North Wilkesboro Speedway
View from Turn 1 in April 2011
|Location||Wilkesboro Township, Wilkes County, near North Wilkesboro, North Carolina|
|Owner||Speedway Motorsports, Inc.|
|Opened||May 18, 1947|
|Closed||May 9, 2011|
Wilkes 200 (1949–1953 and 1961)
|Length||0.625 mi (1.006 km)|
|Banking||Turns: 14 degrees
Straights: 3 degrees
|Lap record||0:18.905 (Ernie Irvan, Yates Racing, 1994, Winston Cup Series)|
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, including 93 Sprint Cup Series races. 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 4 miles (6.4 km) east of the town of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. It measures five-eighths of a mile with a unique feature of an uphill backstretch and the downhill frontstretch.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Early years
- 1.2 The 1960s and 1970s
- 1.3 The 1980s
- 1.4 The 1990s and final years
- 1.5 Past Cup winners
- 1.6 Junior Johnson's purchase attempt
- 1.7 Community petition
- 1.8 Race for the Ride
- 1.9 Save The Speedway
- 1.10 Speedway for public sale
- 1.11 Highway historical marker
- 1.12 Return of racing
- 2 In popular culture
- 3 Records
- 4 References
- 5 External links
In 1945 Enoch Staley attended a stock car race in South Carolina put on by Bill France. Enoch was excited by the races he saw and became very impressed by the large crowds attending the new sport. He decided to build a track in his native Wilkes County and asked France to promote the races and help run them. Enoch and his partners Lawson Curry and Jack and Charlie Combs purchased farmland near North Wilkesboro and began building an oval racetrack. When the initial investment of $1500 ran out they had to make some cuts in the original design of the track. The track was not a perfect oval and the front stretch was left with a downhill slope as the backstretch had an uphill slope when it was completed in late 1946.
North Wilkesboro Speedway opened its doors on May 18, 1947 as a dirt track. Bill France promoted the first official event as a Modified race including heat races and a feature race. While expecting maybe 3,000 people, a crowd in excess of 10,000 people showed up to see one of the famous Flock brothers win the race.
On October 16, 1949, North Wilkesboro Speedway held the eighth and final race of the 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock Division. Kenneth Wagner would get the first Cup Pole at the track with a speed of 57.563 mph on the dirt surface. A total of 22 drivers competed in the race. Bob Flock, in his Bob Christian owned 1949 Oldsmobile, passed Bill Blair's fading Cadillac with 20 laps to go and won by about 100 yards over Lee Petty. At the end of the day Robert "Red" Byron walked away as the first NASCAR champion.
North Wilkesboro carried a reputation as one of the fastest short-tracks in auto racing in the late 1940s and 1950s. In 1950 speeds reached 73 mph at the track compared to the next fastest short-track, Charlotte Speedway, which top speeds only reached 66 mph. Most of the early fans of the sport saw the track as notorious for being a great venue to watch races between the legendary racers of the time. Racing at North Wilkesboro tended to be intense and physical.
The 1950 Wilkes 200 was the second Grand National Series race held at North Wilkesboro Speedway. 26 cars entered in the running of the race. 21-year-old Fireball Roberts qualified with a lap speed of 73.266 mph on the dirt track for his first ever Grand National pole. Engine problems however dropped Roberts out of the running. Fonty Flock started in the 3rd position and led the most laps in the race with 104, but engine troubles also ended his day. Leon Sales led 8 of the 200 laps to become the race victor. Sales became the 4th NASCAR stock car driver to win an event in his debut race. Jack Smith finished 2nd after leading 55 laps in the race.
After only having one NASCAR event in 1949 and 1950, in 1951 the track expanded to running two Grand National Series events per year (except for 1956, when only one race was held as the track was being prepared to be paved). One in the spring normally held in late March or early April and One in the fall normally held in late September or early October. In 1957, Enoch paved the 5/8-mile track.
The Wilkes 200 in 1952 turned into a battle between brothers. 2 sets of brothers were in the race and they would take the top 4 spots at the finish. The Flock Brothers (Fonty Flock and Tim Flock) were strong, but the Thomas brothers (Herb Thomas and Donald Thomas) would have the better outcome. Herb, driving his 1952 "Fabulous" Hudson Hornet, won the pole, led 192 of the 200 laps and grabbed the victory. Fonty outside pole and led the first 8 laps and finish 2nd. Donald, also in a 1952 "Fabulous" Hudson Hornet finished 3rd and Tim finished 4th. 11 of the 27 cars entered in the race finished. 6 of the top 9 positions were driving Hudson Hornets.
Herb Thomas started on the pole for the 1953 Wilkes 200 with his record-setting qualifying speed of 78.424 mph on the dirt surface. Outside pole sitter, Tim Flock, led the first 100 laps before engine problems. Curtis Turner took the lead on lap 101 and led until also suffering engine troubles 9 laps later. Thomas in his No. 92 Hudson Hornet would only lead 18 laps in the race but would take his third consecutive win at North Wilkesboro. Starting from the third spot Dick Rathmann led 70 laps and finished behind Thomas. Fonty Flock managed to work his way up from the 4th starting place to the front and lead 3 laps before dropping back and finishing 3rd.
Pole sitter Buck Baker ran 78.288 mph to gap the pole for the 1953 Wilkes 160. Baker ran strong led the most laps in the race with 80 out front before falling back to 6th at the finish. Speedy Thompson led 25 laps in the race and Fonty Flock led 37. Curtis Turner also led a total of 18 laps in the race. At the end of the race Thompson finishing 2 laps ahead of second place Flock. Thompson's win ended Herb Thomas and his Hudson Hornet's 3 race winning streak at North wilkesboro.
