BY KEITH WALTZ
Located in the Sandhills region of the Tar Heel State, North Carolina Motor Speedway played a key role in NASCAR’s transition from short-track to superspeedway racing, hosting 78 Cup Series events between 1965 and 2004.
The track, known to many simply as “The Rock” because of its proximity to Rockingham, North Carolina, was built through a public-offering effort spearheaded by property owner Bill Land. The flat one-mile oval hosted its first NASCAR Cup Series race on Oct. 31, 1965.
A reported crowd of 35,000 saw Curtis Turner lead 239 of the 500 laps that afternoon as he drove the No. 41 Wood Brothers Racing Ford to an 11-second victory over Cale Yarborough.
In 1969, the speedway was reconfigured into a 1.017-mile D-shaped design with high-banked corners. This layout produced great racing for more than three decades, but North Carolina Motor Speedway eventually became a victim of the behind-the-scenes battle for lucrative NASCAR Cup Series dates.
The facility hosted its final NASCAR Cup Series race on Feb. 22, 2004. Matt Kenseth was the class of the field as the Wisconsin native led 259 of the 393 laps and held off a late charge by rookie Kasey Kahne to win by .010 seconds.
Richard Petty leads the list of NASCAR Cup Series race winners at “The Rock” with 11. Yarborough is next with seven while Rusty Wallace, David Pearson and Darrell Waltrip each won five times.
There have been multiple attempts to revive the track, now known as Rockingham Speedway, including NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in 2012 and 2013. However, none of those efforts have found long-term success.