North Wilkesboro Speedway, North Wilkesboro, NC — May 18, 2023
Four years ago, The Lasco Press visited North Wilkesboro Speedway. Like so many stock car racing fans, we wanted to see what it would take to put on a NASCAR Cup Series event at the famed track. Tonight, Cup Series race car haulers will be pulling into the newly paved infield in preparation for NASCAR’s All-Star race to be run this weekend.
Before we dip too far into the nostalgia, let’s get this out right up front. If you want to be there for this historic event, there are a few tickets left. Go online “Right Now” and reserve your seats. If you miss Sunday’s event, Friday and Saturday tickets will get you into the Speedway to watch NASCAR action on the track.
September 29, 1996
On September 29, 1996, Jeff Gordon won the last NASCAR Cup series event held at the iconic venue. As the sport was rapidly expanding, North Wilkesboro did not have all the modern amenities to compete with new tracks being built around the country. Opening in 1947, the facility was showing its age, and money was not there to bring it up to current standards.
Bruton Smith and Bob Bahre purchased the track with the express purpose of moving the race dates to Texas Motor Speedway (Smith) and New Hampshire International Speedway (Bahre). Ultimately Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, LLC became the sole owner of the facility.
Longtime NASCAR followers remember with fondness the old-time racing at the 5/8-mile track where cars traveled downhill on the front stretch and uphill on the backstretch. The scoreboard was perched in between turns three and four and was operated manually. Victory Lane was on top of the infield hot dog stand. The winning car and driver were hoisted up via a mechanical lift.
The Save the Speedway Buzz
Many attempts to revive racing at North Wilkesboro were attempted through the years, but ultimately all were unsuccessful. Credit the group “Save The Speedway” for keeping the dream alive by poking us repeatedly on social media.
Dale Earnhart Jr. head manned a project to digitalize the facility and allow online racers to experience the thrill of sitting in a car on the Speedway track.
Fans and dreamers continued to beg Bruton and NASCAR to make the dream a reality. We wanted to see for ourselves. So when traveling to the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte four years ago, we made a detour and visited North Wilkesboro.
Here is the link to the article posted in The Lasco Press after our visit. It contains multiple photos of the Speedway and its appearance. Truthfully, after the walkthrough, I thought the dream was on life-support. Catching up with Marcus Smith in Charlotte that week, he confirmed my suspicions. Marcus stated that unless someone with a boatload of money stepped up to help fund the project, there just was not enough money in the coffers to revive the place.
Enter the shining knight on the white horse. The State of North Carolina stepped forward with $18 million dollars earmarked for the speedway to return to its former glory. The pandemic helped. I-Racing was huge, and the adaptation of North Wilkesboro Speedway to that format fueled the fire even more. It was enough to convince Speedway Motorsports that, indeed, the dream could be fulfilled. This weekend we will see the culmination of years of wishes coming true.
Today vs. Yesterday
Excited for the revival. We set out Wednesday and drove late into the night. Then again started early in the morning to get to the track Thursday, before the weekend fans started filing in. We wanted to showcase some then-and-now photos of the facility. Take a look!
The classic sign greeting fans was preserved.
Ready for race day
Suites are now up to date.
Additional photos can be viewed on the author’s Facebook page.
This weekend won’t be perfect. If you are coming, it is still two-lane roads to and from the Speedway. Leave early, be patient, enjoy people-watching, and just expect to make a full day of the visit.
There is not enough parking. Plan in advance to take advantage of shuttles or be prepared to pay local residents for their close proximity to the track. One sign said race day parking $50.
It will be crowded. Sunday will be a sell-out. Friday and Saturday tickets are available. However, the Speedway expects huge walk-up crowds those days.
Some interesting media facts. Over 250 media credentials requests were received by speedway staff. Not counting television crews. Only 150 could be accommodated. We are thankful to be included.
The “press box.” There is no press box. An outdoor three-level riser without electricity, under a tent, will allow some media members to observe racing without resorting to monitors. Wave, we will wave back.
If you try hard, you can probably find something to complain about. Don’t, just live the “Dream.”
What is perfect? Cup racing is back at North Wilkesboro Speedway!