In the 1954 Wilkes County 160, Gober Sosebee won the pole with a lap pole speed of 78.698 mph. Sosebee led a race-high 112 laps, but finished in 12th, 8 laps down. The only other leader was Dick Rathmann, who led 48 laps. Rathmann blew a tire while leading with three laps to go and still managed to finish and win the race. Herb Thomas finished some 20 seconds behind in 2nd.
In the 1954 Wilkes 160 Hershel McGriff won the pole with a qualifying speed of 77.612 mph. He and Dick Rathman were the only leaders of the race; McGriff led 74 laps and Rathman led 83 laps. This race was called 3 laps early due to the crash of Lou Figaro, where his car flipped and caved in the roof. Figaro was transported to a hospital in Winston-Salem after the serious crash. Figaro died the following day from a skull fracture and brain damage as a result of the crash. Mcgriff was declared the winner, it would be his final victory, and his last Grand National race for 17 years.
Dink Widenhouse won his only career Grand National Series pole at the 1955 Wilkes County 160. Engine problems however landed Widenhouse out of the race. Outside pole sitter Buck Baker led all 160 laps, but by the last lap Dick Rathmann was glued to Baker's bumper and still charging. Rathmann's final charge off turn 4 came up 3 feet short of stealing the victory. It was the closest finish in series history up to that time. Local native Junior Johnson ran in his first Grand National race at North Wilkesboro.
The Wilkes County 160 in 1956 was the only Grand National Series race that season and the last race on dirt at North Wilkesboro. Junior Johnson's 1956 Pontiac started from the pole and led the first 17 laps before engine problems sidelined him. Outside pole qualifier, Speedy Thompson took over the lead from there and led until fuel line problems on lap 114 doped him out. Tim Flock led the final 46 laps to get his first win at North Wilkesboro. After the race Flock announced to Carl Kiekhafer that this would be the last time he would drive one of Kiekhafer's cars. Billy Myers was the runner-up.
The Wilkes County 160 in 1957 was dominated by the Pete DePaolo Fords. DePaolo entered five 1957 Fords in the race and they all finished in the top 6. Fireball Roberts to put his DePaolo Ford on the pole with a qualifying speed of 81.5 mph. It was the first time the pole sitter had a speed over 80 MPH. Roberts was the only driver to lead during the race leading all 160 laps. DePaolo's other drivers were 2nd-place finisher Paul Goldsmith, 3rd place Ralph Moody, 4th place Marvin Panch, 6th place Allen Adkins. Buck Baker was the only non-Depaolo car in the top 6, with his 5th-place finish.
The Wilkes 160 of 1957 was Junior Johnson's first race back after spending 11 months in jail for his moonshine activities. It was also his only start of the 1957 Grand National Series season. Fireball Roberts won the pole with a lap speed of 81.64 mph. Jack Smith would pass Banjo Matthews with 10 laps to go and hold off Lee Petty for the victory. Tragically struck on Lap 47 of the race when Tiny Lund's axle snapped and one of the wheels broke loose and hit 2 spectators. One was only injured but the other, William R. Thomasson, died shortly after.
The NASCAR Convertible Series ran two races at North Wilkesboro. In 1957 Ken Rush won the pole and led the first 21 laps before Glen Wood took the lead and led the next 42 laps. Paul Goldsmith took the lead on lap 64 and led the rest of the 160 lap race. In 1958 Roz Howard won the pole but never led a lap as Billy Myers took the lead on lap one and led until lap 82 when he was passed by Gwyn Staley. Billy Myers retook the lead on lap 119 and lead the rest of the race.
In 1959 North Wilkesboro's spring race, formerly known as the Wilkes County 160, was renamed to the Gwyn Staley 160 in memory of Enoch Staley's younger brother. Gwyn Staley was killed in a convertible race at Richmond 12 days before the race. The race remained in Gwyn Staley's name until 1978.
The 1960s and 1970s
Through the 1960s and 1970s the NASCAR Grand National Series began focusing more and more toward bigger, faster and longer tracks. Like other short tracks in NASCAR at the time crowd capacity and Purses were small compared to the larger tracks. Over time Enoch and Jack attempted to keep the facility modern and on pace with the growth of the sport. The West Grandstand was rebuilt with chair seats rather than the old bare concrete slab seats. New larger restroom facilities were built and the South Grandstand was expanded. A garage facility was built within the track which was at the time very rare for short-track venues. Their main focus was on keeping ticket prices affordable for their fans, Food and beverages were keep cheap and event parking and camping were always free. As long as profits covered maintenance costs, Enoch was satisfied with the income of the track.
In the Gwyn Staley 160 of 1960 Junior Johnson beat 21 other drivers for the pole position with a lap speed of 83.860 mph. Glen Wood beat Johnson to lead the first lap but Johnson had the race under control and led the next 145 laps of the 160 lap race. Lee Petty had moved up from the 8th starting position to challenge Johnson late in the race and with 14 laps to go, Johnson and Petty got together and Johnson's car was sent spinning and into the guard rail. Petty would lead the final 14 laps and win his 3rd straight race at North Wilkesboro. The crowd of 9,200 targeted Petty with bottles, rocks and debris after he won the 100-mile race because they felt he had drove their local hero wrong. When Petty took the microphone in victory lane to explain his side of the story the crowd again jeering at Petty. Rex White finished 2nd as Wood placed 3rd. Ned Jarrett finished 4th under an alias John Lentz.
The Fall race in 1960 changed from the usual race length of 160 laps / 100 miles to 320 laps / 200 miles and became the Wilkes 320. Speeds increased immensely at the track from the previous record, 1.83 seconds quicker than any previous qualifying lap (86.806 to 93.399 mph). Rex White post the quickest qualifying lap and dethroned Lee Petty from his 3 race winning streak at North Wilkesboro. Junior Johnson finished about half a lap behind White in 2nd.
