Racer and 'the Rock'

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Supply native Chad McCumbee will be close to home and behind the wheel when racing returns to the North Carolina Speedway In Rockingham this weekend.

He’ll compete in the Carolina 500 on May 4 in the ARCA RE/MAX Series.

There haven’t been any NASCAR races in Rockingham since 2004.

McCumbee is still racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series full-time, but the truck schedule allows him to drive this weekend for Andy Hillenburg.

“He’s the guy who bought North Carolina Speedway and is bringing racing back to Rockingham,” McCumbee said in a telephone interview last week from Harrisburg, N.C., near Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

“He (Hillenburg) owns the No. 10 and No. 11 cars in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. I’m going to be driving the No. 10 car.”

The race will be 312 laps, McCumbee said.

He tried out the car last week.

“We did one test short session,” he said. “We were fairly comfortable. It’s just hard to prepare our truck and our car, so we’ve been working really hard. But any laps I can get in the new car is more learning that I can do.”

McCumbee drove for Hillenburg full-time in 2005 and has driven for him part-time since.

“We’re really looking forward to Chad McCumbee driving for us at Rockingham,” Hillenburg said. “It’s always great to have him back behind the wheel for fast-track racing, and the reopening of The Rock is going to be such a big event.”

McCumbee first started racing at age 10 in carts.

As a young spectator, he went to Rockingham.

“I grew up watching races there,” he said. “We always went to the Nationwide Series races. I remember seeing Matt Kenseth win there.

“To be a part of the first race back at Rockingham is something special.”

McCumbee, 23, had more than 100 victories in local, regional and national WKA Dirt Series events from 1995 to 2000. He was also Allison Legacy Series national champion in 2001 and became the youngest winner racing late-model cars at Myrtle Beach Speedway in 2003.

McCumbee is also known for starring as Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the television movie “3: The Dale Earnhardt Story,” first broadcast in December 2004.

“I was an instructor at Andy Hillenburg’s driving school, and some of the guys came through and noticed me and started doing some talking,” McCumbee said, explaining how he got cast in the movie.

Does he still hear about that portrayal?

“Yeah, a little bit,” McCumbee said. “Originally, everybody thought I was an actor trying to race. They finally figured out I was a racer trying to act.

“It was fun. I wouldn’t want to do it as a career, but I’m glad I got that experience.”

His career highlights in racing for real?

“Collecting my first top 5 in the Craftsman Trucks in Atlanta in March, and last year winning the Pocono race for the Pettys and getting them back in victory lane,” McCumbee said.

That was on June 9, 2007. McCumbee overcame a blown tire and caught Dexter Bean with four laps left to win the ARCA race at Pocono Raceway by 2.792 seconds. The next day, McCumbee made his Sprint Cup debut driving the No. 45 Dodge in the Pocono 500 and finished 25th.

He was supposed to drive again for Kyle Petty in the race in Texas several weeks ago.

“We had a mechanical problem in qualifying and weren’t able to get in, but it was a good experience for me,” McCumbee said. “We’re probably going to do some more of the races in the middle of the summer when Kyle steps into the broadcast booth. We’re working real hard to get some of those.”

Besides the Pettys, Hillenburg has been a major influence on McCumbee.

On Oct. 2, 2007, Hillenburg purchased North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham for $4.4 million, according to his biography on the Wikipedia Web site. The track was put up for auction by Speedway Motorsports Inc. and chairman Bruton Smith.

“Andy Hillenburg’s been a huge mentor to me,” McCumbee said.

What’s the thrill that keeps McCumbee in professional racing?

“The competition,” he said. “And if you can make a living loving what you want to do, that’s the goal for everyone.”

A West Brunswick graduate, McCumbee wanted to make sure his fans in Brunswick County are aware he’s driving in Rockingham this weekend.

“That’s the closest track around,” McCumbee said.

Hillenburg said, “Chad is a great young man and somebody I think a lot of. I’m sure Chad’s going to do great, and hopefully his hometown crowd comes out and roots for him.”