Silas Speaks On Rockingham Speedway, What Went Wrong And What Comes Next

Rockingham Speedway’s Bill Silas broke his lengthy silence today in an exclusive interview with GodfatherMotorsports.com, clarifying his role in the operation of the North Carolina speed plant, discussing what went wrong and outlining his plans for the future.

It was announced this week that the venerable speedway will go up for public auction on Thursday, May 5 at the Richmond County (NC) Superior Court, with the track, its grounds and infrastructure being sold to the highest bidder. Silas confirmed that the sale will take place, while disputing past descriptions of him as a part-owner of Rockingham, along with former ARCA champion and NASCAR racer Andy Hillenburg.

“I have never been a partner in the speedway,” he said. “I co-signed the note for Andy to purchase the track. I saw it as something for my son Bryan to have a hand in at some point in the future, but I was never involved in the day-to-day operation of the track.

“I never thought we’d make a ton of money, but I didn’t think we’d lose a ton, either,” said Silas. “I thought we’d have it paid off in 10 years, and it would be a great opportunity for Bryan. It has always been about Bryan.”

Silas said that in his opinion, Rockingham’s financial downfall stemmed from a failure to supplement its on-track activities with other, non-racing events.

“The first race Andy booked was an ARCA show,” he recalled. “We spent $300-400,000 and never made it back. That was a tough way to start. Sponsorships didn’t come through the way we expected them to, and then we got hit with one of the biggest financial recessions in history. The timing could not have been worse.

“We tried bringing in the (NASCAR Camping World) Truck Series,” said Silas, “and it was a complete financial failure. (The monetary strain) began impacting my main business, and I started to realize that this was not working out the way we had hoped. I suggested (to Hillenburg) that he either buy me out, or that we hang a ‘For Sale’ sign out front, but he didn’t want to do that. He sincerely believed that we could make it work.”

Silas said that after some financial restructuring, he mistakenly believed that his name had been taken off the bank note.

“I trusted that my name was off the note,” he said, “but that was not the case.”

Silas stressed that he harbors no animosity or ill-will toward Hillenburg, who “put his life on the line for that race track. He never misled me. He worked his tail off, because he loves Rockingham Speedway and Richmond County. The decision was made to run a second NASCAR Truck race, and again, there was no money (made). A lot more money went out the door, with nothing coming back in.

“At a certain point, it just doesn’t make sense to keep writing checks.”

Silas said that in his opinion, Rockingham “should have gone on the auction block a long time ago.  You can’t keep throwing good money after bad. I’ve spent more than $200,000 on attorney’s fees alone since the last race there (in April of 2013). I bought the note from the bank. I have spent millions of dollars. I’m spending money right now to get the track as operational as possible for a future buyer.”

Silas said he believes Rockingham could make money, if properly run.

“It can’t be just racing,” he said. “Two or three races a year will not begin to pay the bills. The track needs other (non-racing) events to draw people in. The place is totally underutilized. When you’re paying 7.5% interest on a bank loan and your payment is $37,000 a month, $22,000 of that is interest alone. That doesn’t work unless you have cross-revenue from other events.”

Silas said he believes Rockingham “will never be just a race track, ever again. Look at Charlotte Motor Speedway,” he said. “There is something going on there just about every day. They have 2-3 major racing events each year, but they’re putting something in the bank just about every day.”

He stressed, however, that he is not the man for the job.

“I have 1,000 employees in seven states,” he said. “I can only do so many things at the same time. Running a racetrack was never part of my plan. I am stretched too thin to do it myself, and Bryan doesn’t want to tackle it, either. The best thing to do is hand it off to someone who can give it their full attention.

“Rockingham needs a businessman, not just a racer.”

Silas declined to comment on statements made by Vets-Help.org executive director Craig Northacker, who announced plans in January of 2015 to purchase the speedway as the centerpiece of a “Reintegration Center” for military veterans. He did say, however, that at various points, a number of individuals have expressed interest in buying the track.

“At least 10 people have talked about buying Rockingham,” he said. “Unfortunately, not one of them put forth a single dime. In fact, people got in trouble for using the track, after being given permission to do so by people who had no authorization. Locks were cut off gates by folks who thought they had permission to be there.”

Finally, Silas said he has been disappointed with the lack of support shown by area race fans, as well as the unfair criticism he believes he has received from some members of the racing community.

“I’m not going to write checks all day, if people won’t support the race track,” he said. “The people who criticize me are not the ones draining their checking accounts (to keep Rockingham running). I’m not trying to kill the speedway, I‘m trying to save it.

“On May 5, someone is going to own this race track, debt-free,” he said. “Any previous debts have either been paid, or forgiven by the courts. There is an opportunity here for someone to make a clean start and do what it takes to make Rockingham Speedway successful again.

“All it takes is for the right person to step forward.”  
 

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