In the 1961 running of the Gwyn Staley 400 Junior Johnson recorded another pole. This time by 0.57 seconds better than the previous track record with his qualifying time of 23.52 (95.660 mph). Johnson led all 62 of the laps he ran before Transmission problems force him out of the race. Fred Lorenzen led the next 61 laps until engine problems took him out of the running. Curtis Turner led 56 laps before experiencing problems. 1960 Grand National Champion Rex White, who started on the outside pole, led the remaining 221 laps and won the race. Tommy Irwin started the race in 6th and finished the Gwyn Staley 400 two laps behind White. Richard Petty followed in 3rd place. Fireball Roberts in a Pontiac owned by Smokey Yunick finished 4th (10 laps down) and Johnny Allen who crashed out of the race on his 387th lap still finished in 5th place. Only 12 of 25 the cars that entered the race were running at the finish of the first 400 lap edition of the Gwyn Staley race.
In the 1963 Wilkes 400 Fred Lorenzen captured his third straight pole at the track by breaking his own record with a lap of 23.30 seconds / 96.566 mph. Richard Petty entered the race trying to become the first driver to win 4 consecutive races at North Wilkesboro, but experienced engine problems and lasted only 45 laps in the race. Lorenzen led 58 laps in the race but come up short for victory, 6 seconds behind winner Marvin Panch. Panch didn't start the 1963 season until half-way thru because he nearly lost his life in a crash testing a Maserati at Daytona that February. Panch, in a Wood Brothers car, started 3rd and led 131 laps in the race. Holman-Moody would take the next 3 spots in the final rundown with, Lorenzen 2nd, Nelson Stacy 3rd and Fireball Roberts 4th. Stacy started 4th and led 56 laps while Roberts started from the outside pole and led the most laps with 155.
The track was repaved just prior to the Gwyn Staley 400 in 1964 and the resulting lack of traction caused all kinds of problems for drivers. Fireball Roberts , Buck Baker , Buddy Arrington , and G.C. Spencer were among cars that crashed through the wooden guardrail in the first and second turn in Saturday's practice and qualifying. Roberts was unable to start the race because his Ford was so heavily damaged. Fred Lorenzen won the pole and led 368 laps on the way to the win.
Junior Johnson was the pole sitter for the 1965 Gwyn Staley 400 with a qualifying time and speed of 22.27 seconds / 101.033 mph. The qualifying time broke his own record by 0.06 seconds. Marvin Panch was leading the race when he blown a tire and crashed with 11 laps to go. Johnson assumed the lead from there and won his 3rd of 13 wins in 1965. Johnson lead most of the event - 356 laps in total. Bobby Johns in a Holman-Moody Ford finished in the runner-up spot, 7 seconds behind Johnson. Finishing 3rd one lap down was Ned Jarrett. Jarrett had led 20 laps early in the race. Dick Hutcherson in his Holman-Moody Ford finished 7 laps off the pace in 4th place as Panch finished 5th. Panch had led on 3 occasions during the race for a total of 24 laps.
In the Wilkes 400 of 1965 Fred Lorenzen got the pole and led the first 190 laps before Engine probles would force him out of the race on lap 219. Junior Johnson would take the lead from the fading Lorenzen and pick up his 50th and final Grand National Series victory by 2 laps over Cale Yarborough. Only 16 of the 35 cars that started was running at the finish.
Jim Paschal started the 1966 Gwyn Staley 400 from the pole position with a record lap time of 21.91 sec / 102.693 mph. Paschal led 308 laps and won by 6 laps over G.C. Spencer. This was the largest margin of victory at North Wilkesboro in a Grand National Series race. David Pearson Started on the outside pole and Despite losing an engine with 18 laps to go finished 3rd. Wendell Scott finished 4th (22 laps down) and Clarence Henly Gray finished 5th (25 laps down). Only 14 of the 37 cars entered in the race were running at the finish. Richard Petty was the only driver besides Paschal to lead any laps in the race. He lead 92 laps before falling back to finish 11th (53 laps down).
Darel Dieringer Completely dominated the 1967 Gwyn Staley 400 driving for Junior Johnson. Dieringer got the pole with a lap of 21.50 seconds / 104.693 mph, then lead all 400 laps. He was the first driver to run a Grand National Series race over 250 miles, and lead start to finish. He had lapped the whole field twice at one point. Dieringer took the checked flag after he ran out of gas in turn 4 of the last lap and coasted to the finish line. This was Dieringer's last Grand National victory. Cale Yarborough driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford finished 2nd one lap behind Dieringer. This race also held a Qualifier race to make the field. Clyde Lynn won the 20 lap Qualifier.
In the Wilkes 400 of 1967, Richard Petty got his historic 10th straight win, and 27th of the season at North Wilkesboro. Prior to the start Petty had a tire go flat, but Petty was able to recovered to win by two laps over pole winner Dick Hutcherson. Only 15 of the 35 cars that started the race finished.
Three drivers entered the 1970 Wilkes 400 in a very close points race. Bobby Isaac was just ahead of James Hylton and Bobby Allison was close behind, but Richard Petty, who was out of the points because a shoulder injury suffered at Darlington in May, was considered the favorite to win the race. Isaac started from the pole for a record tying (matching Fred Lorenzen's and Herb Thomas) fourth consecutive time with a qualifying lap time of 21.346 seconds / 105.406 mph. Fans were given quite a show as Isaac and Petty exchanged the lead a total of 11 times throughout the race. Isaac in the Nord Krauskopf's K&K Insurance Dodge led 179 laps and took the win by 6 car lengths over petty. Petty who had started the race 3rd, Lead the most laps in the race with 216. Allison started 4th and finished 4th behind his brother Donnie Allison and Hylton finished 5th at the end of day. The Isaac would move on to become the 1970 Winston Cup Champion at the season's end with Allison being the runner-up in points.
