SAFER walls coming to The Rock
The Rockingham Speedway, which hosted NASCAR Sprint Cup races from 1965 to 2004, is taking a huge step toward once again hosting big-league racing as SAFER "soft wall" barriers will be installed next month.
The energy-absorbing system will be installed in two phases, in mid-September and late December, covering all four turns of the one-mile oval and the inside of the backstretch wall.
The most common estimate of the SAFER barrier cost is $1 million per mile. "Yes, that's expensive," said Robert Ingraham, the track's general manager, "but nothing's more expensive than having someone hurt."
NASCAR requires racetracks to have the SAFER barrier in place before they can host one of the sanctioning body's top three national series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide, or Camping World Trucks. Rockingham, then known as North Carolina Motor Speedway, hosted 78 Sprint Cup events and 42 Nationwide Series races, but it hasn't held a NASCAR event since Matt Kenseth's victory in the Subway 400 on Feb. 22, 2004.
The track and the 244 acres it sits on were dormant for nearly four years before it was purchased by veteran racer Andy Hillenburg at auction on Sept. 27, 2007.
Hillenburg has kept the complex open thanks to a patchwork of racing from smaller non-NASCAR divisions such as ARCA and UARA, but has struggled to attract crowds.
The facility received a boost in 2009 with NASCAR's current "testing ban" rules. NASCAR teams can be found participating in near-weekly test sessions on both the big oval and the half-mile "Little Rock" test track, a near-clone of the Martinsville Speedway.
Rockingham officials have had discussions with NASCAR, albeit informal, about the possibility of a Nationwide or Truck Series event returning to the track more commonly known as The Rock. A source within NASCAR, speaking on condition of anonymity, admits as much.
However, the lack of a SAFER barrier had always been an insurmountable issue. Without the promise of a NASCAR race, Hillenburg wasn't confident enough to try and secure funds for SAFER installation. That now appears to have changed. ESPN.com