Veterans’ assistance group working to buy Rockingham Speedway

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A new future may be in store for “The Rock.”

A non-profit veterans’ assistance group known as Vets-Help is planning to buy the Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, which hosted NASCAR regularly from 1965 to 2004 and again from 2012-13.

Matt Harrelson of the Richmond County (N.C.) Daily Journal reports that the track’s current owners, Andy Hillenburg and Bill Silas, have until March 15 to sell the property or face foreclosure by Farmers & Merchants Bank, which had taken Hillenburg and Silas to court over failure to pay back $4.2 million in loans.

Should Vets-Help strike a deal, the group’s executive director, Craig Northacker, has told the Journal that not only would the group maintain and operate the one-mile oval but also build a residential complex on the property for veterans and soldiers returning from war.

The complex would feature both independent and assisted living, a medical center, PTSD counseling, and an economic development center. Additionally, Vets-Help wants to host a series of disabled veterans’ races at the track.

“The track is a natural draw,” Northacker said to the Journal. “It’s a family event…Giving the families a chance to decompress together.”

A prior article in the Journal details how an online tip eventually led Northacker to Rockingham Speedway as a potential opportunity to have racing fuel Vets-Help’s mission.

“[Hillenburg and I] met and put the combination in motion that has resulted in us being on the eve of launching a singular project covering the multitude of needs for our military, veterans, families and disabled in one location with a minimum of bureaucracy to interfere with them healing and being able to reenter the world with a good attitude, the ability to get a good job, and a great support network without exploiting our injured for publicity,” Northacker said.

NASCAR last raced at Rockingham two years ago with the Camping World Truck Series, but the track’s financial struggles signaled the end of that event.

Its future has been up in the air ever since, but if this potential deal with Vets-Help goes through, “The Rock” may end up serving a very noble cause.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”