Bad weather forced the 1971 Wilkes 400 to moved back to November 21 that season. Due to the Grand National Series struggling car counts Cars from NASCAR's Grand American Series were allowed to run in this race. Charlie Glotzbach broke the track record in qualifying at 20.919 seconds / 107.558 mph. It was the first lap ever run under 21 seconds at the track and ended Bobby Isaac's consecutive poles at North Wilkesboro at 5. Tiny Lund driving a 1970 Camaro qualified 6th and led just 7 laps on his way to the victory. Lund also won another race driving the Camaro that season at Hickory. Glotzbach finishing 2nd 6 seconds behind Lund after leading 76 laps in the race. Richard Petty started from the outside pole and led 306 laps and finished 3rd. Dave Marcis finishing 4th two laps down and Benny Parsons rounded out the top 5. Bobby Allison was the only other driver lead laps in the race with 11 laps out frount before losing an engine before halfway.
The Wilkes 400 in 1972 was one of the wildest finishes in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history. Buddy Baker had won the pole in the No. 71 K & K Insurance Dodge owned by Nord Krauskopf, but only led the first lap during the race. Richard Petty and Bobby Allison would swap the lead the rest of the race. By the end of the race Petty and Allison were beating and banging each other trying to win. At moments looking more like a demolition derby than a race. Both cars were destroyed by the time the race came to an end, with Allison's car smoking very notably. This was at the peak of the Petty-Allison rivalry. Petty Came out as the winner in the event. In victory lane, a fan tried to attack Petty, who was defended by his helmet-wielding brother Maurice Petty. This was Petty's last of 137 wins in a Plymouth.
In the Gwyn Staley 400 of 1973 Bobby Allison landed on the pole with a qualifying lap of 21.077 seconds / 106.750 MPH. Richard Petty qualified on the outside pole and in dominating fashion lead 386 laps on the way to win by over 4 laps. It was Petty's 10th career win at North Wilkesboro and his 151st career NASCAR victory. Benny Parsons lead 6 laps and finished 2nd. Buddy Baker finished 3rd in the No. 71 K & K Insurance Dodge owned by Nord Krauskopf. Allison lead 7 laps and finished 4th in the race. Cecil Gordon rounded out the top 5 finishers in the race. Yvon DuHamel, a top AMA road racer from Quebec drove a Mercury prepared by Junie Donlavey and finished in 10th place in his only career Winston Cup race. 20 of the 30 cars entered were running at the finish.
In the Wilkes 400 of 1973 Bobby Allison driving for his own No. 12 Coca-Cola team won the pole for the event. He and Richard Petty lead most of the race, Allison with 161 and Petty with 222. As Petty led the race late, Allison Pitted and got fresh tires on a late pit stop and ran down Petty and passed him on the final lap. It was considered as one of the most exciting races ever at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
In 1975 The NASCAR Baby Grand Series, later known as Goodys Dash Series, ran their first race at North Wilkesboro. The First Race was won by Dean Combs. 37 races were run at the track from 1975-1984,1986-1987, and 1995-1996. Dean Combs had the most wins at the track with 15 victory's.
In the Gwyn Staley 400 of 1977 Cale Yarborough became the first driver to win a Winston Cup Series race on his birthday. Neil Bonnett would beat Yarborough for the pole, but in the race Yarborough led 320 laps on the way to his birthday victory. Only the top 3 of Yarborough, Richard Petty and Benny Parsons finished on the lead lap.
In the Wilkes 400 of 1978 Darrell Waltrip would get the pole in his No. 88 Gatorade DiGard team Chevrolet. Waltrip lead the first 381 laps of the 400 lap race but with 19 to go Cale Yarborough would pass waltrip and take the win. Yarborough and Waltrip were the only cars to finish on the lead lap in the 27 car field. This was Yarborough's 9th win of the season virtually locked up his 3rd Straight Winston Cup Series championship driving for Car owner Junior Johnson.
In the Northwestern Bank 400 of 1979 Benny Parsons won the pole. Richard Petty would lead the most laps with 211 in the race, but it was Bobby Allison who passed Petty and led the final 47 laps. The suspension on Allison's No. 15 Ford collapsed as he crossed the finish line on the final lap of the race leading to a smokey victory lap as the car threw sparks but by that time he had already won and was headed to victory lane. Dale Earnhardt would tie his best finish of 4th at this point in his career in this race, before he won his first race at the very next race at Bristol.
The Holly Farms 400 in 1979 was the first time the fall race had a sponsor. Holly Farms would be the name of the tracks fall races from this event until the track's final race in 1996. The race was scheduled to be run September 30, but heavy rains plagued the racing activities all weekend and was rescheduled for the first available weekend on October 14. Dale Earnhardt broken the 20-second barrier during qualifying and claimed the pole for the race. With the new asphalt surface on the track 14 drivers ended up topping the previous qualifying record. Bobby Allison would lead the most laps in the race with 175, as Darrell Waltrip led 104. After Waltrip bumping Allison out of the lead Waltrip was wrecked on lap 311 when Allison put him into the wall. Waltrip began crowding off Allison under the caution before officials black flagged him. Wilkes County local Benny Parsons ended the day in victory lane after leading the final 92 laps. It was Parsons first and only win at his hometown track.
During the 1980s the track begain to be noticeably lagging behind other speedways on the NASCAR circuit but the fans were more interested in the great racing action between the legendary drivers. Enoch felt that they should focus more on fans enjoyment rather than building large suites and new facilities. Attendance and total purse for races at the track were the lowest in NASCAR, even though they continued to sell-out and attract more fans each year.
