Disclaimer: I did not attend the race, therefore I am attempting to summarize the race which I watched as an armchair analyst.
Rockingham to me, like it probably does to most race fans, holds a special place in our hearts.
Largely due to its reminder of yesteryear, largely due to its once-passionate fan base and all the memories they have there, largely due to its good racing and overall finishes and Southern flair, and largely due to the way it was unceremoniously ripped off the NASCAR schedule for good after 2004 in the wake of "Progress" and "modernizing tradition" as NASCAR CEO Brian France has often coined and had to use as a crutch when justifying his tradition-killing decisions.
Sunday's crowd was much smaller than even the 40,000 fans that showed up on the typical rainy/overcast days that spelled doom for the track. Today was no exception, however it did not rain.
If smaller, more intimate crowds reminiscent of Saturday Night Racing are your thing, ARCA may be the series for you.
Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick dropped the green flag to start the race in front of what looked to be close to the 16,000 or so fans that the track hosted last year. The race also featured long time motocross driver Ricky Carmichael driving for Harvick.
In all, twenty three drivers were making their first visits to the track including 24 year old Craig Goess, owner of 23 different legends track wins and Parker Klingerman, a Penske Racing development driver.
The stars were aligned for 53 year old NASCAR veteran and Fenton, Mo. native Ken Schrader to capture his first ever win at the historic, rural North Carolina track. His best finish on the NASCAR circuit came in 1991 when he finished 2nd, coincidentally the last time he won a Cup race.
The grandstands at Turn Four already bear his name, to which when asked by the announce team of this recognition simply replied "its an honor."
I am not a follower of the ARCA series but I make it a point to watch one race a year and that is at Rockingham to which NASCAR owes its very success. As the announcers reminded the fans watching along on Speed Channel, its basically a learning series, the last stepping stone to one of NASCAR's bigger series i.e Camping World Series trucks, Nationwide cars, or the Sprint Cup Series.
Think these races don't matter?
Last year, Schrader finished 2nd to current 18 year old NASCAR rookie Joey Logano who like Schrader, dominated the entire race. The only difference was, unlike Schrader who ran out of gas with three laps to go, actually managed to win the race and beat more seasoned drivers like Schrader who are two or three times his age.
Last year, also featured Scott Speed, another NASCARrookie with Team Red Bull Racing. Its 2008 Series champion, Justin Allgaier, is quickly becoming a household name on the NASCAR Nationwide circuit this year as a fellow rookie.
This year names I had never heard of made names for themselves starting with 23 year old Pelham, New Hampshire native, Sean Caisse who not only won the race, but also his first ever ARCA race. Caisse, (pronounced Case), who had been running secondall day, was a good 8.5 seconds behind Schrader at the time of the veteran's misfortune.
For those wishing to see more female diversity in NASCAR, Alli Owens competed against the boys and finished a very respectable 12th.
If long, drawn out races aren't your thing, the Carolina 200 took less than two hours and featured only one mandatory pit stop which all drivers participated before several of them added another one late for fear of running out of gas and for final adjustments. Finally, it featured less than a handful of cautions which can be looked at two ways:
- More green flag racing keeps the viewers attention
- But it also creates some big, seemingly insurmountable leads that wouldn't be given up if not for the misfortune that Schrader suffered.
Many series like to claim "Watch the NASCAR stars of tomorrow-today"but watching an ARCA race is doing just that. In addition to some veteran drivers, you're simply watching people race who love to do just that. You're watching the next big driver make the most of his opportunity in the hope of getting noticed.
Best of all, your watching it at a venue where NASCAR's roots are firmly planted. What better place to complete the cycle of racing than to be around real racing fans and drivers that love it the most and the fans who, forty-four years after the track's initial opening, are still around for the love of the sport.
Give the venue a visit and the series a chance. You may be glad you did, and like me, consider your time well spent.
For those wish for traditional stock car racing, the next race is an ASA (American Speed Association race), the Cherry Bomb 200, on July 4th weekend. Visit http://www.rockinghamracewaypark.com/ for more information.