North Wilkesboro Speedway

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North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilksboro Speedway April 2011.jpg
View from Turn 1 in April 2011
Location Wilkesboro Township, Wilkes County, near North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
Capacity 40,000
Owner Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
Broke ground 1945
Opened May 18, 1947
Closed May 9, 2011
Major events

Wilkes 200 (1949–1953 and 1961)
Wilkes 160 (1953–1959)
Wilkes 320 (1960 and 1962)
Wilkes 400 (1963–1976)
Gwyn Staley 160 (1959–1960)
First Union 400 (1961–1996)
Tyson Holly Farms 400 (1979–1996)
King's Ranson 300 (2010)
PASS Labor Day Classic 200 (2010)

USARacing Pro Cup 250 (2010)
Oval
Length 0.625 mi (1.006 km)
Banking Turns: 14 degrees
Straights: 3 degrees
Lap record 0:18.905 (Ernie Irvan, Yates Racing, 1994, Sprint Cup Series)
Alan Kulwicki's trophy for winning the pole position in 1992

North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996. NWS was reopened in 2010 and briefly played host to several Stock Car series such as the now defunct ASA Late Model Series, USARacing Pro Cup Series (formerly Hooters Pro Cup) and PASS Super Late Models before closing again in the spring of 2011.

The track is located on U.S. Route 421 about four miles (6 km) east of the town of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. It measures five-eighths of a mile (0.625 miles (1.006 km)). A unique feature was the uphill backstretch and the downhill frontstretch.

Citing North Wilkesboro Speedway's age and lack of modern amenities, former New Hampshire Motor Speedway owner Bob Bahre and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO Bruton Smith, who already owned several NASCAR circuits, purchased the track in 1996. North Wilkesboro's spring date was given to Smith's new Texas Motor Speedway, while the fall date was taken over by Bahre's New Hampshire track and moved to early September as part of a schedule realignment.

Since the sale to Bahre and Smith, there have been attempts and gestures to buy the track and re-open it by, among others, local native Junior Johnson. The last Sprint Cup race was held there in September 1996, with Jeff Gordon winning.

On November 8, 2007, Bahre sold his share of North Wilkesboro Speedway to Smith as part of Smith's deal to buy Bahre's New Hampshire Motor Speedway. On October 31, 2009, Jayski.com announced that the USAR ProCup Series would host an event at North Wilkesboro Speedway on October 3, 2010. Also in 2010, the track will also host the ASA Late Model Series for the King's Ranson 300 and the PASS Late Models.

Ryan Blaney on pit lane at the 2011 PASS race

On January 7, 2010, the track announced that there would be a PASS Super Late Models race on April 7–9, 2011 which would be a 300 lap race for $153,000 in winnings. They also announced that the Buck Baker Driving School would be the official driving school of NWS. The track also announced sponsorship from Goodyear.

On May 9, 2011, a press release from Speedway Associates Inc. announced that the track would be silent once again as they would be ending their 3 year lease prematurely.

History[edit]

North Wilkesboro Speedway opened its doors on May 18, 1947, to a crowd in excess of 10,000 people who showed up to see one of the famous Flock[1] brothers win the race.[2]

On October 16, 1949, North Wilkesboro Speedway held the eighth and final race of the 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock Division. At the end of the day Robert "Red" Byron walked away as the first NASCAR champion.[3]

The speedway held races for 50 years until September 29, 1996, when Jeff Gordon won the last race to be held at the speedway. The speedway reopened in 2010 with 3 races on the schedule. The most notable investor was Terri Parsons, widow of 1973 NASCAR champion Benny Parsons.

On Monday night May 9, 2011, a press release from Speedway Associates Inc. announced that "the business climate and a lack of working capital has now brought everything at the historic facility to a screeching halt" and as a result the track would be silent once again.[4]

Since the closure[edit]

Car owner Jack Roush of Roush Fenway Racing held round one of "Roush's Race For The Ride" at North Wilkesboro Speedway, a competition to find the next Roush Racing development driver.

After Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith purchased the track and moved its two dates to other locations, the track saw little racing. Both owners showed little interest in selling the track until 2005.

In 2010, racing returned at North Wilkesboro Speedway with the help from the Speedway Associates, Save the Speedway and more.

In 2010 the speedway was featured during the USA Road Trip special of Top Gear's 16th series as part of the show's east coast tour.

Save The Speedway[edit]

STS Motorsports, Inc., a group founded in 2005 by Rob Marsden, has been trying to bring racing back to the track. The group first began a petition and caught the attention of the current owners. Bruton and Bahre eventually agreed to sell the track for $12 million. The track, which has been valued by county tax assessors at $4.83 million, was not sold.[5]

The Save The Speedway group spent fall and winter of 2005 attempting to find a buyer or buyers of the track as well as proof that there was still interest in racing at the facility. Over a dozen touring series had expressed written letters of intent about holding events upon reopening, as well as three driving schools, and several NASCAR teams showed interest in using the facility for testing.

In 2006 the Save The Speedway group worked with a developer from New York in an attempt to get investors, but parted ways when neither party could come to an agreement.[6] As of 2007, the group had not yet found investors to purchase the track.

The group worked with the state of North Carolina and erected a NC Highway Historical Marker in 2008 off Highway 421 to recognize the achievements and contributions of the racing there.

In 2009 it was announced the Save The Speedway group would be partnering with Speedway Associates to work with them on the speedway during their lease. However after the April 2011 race at the speedway, Save The Speedway said they would step away from working with Speedway Associates and no longer help them with the speedway.

Speedway for public sale[edit]

In January 2007 during the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Media Tour, Bruton Smith announced that he and co-owner Bob Bahre had agreed to let a real estate company attempt to sell the track for the asking price of $12 million.[6] On September 28, 2007 Worth Mitchell, a land developer, announced plans to purchase the speedway.[7] However Worth Mitchell estimates his odds are 50–50 of pulling off the deal and since that time there has been no further information. Speedway Motorsports officials had no comment on the negotiations.[6]

Highway historical marker[edit]

Save The Speedway applied for a highway historical marker that was approved at the May meeting of the NC Highway Historical Marker Advisory Committee. Placement of the marker occurred May 24, 2008.[8] The plaque reads:

NORTH WILKESBORO SPEEDWAY

Pioneer NASCAR dirt track. Built 1946; paved in 1958. Hosted sanctioned events, 1949-96. 5/8 mile oval 3 mi (4.8 km). W.

In popular culture[edit]

North Wilkesboro Speedway has been featured in several NASCAR-related video games including NASCAR Racing, NASCAR Racing 2, NASCAR Racing 4, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season and NASCAR Heat. It has also been featured in GeneRally.[citation needed]

Records[edit]

  • Richard Petty's fifteen wins were the most in the history of the track.
  • The last time a winning driver totally lapped the field on the way to the win was October 1994 at North Wilkesboro Speedway, NC when Geoffrey Bodine won, completing 400 laps while 2nd place was Terry Labonte who completed 399.
  • The youngest driver to ever start a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at age 17 was Bobby Hillin Jr. who made his start on April 18, 1982 at the Northwestern Bank 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. This is no longer possible as NASCAR, per request of the Master Settlement Agreement signed with the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1998, was forced to mandate a minimum age of 18.
  • Cale Yarborough is the first Cup driver to win a points-paying race on his birthday, on March 27, 1977 at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 36°8′32″N 81°4′21″W / 36.14222°N 81.07250°W / 36.14222; -81.07250