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.

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?