COLUMN: Fusing future and past at North Wilkesboro Speedway

While the Winston Cup Series mural still remains, racing at North Wilkesboro Speedway does not.

Many buildings at North Wilkesboro Speedway are now overgrown, much like this one outside of the turn four grandstand.

At the end of Speedway Lane in North Wilkesboro is the old ticket office for the speedway, which held NASCAR races from 1949-1996.

When it comes to race tracks that paved the way for NASCAR’s success, many diehard NASCAR fans would put North Wilkesboro Speedway near the top. Unfortunately, NASCAR’s success also eventually served to be the speedway’s downfall, as it was abandoned in 1996 in favor of tracks with more modern amenities.

What can be done?

Since its brief revival from 2010-2011, the track has been left to decay away, with many buildings unable to be repaired. However, pulling up on Speedway Lane to the old media credentials office, you’re greeted with a giant mural painted alongside the concrete wall that screams home for NASCAR purists.

Let’s face it; the city will likely not put forward the money to grow its seating capacity to ever see a Cup Series event at the speedway ever again. But, my idea for the speedway seems crazy enough to work.

While living in Connecticut, I used to work at a local go-kart track with race leagues as well as arrive-and-drive format style racing. What made it unique was that anyone who was willing to fill out a waiver and had the desire to go out on the track had the opportunity.

My idea for the future of the speedway comes from that local track I used to work at. What I would do is take temporary walls and place them strategically through the infield, and pave a go-kart track. The perk for a person who goes on the track is that they’d also get to try their luck on the four-cornered oval. At the exit of turn two, racers would cut left onto the go-kart portion of the track before entering back onto the NASCAR circuit at the entrance of turn three. The benefit of making the walls temporary leaves options for local feature races to be held on Saturday nights, and if the stars align, the Whelen Modified Series might make a trip out to one of the pioneer speedways.

North Wilkesboro Speedway happens to be the host of the first race I ever watched on television. My mom would buy Hot Wheels for me when I was young, and never once did it cross her mind that I’d flip on the television one day in 1994 and see the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes car I was playing with on the screen, winning the race. Safe to say, I was hooked from that point on.

Those little bits of nostalgia are what made the speedway what it was, and if I were to front the restoration/renovation project, I’d like to keep it as is. Fresh coats of paint for the murals and signs, as well amenities would make it feel like you’re at the first ever NASCAR-sanctioned event held there back in 1949. The speedway would provide arrive-and-drive racing for the go-kart circuit throughout the week, and hopefully hold local heat races on Saturday nights. Considering the boost that “The Race” gave the city of North Wilkesboro in 2011, boosting the economy over $1 million in the month the race was held, finding a way to make the speedway an all-week nostalgia trip seems like it would make it a cash cow.

When I look at Friendship Motor Speedway, or I go down to Mooresville to the GoPro Motorplex, which offers an arrive-and-drive format, and see people lining up to watch or race, it tells me that my idea to essentially recycle the speedway might not be crazy after all.

As far as a price tag for a renovation to this extent, there’s no doubt that it would be a multi-million dollar project, including purchasing the track itself. However, considering the success of go-kart tracks in the Charlotte area, and the nostalgia factor, it seems worth the price to pay.

Ryan DeCosta is the sports reporter for the Elkin Tribune and Yadkin Ripple. He can be reached at, 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.

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