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DI CLASSIC: Roy Hill on Buying Rockingham Dragway with Steve Earwood

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Where would drag racing be without its stories? Performance is impressive and the cars can be stars, but without the stories of the men—and women—behind them, what would be the point? Inherently based on a collection of arbitrary numbers—weight, horsepower, valve clearance, reaction time, ET, speed, margin of victory—drag racing requires its memories and stories if only to provide context and meaning for its very existence.

[Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of a story that originally appeared in DI #62 in February of 2012.]

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Seriously, no passenger car is going to wind up with better brakes or more dependability, or God knows, better fuel economy because Tony Schumacher went a record-setting 327.90 mph in a thousand feet at Charlotte last year. But you can be darn sure there’s a story to go with that record and that’s what makes it important beyond mere numbers. You just know Schumacher and his crew chief and his clutch guy and his truck driver all have memories of that day to last a lifetime and will entertain who knows how many friends and acquaintances with those stories along the way.

The stories may be humorous, they may be serious, dealing with triumph, tragedy, victory or defeat; they may be intimately personal or dramatically public, but no matter what, they give meaning.

So when Drag Illustrated asked competitors from all walks of drag racing for a few simple stories reflecting their careers, it came as no surprise that they drew on so many varied experiences. From Billy Glidden recounting his first passes down a drag strip, to Mike Hill describing a long-standing rivalry, to Whit Bazemore recognizing a part failure that paid off, their recollections, their stories, provide a glimpse into what gives each one of them meaning. But that may be why the stories are told in the first place, because each storyteller is a meaning seeker of sorts, too, while much the same goes for his audience, learning how each story reinforces its teller’s point.

Roy Hill

12-time IHRA Pro Stock Event Winner

1995 IHRA Pro Stock Champion Team Owner

Back-to-Back U.S. Nationals Super Stock Winner

Something came up that I had a chance to buy Rockingham Dragway. When that happened, it was unbelievable.

The people at RJ Reynolds believed in me. Frank Wilson and T. Wayne Robertson gave me a chance that was unbelievable. So I brought Steve Earwood in as my partner and we bought Rockingham Dragway. We had the NHRA Winston Invitational race there from 1992 to 1998 it was probably the greatest years of my life, for me and Steve to promote drag racing for Winston Drag Racing.

We had something no one else had. NHRA was great to work with. We started a weekly bracket show there. We scrubbed and scraped the track. Steve managed and ran things. We both worked towards generating sponsors. A lot of people that had been involved with me through the years, through racing and then with my school, came with us like Sunoco and Ford Motor Company. Steve was able to bring Castrol in, and Castrol on Friday nights was tremendous for us.

Steve and I were a great team. As I went forward, in 1993, I went back to racing in Pro Stock. It was a mutual understanding that I would go racing and Steve would end up with the track and so he was able to put some partners together and bought the track from me in 1998. But I’m very proud of what we did together as a team at Rockingham. We made it into something from being run once a year to something that was a weekly program.

Steve has done a wonderful job through the years to get where he’s gotten today. I’ve concentrated on my school. We’ve both gone forward. I’ve gone back to racing, but the years from ’92 to ’98 of Rockingham Dragway bring back my greatest memories. When I go back to Rockingham to hold schools or tests, I’ll never forget what it was like when we went in there and what we were able to build it into and what it is today.

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