ROCKINGHAM, N.C. — Longtime Rockingham Dragway owner Steve Earwood is selling the historic drag strip.
Businessmen Al Gennarelli and Dan VanHorn, who share a passion for drag racing, have entered an agreement with Earwood to purchase the facility.
Rockingham Dragway was built in 1968 and Earwood has owned the multi-purpose facility since buying it from the L.G. Dewitt family in 1992.
Gennarelli, 49, and Van Horn, 47, will spend the next two years observing events at the track and learning the basics of race track operation before assuming full ownership in October, 2022.
In the interim, Earwood emphasized that it will be business as usual at The Rock with a full slate of diverse events, including this week’s 29th annual Griffin Motors MOPARS at the Rock expo featuring the Modern Street Hemi Shootout series VanHorn created in 2009 and in which he and Gennarelli both compete.
“All of our personnel will stay in place,” Earwood said, “and I don’t see any major changes other than we are adding more non-traditional events to our calendar, which has been one of our trademarks. In the past, we’ve hosted the Smoke Out Festival, Metallica concerts and the more recent Epicenter concert and we’re looking right now for opportunities to bring similar non-racing events to Richmond County.”
Gennarelli, who grew up in Pennsylvania but lives in Gates, N.C., has operated Gennarelli Concrete and Construction for the last 22 years.
On the track, Gennarelli’s Dodge Challenger was the first Modern Mopar to break the 8.00 second barrier using a Gen3 hemi for power, posting a quarter mile best time of 7.85 seconds at more than 175 mph.
“I’m looking forward to a new chapter in my racing career as a track co-owner with Dan VanHorn,” Gennarelli said, “and I’m excited to be able to apply my flair for business to my passion for racing.”
VanHorn, who lives with his wife Julie and children Dylan, David and Claire in Stafford, Va., comes from a military family and proudly served in the U.S. Air Force as an air traffic controller. It was in the service that he developed the skills that he would bring to the private sector where he has worked the last 23 years as an FAA controller.
Originally from Ocala, Fla., VanHorn, like Gennarelli, is a lifelong MOPAR and hemi fan. He has raced a Challenger in his own Modern Street Hemi Shootout series since he first conceived the idea for the competition 11 years ago.
“Now that my career as an Air Traffic Controller is winding down,” VanHorn said, “I am excited to be able to pursue drag racing at its highest level as a track owner, teaming with my fellow hemi racer, Al Gennarelli.”
Over its 52-year history as a major player in professional drag racing, Rockingham Dragway hosted major events sanctioned by the three organizations that figured most prominently in the sport’s development: the National Hot Rod Association, the American Hot Rod Association and the International Hot Rod Association.
“We have had a lot of offers to sell the business over the years,” Earwood said, “but one of my concerns has always been what impact the sale would have on our racers, our manufacturers, our sponsors and our fans. I never felt confident that they would be taken care of until I started talking to Dan more than a year ago.
“Now, though, with Dan and Al taking over, I believe the track’s future is secure and that it will continue to serve as Richmond County’s principal entertainment venue and visitor destination.”
Earwood not only will continue to handle day-to-day track operations for the next two years, he will stay on as a consultant to Gennarelli and Van Horn after the sale is complete.