Hat Man Hillenburg Doing the Rockingham Hat Dance; Promoter Working Hard in Prep for ARCA RE/MAX Carolina 200 Sunday ROCKINGHAM NC (4-13-09) - As history at times would suggest, successful racecar drivers do not necessarily make ...
Hat Man Hillenburg Doing the Rockingham Hat Dance; Promoter Working Hard in Prep for ARCA RE/MAX Carolina 200 Sunday
ROCKINGHAM NC (4-13-09) - As history at times would suggest, successful racecar drivers do not necessarily make successful racetrack promoters. With a year under his belt as track president/promoter of Rockingham Speedway, former ARCA RE/MAX Series driving champion Andy Hillenburg can relate.
"I can see why that would be," said Hillenburg, who is very busy preparing for this weekend's ARCA RE/MAX Carolina 200 at Rockingham. "The reason is, is that it's very hard to take the racer hat off. Actually, it's not so much taking off the racer hat as much as it's adding the fan hat and the sanctioning body hat. You've got to wear them all; and understand what it means to wear each one. If you came into this with a racecar driver hat or the owner hat without consideration of the others, I can see how easy it would be to fail."
From the racer helmet to a promoter hat, Hillenburg, over the course of an incredible career that dates back to his Hoosier roots where he was the Bloomington Speedway sprint car champion in 1985, is wearing more hats than ever these days. In addition to running day-to-day operations at Rockingham Speedway, the Indianapolis, Indiana born and bred racer is still running his Fast Track High Performance Driving School as well as a full-time ARCA RE/MAX Series race team with Bryan Silas driving.
"Regardless of where I am, I conduct business at each of my businesses every day. If I'm going to the track first, I always check in with my race team and the driving school first. I actually really enjoy it. The busier I am, the more I like it. I like being able to challenge myself daily. I'm a firm believer in hard work."
Hillenburg will admit however that the promoter hat is not an easy one to wear, and that it cannot be learned in one year's time.
"I don't want to be silly enough to say that I actually have this all figured out. I have a new found respect for guys like Humpy Wheeler and Ron Drager. I've learned so much over the last year; there have been many, many surprises. I've learned that it doesn't get any easier. I just get more organized, which helps."
It probably didn't help that at just about the time Hillenburg was taking over at Rockingham, the economy was crashing all around him, and continued on its crash course until it landed in full-blown recession.
"It's definitely tough, no doubt about it. I mean, you could argue that it was the wrong time to make the biggest business decision of my life. But I remain committed and confident to this facility, the racetrack, the tradition and history of Rockingham Speedway; and I believe it's got a very solid future. I'm confident it's going to be a success. The greatest rewards come from the greatest risks."
And talk about risks. As if managing the one-mile, high-banked Rockingham oval wasn't enough, Hillenburg, with help from key investors, built a flat, half-mile track on the same speedway grounds.
"It was initially built for one-on-one driver development through our Fast Track High Performance Driving School program."
The new track is also strikingly similar to Martinsville Speedway, and with NASCAR's limited testing opportunities, the new track became the perfect place for NASCAR teams to test in advance of their short-track events.
"We actually had the track complete two months before NASCAR's new (testing) rules. Made me look smart though," added Hillenburg with a chuckle. "But we built it for one-on-one driver training; the testing became a byline of our operations. We hope to be racing on the track in a couple years. With the flat corners, it's got the whole gamut of things you need to teach drivers - breaking, rotating through the center of the corners and accelerating off."
However, all attention this weekend will be on the historic, high-banked Rockingham oval where the ARCA RE/MAX Series cars will congregate for the Carolina 200 this Sunday, April 19th. For Hillenburg, that means getting out his favorite racetrack promoter hat and start thinking like, well, a fan would think.
"Believe it or not, if I had to put my finger on what's been the most challenging it would probably be concessions and souvenirs - knowing what the race fans want.
"It really comes down to promoting. There's only so much advertising in the budget. You've got to tell as many people as possible about what you're doing; and that's very difficult. Every day I do this job, the more respect I have for racetrack promoters. Letting people know about your next race is harder than it looks.
"It's neat to be able to bring good, quality entertainment to Rockingham Speedway. We're as prepared as we're going to be. I'd like to encourage race fans on their way to "The Rock" to bring one or two extra people. My goals are always no empty seats and packed RVs on the property."
The ARCA RE/MAX Series will begin the Carolina 200 race weekend at Rockingham with a hauler parade through the city beginning at 12:30 PM Friday, April 17. The ARCA RE/MAX Series Hauler Parade through the City of Rockingham is part of the city's Thunderfest event, a free, interactive promotion for race fans on Friday, April 17 in the Rockingham town square. Thunderfest is from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Friday and includes live bands, a food and beer tent and an ARCA RE/MAX Series driver autograph session from 6-7 p.m. The ARCA Racing Network will broadcast live from Thunderfest all day on Friday and race fans can listen to the coverage and view live video of Thunderfest on ARCA Nation.
ARCA RE/MAX Series on-track activity is from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM followed by Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell at 2:30. Driver introductions go off Sunday afternoon raceday at 12:30 PM followed by the start of the Carolina ARCA RE/MAX 200 shortly after 1:00. The race is also live on SPEED with coverage beginning at 1:00 PM Eastern.
The race will also feature live Timing & Scoring at Arcaracing.com or ARCANation.com accompanied by live streaming audio of all on-track activity.
The UARA-STARS Late Model Series is also on the race card with a 70-lap race Saturday.
For more information about the Carolina ARCA RE/MAX 200 or to order tickets, please contact the speedway at (910) 205-8800 or visit the website at www.rockinghamspeedway.com.