North Wilkesboro Speedway last hosted racing in 2011. (Adam Fenwick Photo)
North Wilkesboro Speedway last hosted racing in 2011. (Adam Fenwick Photo)

Racing Returns To North Wilkesboro On Pavement, Dirt Before 2023 Repave

Racing will return to North Wilkesboro Speedway this year on both pavement and dirt before the historic race track is repaved in 2023.

The announcement came from Speedway Motorsports officials on Saturday.

As part of a program called Racetrack Revival, the .625-mile short track will host racing in August and October. It will be the first racing the track has hosted since 2011.

Multiple grassroots racing series will compete on the track’s current race surface in a multi-week event. Once the track’s surface is removed, the program will return in October with dirt racing ahead of the repave next year.

The August racing is expected to include: Super Late Models, Street Stocks, Pro Late Models, Limited Late Models, Open Wheel Modifieds, Late Model Stocks and Hornets.

In October, the dirt racing will include Super Late Models, 410 Sprint Cars, Big Block Modifieds, Street Stocks, Open Wheel Modifieds, 602 Crate Late Models, 604 Crate Late Models, Stock Cars and Hornets.

Click here for a tentative schedule. 

On Saturday, SMI CEO Marcus Smith said the “catalyst” for the track’s return was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who in late 2019 broached to Smith the possibility of scanning the tracks’s surface for iRacing.

“That put things over the over the tipping point to get us where we are today,” Smith said.

The program is being promoted by XR Events and led by CEO Barry Braun.

“We’re just not running on the weekends,” Braun said. “We’re running all month. We’ll do practice on Monday and Tuesday for a certain class or race on Tuesday. Wednesday. We’ll come back on Thursday, practice and then race on Friday, Saturday. We’re going to take Sunday off if we need it. If it’s necessary for weather, we’ll use it. What’s important about the dirt side is it’s not just we’re going to throw dirt on top of the old asphalt. We’re actually going to take the old asphalt off. We’re gonna race on the original dirt at North Wilkesboro that started as a dirt track.”

Wilkesboro hosted its first race in 1947 when it was a dirt track, with the NASCAR Cup Series visiting the facility for the first time during the tour’s inaugural season in 1949. 

That race, the final of eight races on the schedule that year, was won by Bob Flock. 

The track hosted 93 Cup Series races from 1949 to 1996. Following the death of track owner Enoch Staley in 1995, 50% of the track was sold to SMI owner Bruton Smith, with the other half later purchased by New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s Bob Bahre. 

Following the final Cup Series race at the track in 1996, North Wilkesboro was removed from the schedule in favor of Texas Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

The last racing event of any kind at the track was an April 11, 2011 super late model race that was billed as “The Race.”

In January, Smith unveiled plans for the race track that last hosted NASCAR racing in 1996.

The plans for the track came after the state of North Carolina earmarked $18 million toward infrastructure improvements for North Wilkesboro.

Smith said there was a “real possibility” of the track hosting the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Last month, Smith told NBC Sports that he didn’t see a Cup race happening in the NWB market.

Smith said Saturday that the “conservative” estimate for a NASCAR race at North Wilkesboro would be 2024. However, he hasn’t had any conversations with NASCAR about the possibility.

Work began months ago to begin cleaning up the facilities at the track, including demolishing many of the run down structures.

Steve Swift, Speedway Motorsports’ Vice President of Operations, addressed what people can expect come August.

“It looks like old Wilkesboro, it feels like old Wilkesboro, seats look and are the same seats that were sat in 20 years ago 30 years ago,” Swift said. “Just cleaning it up and keeping it safe, there are some hazards naturally that happen when things sit (for a long time), but really feel the old paint, the old Winston paint. The old things that make Wilkesboro what Wilkesboro (was) with the red and white, Winston red that was everywhere. Those things will still be in play. Really just preserving history the best we can and not really taking anything out of the extreme to put new in for this race is this year.”

After October, the next phase of the track’s restoration will begin.

Smith said the actual first phase of the revitalization will be in improving traffic patterns into and out of the track.

“I think you know every big event has a traffic jam,” Smith said. “So I don’t anticipate that we will be without a traffic jam on race time when we go back to North Wilkesboro. We are interested in improving the roadways, the ingress, egress if you will, for fans coming in and out of the track. So that’s part of really the first phase of the renovations and the restoration coming up this August. It’s going to be really a lot as it is.”

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