SAFER walls to be installed at 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. 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. Just last month, Nashville
Superspeedway announced it was closing, essentially orphaning four
NASCAR events, two each in Nationwide and Trucks. Since that
announcement, speculation has run rampant as to where those races might
end up in 2012. Next season's NASCAR schedules have not yet been