Steve Earwood: Running ‘The Rock’

Steve Earwood has owned Rockingham Dragway since 1992.

On the south side of U.S. Highway 1 between Rockingham and Hoffman, N.C., sits historic Rockingham Speedway.

For nearly four decades, the race track was a mainstay of NASCAR’s premier stock car series, but it now faces an uncertain future after being left behind as the sport moved to newer tracks in bigger markets during its boom years.

Meanwhile, directly across the highway from Rockingham Speedway is Rockingham Dragway, and the quarter-mile drag racing facility is a virtual beehive of activity as owner Steve Earwood has adapted to the ever-changing world of motorsports.

When Earwood purchased the drag strip in 1992, it was home to the Winston Invitational, an NHRA special event that grew during the 1990s to become the richest race on the sanctioning body’s national event schedule.

“The Winston Invitational carried us all year long back in those days. We were so dependent on that event and I knew it was going to go away because of the smoking deal. That was just a matter of time,” Earwood told SPEED SPORT. “Then we were so dependent on the revenue from parking cars and selling vendor spaces during the two NASCAR races and I knew they were going to go away. That’s when I decided we had better start diversifying if we were going to stay in business.

“That’s when I started creating some extra events. This Carolina Coalition I do with the other tracks in North Carolina; the My Rock bike series that I did for years with a track up in Maryland; brought in a Super Chevy Show; started working on my Mopar event; launched my own All-Harley Nitro World Finals; and started looking at concerts, I’ve had Metallica here twice.”

To emphasize “The Rock’s” diverse schedule, Earwood looks back to a series events during the fall of last year.

“In September, I had a drifting event, that’s import-type cars and it did well. I had a Coalition bracket race that I do with three other tracks in North Carolina where their bracket racers race with me one weekend and the weekend they are racing at another track I don’t run those cars. It did well. Then I had an NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series points race, which was blessed with good weather and it did well,” Earwood noted. “Then I had the All-Harley Nitro Finals. Then I had another bike race, what they call the Man Cup, which is a completely different audience than the Harleys. Then we had a tremendous event, a track rental bracket race that paid $100,000 a day to win. We had 569 cars from all over the country. Thanksgiving weekend I had three days of Junior Dragster racing, paying $5,000 to win, which is an extremely large purse for Junior Dragsters. I had racers from as far away as Montana and Alaska. Of all those events, I don’t think the same person attended any two of them. It was a unique crowd for each of those events. That’s what keeps us rolling.”

This year, “The Rock’s” schedule runs from Feb. 23 to Dec. 14 and is a virtual cornucopia of drag racing and automotive-related activities. There’s also a Rugged Manic obstacle course event, and on May 10-12 the drag strip will be part of the inaugural Epicenter Festival, a giant rock ’n’ roll concert featuring 70 bands, including Foo Fighters, KORN and Tool.

“They expect 40,000 people a day for three days,” Earwood said. “It will be the largest event ever in the Sandhills — larger than the U.S. Open, larger than any of the Cup Series races across the street. That’s part of diversifying.”

Earwood, who says he’s been to a motorsports event on at least 40 weekends during every year of his life, understands where Rockingham Dragway fits into today’s racing landscape.