If there was any remaining doubt, the ever-present signs eliminated it.
“Welcome Race Fans” read the plastic signs that had been draped around virtually every available post, storefront and front lawn.
NASCAR is back in town. And Rockingham responded.
Just like in the old days, campers and recreational vehicles clogged the piney parking lot across the street from Rockingham Speedway, homemade signs urged fans to “Park Here $5” and kids waited their turns to have their photos shot in front of the granite boulders that mark the speedway entrance.
And, as morning clouds moved across the N.C. Sand Hills, opening up the promise of afternoon sunshine and temperatures in the high 70s, hundreds of fans roamed the Camping World Truck Series garage area, one last used by NASCAR vehicles eight years ago.
There were shorts and T-shirts and halter tops and sandals, odd fan attire for Rockingham, where previous NASCAR races in late winter and fall often were held in weather better suited for luge. The track more than earned its nickname of “Rainingham”.
But Sunday was more about a sense of excitement and a return to racing’s roots. There was never a question about the racing genes of the 47-year-old track, and a big crowd turned out Sunday to see it all happen again.
“I saw every Cup race here for 20 years,” said Tony Lawrence, a resident of nearby Fayetteville, NC. “It was a sad thing when it closed. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else today. It all looks much like it did when we left.”
Sissy Crandall drove over from across the state line in Lancaster, SC and was happily attired in a Matt Kenseth T-shirt, in celebration, she said, of Kenseth’s narrow victory in the final Sprint Cup race at the track in 2004.
“I think everybody would like to think that Sprint Cup would be back here someday, but I guess that’s really not going to happen,” she said. “But it’s great to have the trucks here. I know everybody has put in a lot of work to make this happen, and I wanted to be here to see it.”
NASCAR president Mike Helton flew in from Saturday’s late-night Sprint Cup finish in Fort Worth, TX to be around for the Rockingham revival and was exchanging stories with fans Sunday morning.
Soon, – very soon, they would race again – finally – at Rockingham.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.