Paved and Groomed, The Rock Gets a Makeover!

Down in the rolling hills of North Carolina sits a drag strip that’s been a part of the local landscape for decades. Known to many simply as “The Rock”, Rockingham Dragway was built in 1970 and many of the sport’s major stars rocketed down its quarter-mile. It’s also seen its fair share of major events while under the domain of both the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and its rival International Hot Rod Association (IHRA). For any drag strip owners, they have to put butts in the seats and racers in the pits to make a living and pay bills. Whatever racing sanctioning body has the best program at the time usually gets the nod and the new contract. With a can of paint, new logos and signage, the track transforms itself and a new era begins. But recently, Rockingham Dragway was sold and its new owners, individuals you probably already know if you follow late model drag racing action that includes Challengers, Chargers, Durangos and any other modern HEMI® engine-powered machines. Meet Dan VanHorn and Al Gennarelli, two hardcore Dodge drag racers. If their names sound familiar, they should. Dan and Al created the popular and successful Modern Street HEMI Shootout program. Now these two are fulfilling a dream of owning a drag strip and have made a commitment to massively upgrade and improve this once thriving track. And just as well as this weekend the NMCA will roll into Rockingham Dragway for their annual All-Star Nationals. Many will be very pleased to see the track’s surface has been made over to ensure some fast times this weekend for those who venture down the 1320 in search of a personal best ET.

“The ownership and renovation of a legendary track in Rockingham Dragway has been something Al Gennarelli and I have dreamed of for years. To say it’s surreal is an absolute understatement, but having the famed NMCA All-Star Nationals running on our turf has a certain level of calmness to it. We have a long relationship with Steve Wolcott and Rollie Miller, their professionalism and organizational skills are well known. We know the show will be right and we also know we have put in our maximum effort to provide the racers an improved venue. It’s just the start, with the help of the state of North Carolina, Richmond County, the city of Rockingham and its community, this track will continue to improve and make history. And to think, my passion for fast Mopar® vehicles and love of drag racing started with a 2006 Dodge Charger SRT8,” said an excited Dan VanHorn.

For the NMCA, they’re just as pumped to offer their diehard competitors a great venue to race at and with the massive improvements at Rockingham Dragway, they know the racers won’t be disappointed. “We are excited to be back at Rockingham Dragway and with the extensive renovations that Dan VanHorn and Al Gennarelli have put into the iconic track, our racers will be in for a real treat,” said Steve Wolcott, CEO of NMCA. “The commitment of Dan (VanHorn) and Al (Gennarelli) shows that our sport is healthy and growing.” With 800 feet of fresh concrete from the starting line, the many high-powered machines that will be hammering down Rockingham Dragway will have no problem hooking up. The track will also have updated timing equipment, and a host of other improvements that racers and fans will dig.

“We are super-excited to come back to Rockingham Dragway. This is our second year at this famous track and with the recent improvements to the racing surface, it’ll be really fast for our competitors,” said Rollie Miller, General Manager and National Event Director for the NMCA. “Dan (VanHorn) and Al (Gennarelli), along with their hardworking staff, are just getting started making major improvements to this facility. The fresh concrete launch pad that extends 800 feet past the starting line took rubber very quickly and despite being finished just 7-8 weeks ago, the surface looks really good. Our crew will do their exceptional track prep and monitor the surface very closely during the race weekend to ensure the best traction possible for the hundreds of racers competing at Rockingham Dragway.”

For Challenger Drag Pak racer Dennis Chaisson, he’s already spent the last few days testing at Rockingham Dragway to get his combination dialed-in for this weekend’s event. It was at this race last year in which his supercharged 354-cubic-inch HEMI V8 engine suffered collateral damage. He’s put that bad weekend in the rearview mirror and is super-focused on how much horsepower he can plant on Rockingham Dragway’s fresh concrete launch pad. “Last year, Rockingham was an experience we’d soon like to forget but ultimately, it’s all part of the learning experience with these cars and racing in general,” said Chaisson. “It was challenging for us and a lot of racers, as the track was in pretty poor shape due to seemingly lack of maintenance. As a result, it was extremely difficult for us to get these Factory Super Cars down the track, it was quite the peddle fest to say the least. Also, for us, this was the start of a lot of mechanical woes, as we blew our first of three engines of the season. At this time, Dan VanHorn and his team were in the final phases of purchasing the track but had not yet taken control. They knew what was going to need to be done and he vowed to bring the track back to its former glory, but it would take some time. He told us of the plan, which included tearing up a good section of the track, and redoing it, updating the timing systems, renovating the bathrooms, and overall improving the facilities and faculties.”

Racers like Chaisson that competed at Rockingham Dragway this weekend were rewarded with the improvements when they came through the gates this week. “Flash forward to 2023, and we’re excited to see the changes, we were eagerly greeted by Dan when we got here and he brought us up to speed on all they’d been working on, and the place is looking much better already! As for the track, it’s very fresh concrete and fresh concrete can be a bit dicey, but they’ve been working overtime to make sure they deliver the best product they can give.

“We are very excited to see what this weekend brings, as we love the venue and the overall atmosphere,” noted Chaisson.

So, if you’re in the Tarheel State this weekend and want to turn your tires in anger, head down to Rockingham Dragway for the NMCA All-Star Nationals. They have a freshly paved burnout box that you can leave your mark on!