the NHRA’s Southeast Division Lucas Oil Racing Series events,” Earwood said.  “Many of our Carolina Sportsman racers are tied to construction in some manner, whether they be contractors, electricians, or carpenters, and we have learned that with the uptick in the economy, particularly in the North Carolina housing industry, more and more racers are back competing for NHRA Divisional titles.

“The NHRA Sportsman program historically has been the very foundation of drag racing,” Earwood said, “and we believe it is trending upward right now.”

“I’m sure Sportsman racers throughout the Southeast are thrilled by this announcement,” said NHRA Division Director Rich Schaefer, “because it gives them a chance to race at a great facility with lots of heritage.”

Earwood added, “I got hooked on NHRA drag racing reading Wally Parks’ column in Hot Rod when I was 13 years old.  Plus, I was NHRA’s public relations director during one of the most exciting times in the sport’s history (1975-1982).  As a result, the NHRA has been a big part of my professional and personal life.”

Rockingham Dragway also has an NHRA past.  From 1989 through 1998, it hosted the biggest NHRA event outside of the national championship series.  That race, the NHRA Winston Invitational, paid a bigger pro purse than the national events which is why the list of past champions includes drivers like John Force, Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, Joe Amato and Connie Kalitta.

When it was built in 1971, The Rock was a drag racing showplace, one of the first of a new breed of racing-specific tracks that slowly began to replace facilities that were built around abandoned airstrips with runways that provided ready-made racing surfaces.

Initially sanctioned by the now inoperative American Hot Rod Association, it became one of the anchors of the newly-founded IHRA and operated as an IHRA flagship from 1972 until 1989 when it became the new home of the NHRA Winston Invitational.

Earwood, one-time co-owner and general manager of Atlanta Dragway as well as NHRA’s PR head, bought the track in 1992 and transformed the Invitational into one of the most popular events in the sport.

When the NHRA opted in 1999 to move the race from Rockingham to Bristol, Tenn., Earwood decided to return the track to IHRA sanction and, for 10 seasons, it played host to two events in the IHRA series including the season-ending World Finals.

“We get an enormous amount of satisfaction from doing what we think is right for our racers and fans,” Earwood said.  “Rockingham has been successful with the AHRA, the NHRA and the IHRA and we’re anxious to get started on an exciting new chapter in our history with the world’s top drag racing sanctioning body, the NHRA.”

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