In the 1981 Northwestern Bank 400 Dave Marcis driving an unpainted racecar, won the pole with a lap record of 19.483 sec / 115.485 mph on the newly repaved track. The lap was 0.241 seconds quicker than the previous record set by Dale Earnhardt one year earlier. A 22-year-old newcomer, Mark Martin made his Winston Cup Series debut in this race with a quick qualifying run starting 5th, but would end up dropping out 166 laps into the race with rear end problems and finished 27th. Bobby Allison was up front and led the most laps in the race with 186. Marcis stayed up front and led 123 laps but would fall off the pace late when his tires wore out. Richard Petty took the lead and led the final 62 laps for his career win number 194. This was Petty's 15th and final win at North Wilkesboro, the most Cup wins in at the track. It was also Petty's 107 and final win on a short track. The top 5 finishers behind petty was Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Marcis and Harry Gant.
Darrell Waltrip simply dominated the Holly Farms 400 of 1981. Waltrip started on the pole and led 318 and lapped the field on the way to the win and start a streak of 5 straight wins at the track. Bobby Allison would finish 2nd one lap down after leading 76 laps. Other leaders in the race was Jody Ridley with 4 laps led, Dave Marcis one lap, and Richard Petty one lap.
The Northwestern Bank 400 of 1982 was ESPN's first broadcast at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Bob Jenkins and Ned Jarrett called the race with Ron Kendrick as pit reporter. They would broadcast every North Wilkesboro race afterward until the final race there in the fall of 1996. Darrell Waltrip won the race from the pole leading 345 laps.
The 1982 Holly Farms 400 was a total domination by Darrell Waltrip and the Junior Johnson team. Waltrip Started the weekend by gaping his 3rd straight pole at the track with a qualifying lap of 19.761 sec / 113.860 mph. Waltrip led 329 laps with Bobby Allison being the only driver who could stay close to the No. 11 team. Allison was the only other leader in the race, leading 71 laps until he dropped out of the race after 141 laps with engine problems. Only Waltrip and Harry Gant finished the race on lead lap. It was Waltrip's 3rd Straight Winston Cup Series win at North Wilkesboro.
In Spring of 1983 NASCAR ran its first Busch race at North Wilkesboro. Tommy Ellis won the pole with a pole speed of 116.692 mph. Ellis would lead the first 15 lapes before being passed by Butch Lindley. Sam Ard got the lead from Lindley on lap 34 and led the rest of the 200 lap race. Only 10 of the 23 cars finished the race. That fall Phil Parsons would win the pole for the second Busch race. Jack Ingram led a race high 126 laps, but Tommy Ellis would take the win. only one event was held in 1984, with Sam Ard winning his final Busch race . The final Busch race was held in 1985 with Tommy Houston winning the pole and Jack Ingram winning the race.
Darrell Waltrip and Junior Johnson enjoyed a big win in the 1983 Holly Farms 400. It was Waltrip's 5th straight win at the track and Johnson's 100th career Winston Cup Series win as an owner, which just happen to take place at his home track within 10 miles of his home and farm. Waltrip got the pole and led 252 laps on the way to the victory. Dale Earnhardt was runner-up in the race with 134 laps out front.
The Northwestern Bank 400 of 1984 was dominated by Ricky Rudd, who got the pole and led 290 laps. But at the end of the race Tim Richmond had a better pit stop to beat Ricky Rudd out of the win. Richmond's win broke Darrell Waltrip's winning streak at Wilkesboro. Waltrip had won five races in a row at the track before this race.
In the 1986 First Union 400 Geoffrey Bodine started on the pole. On lap 85 Trevor Boys crashed out of the race and blocked the entrance to pit road, but no caution was thrown for it. instead they sent a wrecker out on the bottom of the track to haul him out of the way under green flag conditions. Dale Earnhardt won the race and led 195 laps followed by Ricky Rudd in second place who led 102 laps.
The Holly Farms 400 of 1988 was a rough race. Ricky Rudd had led 154 laps and Dale Earnhardt led 107 laps until a beating and banging match started between them, NASCAR sent them both to the rear of the field with less than 40 laps to go and for the remainder of the race they continued to beat and bang on each other. On the last lap Geoffrey Bodine gave Rusty Wallace a shot and drove around him in turn 1, and when the two got around to turn 3 Wallace returned the shot and re-passed Bodine for the win.
The 1989 First Union 400 was the first Winston Cup Series race for Goodyear's radial tires, Dale Earnhardt won the race on the Goodyear tires after Rusty Wallace grabbed the pole on Hoosier bias ply tires. Earnhardt lead 296 of the 400 laps. In the end Earnhardt and Alan Kulwicki battled it out hard for the last couple of laps until Kulwicki ran up the track trying to pass Earnhardt on the outside with 4 laps left.
In the 1989 Holly Farms 400 Dale Earnhardt entered the race only 35 points behind Rusty Wallace for the Winston Cup Series championship with 4 races left. The race was originally scheduled for October 1, but rain caused a two-week postponement. Earnhardt got the pole due to no time trials because the inclement weather washed out qualifying. This is the only Cup race at North Wilkesboro not to start by qualifying times. Earnhardt would dominated the race, leading 343 laps. On the final restart on Lap 398, Earnhardt led RickyRudd, Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, and Mark Martin. Earnhardt led with Ricky Rudd in pursuit on the last lap Going into the first turn, when Rudd went low and Earnhardt tried to keep a tight line through the corner and hold the lead. They made contact and both cars went spinning, as Geoff Bodine went around to gap the win by leading only the last lap in the race. The last-lap contact also produced some of the most memorable broadcasting quotes in NASCAR history. After the race, Dick Berrgen asked Earnhardt "How will this affect your championship, you got 3 more to go..." and Earnhardt responded "What do ya think? They oughta fine that son of a bitch and make him sit out the rest of the year, I dunno." Earnhardt ended up losing the championship by 12 points to Wallace.
The 1990s and final years
By the 1990s, North Wilkesboro was like a part of the past. Enoch had always had the fans interests at heart, and his reluctance to raise ticket and concessions prices or charge spectators additional fees to make facility improvements. Track amenities were seen as out of date and lagging behind the other more modern facilities. Parking was over crowded and tight, Traffic was renowned for its long traffic jams on the two lane roads, and Hotel and motel rooms were hard to find in the area. NASCAR continued to expand and grow more in the economy. Bigger TV deals and larger coverage of the races and New Bigger Sponsors were growing in the sport, as North Wilkesboro races continued with the lowest crowd capacity, 60,000 in its best years, in all of the Winston Cup Series. Winners purses were normally still under $100,000.
Controversy erupted at the end of the 1990 First Union 400. Mark Martin started the race from the pole. Darrell Waltrip was leading the race when a caution came out late for Kenny Wallace right as the last round of green flag pit stops was completed. Brett Bodine was on the tail-end of the lead lap. Since NASCAR didn't have electronic scoring until 1993, the pace-car picked Brett Bodine up as the leader. The next 17 laps were run under the yellow while the officials checked the lap charts and tried to sort everything out. By the time NASCAR realized their mistake and waved the rest of the field around the pace car to fall in behind race leader Bodine, Bodine had already pitted and got four fresh ties under yellow during all the confusion. Bodine was able to stay out front with the freshest tires and lead the rest of the race after the green came back out and picked up the win. Darrell Waltrip was very upset after the race and protested Bodine's win but NASCAR declined the protest and Bodine keep the win. It turned out to be Bodine's only career win and Larry McReynold's first oval track win as a crew chief after 2 road course victories with Ricky Rudd in the late 1980s. It was also the last Winston Cup Series win for Buick.
Dale Earnhardt dominated the 1990 Tyson Holly Farms 400 leading 291 laps. At one point Earnhardt even passed Mark Martin for the lead down pit road to beat him out of the pits (no pit road speed limit was in place at the time).Kyle Petty had won the pole and led 64 laps early in the race. But in the end, Martin made a key adjustment on his last pit stop and he took off and ran away to the victory. Just hours after the race, rookie Rob Moroso was killed in a highway crash on the way home. Moroso became the only rookie to win the Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors posthumously.
In the 1991 First Union 400 Brett Bodine beat Alan Kulwicki for the pole. This was the 1st Winston Cup race held with a pit road speed limit. Dale Earnhardt spun early due to contact from Ricky Rudd, but was able to make his way back up to the front. Brett Bodine ran a very strong race and looked to be in contention for a second-consecutive First Union 400 until he was spun in turn three by Ricky Rudd. Geoff Bodine was black flagged for making contact with Davey Allison after the two had spun in turn four, Allison had escaped without damage in the first incident but contact from Bodine after the caution damaged his right-front fender. Jimmy Spencer seemed to have the car to beat at one point led 70 laps. Darrell Waltrip end the long day in victory lane, winning his first race as a driver/owner since his early days in the 1970s and his 80th career win. This race had the record for most cautions in a Cup race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, with 17 cautions.
Harry Gant looked to make history in the 1991 Tyson Holly Farms 400. After winning 4 straight cup wins at Darlington, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville a win at North Wilkesboro would be a modern era record of 5 straight wins in the Winston Cup Series. He Had also won both Busch races he ran in that period. Gant beat Davey Allison for the pole and had a chance to also win the Unocal bonus totaling $144,400 if he could win from the pole. Gant looked like he would get the record all day, staying out front and leading 350 laps until late in the race when he began experiencing brakes proplems. With 9 to go Dale Earnhardt would pass Gant on the high side and go on the take the checked flag. Gant would still hold on to a 2nd-place finish but his chance at making history were over.
In the 1992 First Union 400 Davey Allison beat Rusty Wallace and drove to victory with broken ribs. He had a hard crash at Bristol the week before breaking his ribs. Alan Kulwicki won the pole and led the most laps with 182. Davey Allison would maintain his early Winston Cup Series season points lead.
The 1992 Tyson Holly Farms 400 was the last time a Winston Cup Series race went without a single caution flag on a track less than 1 mile in length and the last caution free race until 1997 at Talladega. The race was run on a Monday after rain showers postponed it on Sunday. Alan Kulwicki won the pole again, sweeping the both poles at the track for the season. Geoffrey Bodine won the race that ended with only two cars on the lead lap, Bodine and Terry Labonte. Bodine led 312 laps in the race driving the No. 15 Bud Moore Ford.
In the First Union 400 in 1994 Terry Labonte would get his first Winston Cup Series win since 1989 and first win driving for Rick Hendrick in the No. 5 Kellogg Chevy. Ernie Irvan started from the pole with a track record speed 119.016 mph, and dominated most of the day, leading 320 laps in the 400 lap race before a pit stop miscue costed him the win and he was only able to make it back up to 3rd, as Labonte beat Rusty Wallace for the win.
The Tyson Holly Farms 400 that fall would be a run away for Geoffrey Bodine, who as to date is the last Winston Cup Series driver to win by lapping the entire field. Jimmy Spencer started on the pole and led the first 5 laps. Bodine started 18th and cut through the field and into the top ten by lap 5. Bodine would lead 334 out of 400 laps. This is the last win for Hoosier's tire in the Winston Cup Series as they would withdraw from the series after NASCAR made new rules for the 1995 season with more requirements from tire company's.
Enoch Staley died of a stroke on May 22, 1995. Less than one month later Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO Bruton Smith purchased fifty percent of the shares of the speedway from the Combs family. Smith had approached the Staley family prior and after the death of Enoch in 1995, but the family declined to sell to him because Enoch had distrusted Smith and instructed them to never sell the track to him. It was decided afterwards that Smith and Mike Staley, Enoch's son, would have equal representation on the track. Mike Staley was installed as president and chief operating officer of the speedway for a one-year term.
The 1995 Fall race weekend included the first NASCAR Supertruck race at the track and the return of Ernie Irvan to the Cup racing. Irvan had not raced since his near fatal crash at Michigan in 1994. He made his first start in a truck on Saturday starting on the outside front row and led 24 laps before suspension problems forced him to pull out of the race just after the halfway break. Kenny Wallace, Jack Sprague and Geoff Bodine all ran strong up front at some point, but Mike Bliss would go on to score his first ever Truck win. On Sunday in the Tyson Holly Farms 400, Irvan driving a No. 88 Robert Yates Racing Ford, started 7th and finished 6th with 31 laps lead. Mark Martin picked up his second win at the track. This was the first Winston Cup Series race since 1959 with all the cars running at the finish. There were 28 lead changes in this race, a Record for North Wilkesboro cup races.
On January 1, 1996, the fifty percent interest in North Wilkesboro Speedway owned by the Staley family was sold to racetrack developer and promoter Bob Bahre, owner of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Mike Staley said that selling the track was very painful but it was the only choice he had. Bahre and Bruton Smith, who both already owned several NASCAR circuits, announced their intent to use the spring and fall race dates for their own tracks citing North Wilkesboro Speedway's age and lack of modern amenities and stating "Cash Rules Everything Around Us".
In the 1996 First Union 400 race Terry Labonte won the pole, led the most laps and won the race while tying Richard Petty's Iron-man streak of 513 consecutive starts. He also collected a bonus of $129,200 from the Unocal 76 Challenge Award for the race by winning from the pole. His car was painted a silver color to commemorate his record streak. The race attracted over 60,000 race fans, many of them thought this would be the last race held at the speedway, since Bahre had enough time to organize a race at his New Hampshire International Speedway.
The 1996 Tyson Holly Farms 400 was the last Winston Cup Series race held at the track. Junior Johnson refused to attend the last race weekend stating "I'm not going. It would be more of a sad deal for me to go out and just stand around and look at something disappear, something I can remember almost since I've been around". Bruton Smith needed extra security for the weekend for his own protection. Most of the hostile race fans viewed him as the reason for the track's closure. Ted Musgrave got the last pole with a lap speed of 118.054 mph. This was the last Cup race to have fewer than 40 cars start, until the 2016 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta where only 39 cars showed up. 8 drivers would lead laps in the race with Jeff Gordon leading most of the event with 207 laps up front. Gordon won the race, in front of a record crowd, over runner up Dale Earnhardt. Every car that started this race was running at the finish. Most of the fans remained in the stands long after the race was over holding on to memories of the track.
The track was closed after the fall race of 1996 and North Wilkesboro's spring date was moved 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. Some long time fans still arrive at the track on the weekends when there used to be races to hang out together with old friends and renew acquaintances.
Past Cup winners
Multiple Winners (drivers)
Multiple winners (owners)
Junior Johnson's purchase attempt
In early 2003, Junior Johnson and a group of investors were considering purchasing the speedway. Johnson felt the track would be great for the minor-leagues racing series of NASCAR at all levels, a driving school and possibly as a testing track for the Cup series. However, in 2004, due to dispute between the two owners and coupled with the numerous necessary repairs and economical obstacles Johnson deemed any track purchase to be very unlikely.
In October 2003, local realtor, Robert Glen started a petition to get racing back at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Glen felt the speedway's absence was hurting the local economy. "People are losing their jobs and they're losing their homes. You mention the speedway and you see a glimmer of hope in their eyes. That racetrack is a crown jewel of Wilkes County..... this as a catalyst for bringing in new business and jobs to Wilkes". The Petition asked county commissioners to condemn the track and through power of eminent domain sell the speedway to an investor that will use the facility for auto races. There were 3,313 signatures on the petition. However, the county officials decided condemnation was not the best option.
Race for the Ride
During the fall of 2004 Roush Racing had its "Race for the Ride" testing session for his Roush Racing: Driver X television show. 26 drivers, including; Justin Allgaier, Erik Darnell, Matt McCall, Danny O'Quinn and David Ragan, competed for a chance to earn a ride in the 2005 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The Roush Racing team felt that North Wilkesboro Speedway would be a great place for testing young talent because it is a "driver's track" and because none of the drivers have ever raced there, this would give everyone an equal shot.
Save The Speedway
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. Smith 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.
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. As of 2007, the group had not yet found investors to purchase the track.
Speedway for public sale
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. On September 28, 2007 Worth Mitchell, a land developer, announced plans to purchase the speedway. 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.
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.
Highway historical marker
A Highway Historical Marker was applied for by Save The Speedway and later approved at the May meeting of the NC Highway Historical Marker Advisory Committee. North Carolina Office of Archives and History dedicated the Placement of the marker on May 24, 2008 at 2:00 pm. 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.
Return of racing
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. 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. 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.
Labor Day Classic 200
At the Labor Day Classic 200 on September 4, 2010 Chase Elliott, son of Bill Elliott, won his second PASS victory of his career. This was the first race at the track since 1996. Chase led twice for a total of 69 laps in the 200-lap green flag event. Donnie and Bobby Allison returned to the track as Grand Marshalls for the event which also held races for Stadium Stock, Limited Late Models, and Allison Legacy.
Brushy Mountain 250
Jeff Agnew won the USAR Pro Cup race at the Brushy Mountain 250 event on October 3, 2010.
King's Ranson 300
The ASA Late Model Series ran the King's Ranson 300 on October 31, 2010. Jeff Choquette won the pole but, Kyle Beattie would start on the pole for the 150 lap Kings Ransom event after a full field inversion to start the race. Brian Ortiz would beat Beattie to the lead and led the first 11 laps until Brent Downey caught and passed him on lap 12. Choquette had flown through the field and eventually passed Downey for the lead on lap 20. Choquette would hold the lead until the half way break. Drivers came down pit road for a 10-minute break to make adjustments and get new tires for the second half of the race. The lineup for the second segment of the race had the top six cars inverted, putting Ortiz as the leader for the start of the second half. Ortiz would lead until lap 107 when Choquette had run back up through the field and took the lead. Choquette would lead the rest of the way to the victory as Sean Bass and Tanner Berryhill came in second and third. This was Choquette's third win in the last four Sunoco National Tour races. In the other races Becca Kasten was black flagged for jumping the final restart giving the win to Matt McCall in the 150 lap Late Model Stock race, Justin Sorrow held off Gary Davis in a thrilling photo-finish to win the 100 lap Limited Late Model race, and Wayne Harrington won the UCAR 40 lap race. The Short Track Shootout was held the day before with Cale Gale winning the Rolling Thunder Modifieds Series race, Alan Carter won the USST Super Trucks Series race and Tyler Hill won the Allison Legacy Series race.
The 2011 season-opener, the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) South presented by JE Pistons and Roush Yates Performance Products "The Race", was the country's richest short-track race ever. 77 drivers Showed up to try to make the 44-car field and try to win the $75,000 winner's purse. It was going to be the first-ever race held under the lights at the track, however severe storms forced postponement of the race and resulted in the race not ending under the lights.
Qualifying, heat races and a couple last chance events were used to set the 44 car field. Drivers from 21 states and 5 Canadian providence's had showed up to try to make the field. On Friday, Stephen Nasse won the fast time with a new track record of 18.700 seconds. The fastest 15 during qualifying locked themselves into the field. The top-10 drivers would then have to redraw for their starting positions in the race. Five 25-lap heat races that evening were run with the top-three drivers in each race transferring into the race. Saturday, two 40-lap last chance races were run with just the winners transferring into the race. 10 Provisionals were giving from the PASS series and Geoff Bodine and Sterling Marlin were added to the field as North Wilkesboro Speedway track provisionals.
Before "The Race" a 100-lap modified race was run. Jimmy Zacharias dominated the first half of event. Zacharias had a half-lap lead over the field by the first yellow flag on lap 16. Jason Myers moved up and challenged Zacharias hard for the lead before the competition caution flew at halfway. After the teams made adjustments during the break, Zacharias and Jason Myers led the field to the green, when Zacharias again took off with the lead. On lap 75, the yellow flag flew again and all the leaders pitted to make final adjustments and set up for a 25-lap dash to the finish. Randy Butner and Gary Putnam led the field on the restart with Zacharias in the back after his pit stop. Junior Miller would soon take over the lead as Zacharias' car appeared to be losing grip after running hard to charge back up to the front. After a yellow on lap 90, Zacharias and Jason Myers pitted for more adjustments. Miller took the restart and never looked back taking the 100-lap Modified victory.
The main race started with Johnny Clark and Jay Fogleman on the front row. Clark was able get out front and lead first lap of the race. Andy Loden, Augie Grill, Bubba Pollard, and Jody Lavender would all lead the first in the segment of the race. An eight-minute break was given for teams to worked on their cars and change four tires to prep them for the second segment. Pollard would retake the lead on the restart and continue to lead until just prior to the lap 200 end-of-segment break, when Chris Eggleston worked his way to the lead. At the break teams could once again put four brand-new tires on and make adjustments for the last segment. Pollard jumped out to the lead quickly to start the last segment. With 50 laps remaining Pollard and Eggleston ran hard nose to tail through lapped traffic. on lap 276, Pollard appeared to try to get under Clark off turn four and got sideways, allowing Eggleston to drive around on the high side and take the lead. Over the final laps of the caution-free segment, Eggleston was able to pull away from Pollard. At the end of 300 laps of racing, Eggleston took the checkered flag to win the historic event. Pollard had finished runner-up but was disqualified after post race technical inspection. Jeff Choquette was then given 2nd place, with T.J. Reaid, Ben Rowe and Andy Loden filling out the top 5. Other notable divers in the field were Ryan Blaney (6th), Ross Kenseth (7th), Cale Gale (12th), Erik Darnell (18th), Geoff Bodine (36th), Kenzie Ruston (37th), Gray Gaulding (39th), and Sterling Marlin (43rd). 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.
In popular culture
North Wilkesboro Speedway has been featured in several NASCAR-related video games including NASCAR Racing, NASCAR Racing 2, NASCAR Racing 3, NASCAR Racing 4, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season as an add-on track that can be downloaded and NASCAR Heat. It has also been featured in GeneRally. The Speedway was also featured in Top Gear (BBC) Series 16 - Episode 1.
- Most NASCAR Cup Wins in the track history: 15 - Richard Petty
- Most NASCAR Cup Poles in the track history: 9 - Darrell Waltrip
- Most NASCAR Cup Top 5's in the track history: 33 - Richard Petty
- Most NASCAR Cup Top 10's in the track history: 42 - Richard Petty
- 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.
- Fonty Flock Profile
- First Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway
- October 16, 1949 - Wilkes 200
- Winston-Salem Journal | Lighten Up: Smith says NASCAR has gotten carried away with polishing its marketing image[dead link]
- Jayski's Silly Season Site - MISC Track News/Rumors
- Culver, Tommy (September 28, 2007). "North Wilkesboro Speedway: New life on horizon?". GoBlueRidge.net. High County ADventures. Archived from the original on September 1, 2009. Retrieved September 28, 2007.
- Save North Wilkesboro Speedway!
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to North Wilkesboro Speedway.|
- North Wilkesboro Speedway race results at Racing-Reference
- North Wilkesboro Speedway information at jayski.com