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Auto racing returning to long-shuttered North Wilkesboro Speedway in summer 2022

The historic NASCAR track will reopen for several events this summer.
North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Wilkesboro, NC on Thursday, October 7, 2021. North...
North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Wilkesboro, NC on Thursday, October 7, 2021. North Wilkesboro Speedway was a NASCAR short track. The track operated from 1949 until 1996.(Jeff Siner (The Charlotte Observer))
Published: Apr. 16, 2022 at 6:57 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - In response to the signs and “WE WANT YOU BACK” slogans that have called for the revitalization and return of racing to North Wilkesboro Speedway, track promoter and operator Speedway Motorsports Inc. today provided an answer: Racing will return this summer to the famed short track after more than a decade.

SMI announced its plans to bring grassroots racing to the 0.625-mile track in North Wilkesboro, N.C. The project calls for a multi-week grassroots racing event featuring multiple series.

The event will run in August on the asphalt currently at the track, followed by racing on dirt in October, before a track repave in 2023. The events, called Racetrack Revival, will be produced by XR Events.

It will include super late models, pro late models, street stocks, open wheel modifieds, limited late models, late model stocks and Hornets on the pavement. Track activity will be month-long and almost every day of the week, which would allow professional drivers from NASCAR’s series to race.

“This is going to be a racetrack revival,” Speedway Motorsports president and CEO Marcus Smith at a press announcement at Bristol Motor Speedway. “It’s going to be an amazing time where we race first on the asphalt and then on dirt at North Wilkesboro Speedway, and I think it’s going to be something that I think race fans and drivers are not gonna want to miss.”

Former NASCAR Cup driver and media personality Dale Earnhardt Jr. hosted Smith on his podcast last year, when Smith teased future projects at the track, saying, “We haven’t forgotten about North Wilkesboro.”

He thanked Jr. in his comment on Saturday for serving as a “catalyst” for the projects.

Smith’s comments on the podcast, driver interest and promise of money infused for infrastructure repairs through the American Rescue Plan has increased public interest in racing’s return to North Wilkesboro, a venue that SMI has controlled since 2007.

The track has largely fallen into disrepair since regularly hosting NASCAR’s top series from the late 1940s to the mid-90s. The last North Wilkesboro race was a USAR Pro Cup Series event in 2010.

Occasional commercials have been filmed at the site, and the track was scanned for NASCAR’s virtual iRacing series for a race in 2020 in which top drivers competed on their at-home simulators while the Cup season was paused for the pandemic.

The venue seats around 30,000 fans and local Wilkes County officials present at the announcement said that they expect to see the stands filled for the events this year.

“I’m fulfilling my husband’s dream, which was to get the North Wilkesboro track back open again, because he was born and raised in Wilkes County, as was Junior Johnson,” said Terri Parsons, the wife of the late NASCAR driver Benny Parsons. “Benny was born on one end of the county and Junior on the other, so I think somewhere today they’re smiling really, really big.”

North Wilkesboro is among the three North Carolina tracks (in addition to Charlotte Motor Speedway and The Rock Speedway (formerly Rockingham) set to benefit from funds allocated as part of the American Rescue Plan.

SMI said it is working with Wilkes County and state officials to use the $18 million earmarked as part of that budget for infrastructure improvements at North Wilkesboro, and in January, unveiled plans for a future at the track that would include bringing “motorsports, concerts and other entertainment options to the Wilkes County region.”

“Our hope is to celebrate the history and look forward to the future,” Smith said in a statement at the time. “North Wilkesboro Speedway is an amazing, historic place for NASCAR. It’s almost like Fenway Park is to baseball. I think, with this money from the state and the American Rescue Plan, we can make some dreams a reality at North Wilkesboro Speedway.”

Regarding the long-term future of North Wilkesboro and the viability of a national series race at the track, Smith said Saturday that 2024 would be the earliest NASCAR could potentially run a Truck Series race at North Wilkesboro, with infrastructure improvements necessary for an Xfinity or Cup event making those races less realistic.

“I think that it would be a perfect place for the NASCAR Truck Series to go and enjoy a classic track,” Smith said.

Speedway Motorsports said that American Rescue Plan funds would be available by early summer for use as they work through approval steps at the state and local level, but those close to the speedway in local government said that they are fully supportive of the plans.

“We want to see a NASCAR race hopefully,” said Wilkes county commissioner Eddie Settle. “That’s our hope, that in 2024 they announce that there will be a NASCAR event.”

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