Don’t be surprised if you see Dale Earnhardt Jr. get behind the wheel again to go racing at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
This week on the Dale Jr. Download, he and co-host Mike Davis the recent announcement that original NASCAR track will be reopened.
It first opened in 1947 as a dirt track in rural Wilkes county at the inception of the sport, and was later paved in 1958 and ran some of the biggest races in NASCAR up until the last Winston Cup Series race in 1996.
For years, different people and groups have attempted to purchase the track and the rights in order to bring racing back. But, unfortunately, it’s all fallen through and left the speedway in pretty bad shape sitting on the side of highway 421 that runs through the mountains of western North Carolina… until now.
Recently, a new conversation started about it potentially reopening for races when Dale Earnhardt Jr. headed to the track in 2020 with a clean up crew to film for iRacing. The town subsequently started a campaign called We Want You Back to bring more attention to the forgotten track, because residents there wanted it opened again more than anybody else.
Last May, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper approved $10 million in funding to go towards efforts to fix up the track, which really moved the efforts forward in terms of actual, palpable momentum:
In addition to breaking down all of the events and discussing the different types of races that are scheduled for this year, Dale Jr. hinted that he might be interested in getting back behind the wheel for a late model car race… how badass would that be?
“So, I’ve talked about racing my late model car for a long time, and I’ve never really, nothing’s ever really kinda made sense, right.
Where do I go, they’ve got a tire shortage this year, there’s all kinds reasons why it’s been kinda iffy on whether I should go do anything or not. I’ve tested our late model cars at Hickory, at Florence Motor Speedway over the last several years…
I’ve kinda looked for an opportunity, and this seems like the perfect chance, right? I can go practice, there’s practice, qualifying and the race over a three day period, get a little bit of track time.
I wanna support what they’re doing at North Wilkesboro, because I have kinda been involved in this conversation for so long.”
In fact, track owner Marcus Smith said that he was one of the main catalysts in the consideration to even attempt all of this to begin with:
Marcus Smith says Dale Jr. asking to clean the facility for its iRacing scan was the catalyst for the revival project.
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverRA) April 16, 2022
Dale Jr. added that he wants to do whatever he can to support the track and make it a success, noting that if he does decide to race there, he’ll make the announcement on his show.
He also said that one of the deal breakers could be if Sun Drop would sponsor his cars… and I’m telling you, here in North Carolina, we take the citrus soda very seriously, as you can tell:
“It’d be cool and I teased this on Twitter, that if we got the Sun Drop car, I raced the Sun Drop car at North Wilkesboro in 1993.
It’d be cool if Sun Drop would okay us putting their logos on the cars for this event. I mean, that would definitely push me further towards getting online and logging my entry.”
Your move, Sun Drop…
He also encouraged people to buy tickets and support all of the events at the track, saying he would be “tailgating [his] ass off” come August.
He and Mike both stressed the fact that what happens beyond this year with the track will be determined by how much support they get this year.
Mike broke it all down perfectly:
“I think hardcore race fans, which I am one, we’re sort of on notice. Because something unusual has happened.
For once, decades of complaining and saying that corporate America has taken away our support, and they’ve taken them out of small markets and put ’em other big places, you have a chance to prove them wrong, right?
But you can still prove them right if you don’t go support it. And I’m tellin’ you, if this thing isn’t packed all the time, then you’re sorta proving them right. Like small market little race tracks that we all grew up with and love can’t make it in today’s world.”
He added that they received money from the government, support from local officials and the community, and eventually, enough people got behind it that we are where we are now.
But, that momentum has to continue for track to see any sort of long-term success that we’re all hoping for:
“If this thing is a quarter full, or a half full, at best, this thing will have proven corporate America right. Or, if you pack it out and you plan your vacations, you know, where are you gonna spend your money?
You gonna spend your money, you know, on Charlotte Hornets seasons tickets? Or are you gonna go support something that just was dead, and was not even on life support, it was dead.”
Dale Jr. added that, while they’re going to try and make the track and facilities as functional as they possible can for the 2022 events, it’s going to have a very throwback and old school feel to it. Eventually, they do plan to do a massive renovation, but that will likely not start until next year.
But like they say during their conversation, that’s part of the charm and nostalgia, and I couldn’t agree more. That in and of itself will make these grassroots races worth going to.
So if you’re anywhere near the area, it’s definitely a trip worth making to see all of the former glory of the iconic track back in action for a multitude of reasons that they covered in their discussion.
You can check out the very robust website with a list of upcoming races here.
Make sure you check out the full conversation, it’s well-worth the watch to provide a little bit of context and some great insight on the importance of the track:
I, for one, can’t wait: