NASCAR fans across the country rejoiced earlier this week when it was announced the Cup Series would be returning to the infamous North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Just a few months ago this track sat in ruins. Grass grew through the cracks, old garage stalls were nearly caving in and the property was covered in dust and weeds. That would change when Racetrack Revival was setup and announced that cars would once again grace the pavement. As a lifelong NASCAR,, racing fan and general adventurer I had to go see for myself.
The old Winston Cup Series logos still stand on the walls around the track and old signs throughout the facility take you back to another time some 25 years ago when NASCAR held its last event at the speedway.
The first event I made it up to was the modified racing. Bobby Labonte, Jimmy Blewett and others held the first major event there since the track was permanently closed last in 2014. The stands were packed for this event as fans flocked to help get the speedway back up and running.
This first event and the Super Late Model event that followed a week and a half later would only be the stage setters for what was to come next: Dale Jr.
When Jr announced he would be coming to run a late model event for the CARS Tour I knew I had to go. This would be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event with a packed house at a classic speedway. I packed my bag and made the trip to the track that Wednesday, stopping into a few NASCAR team shops on the way north of Charlotte.
I got the track as early as I could, around 3:15, in an attempt to avoid the traffic. I was successful and managed to get a pit pass to get up close to the action. Dale Jr was driving the famous #3, this time with a Sundrop sponsorship throwing back to his own early career driving this car at short tracks around the NC/SC/VA area.
Once the car was driven to the starting area it quickly became surrounded by fans. I made sure to swoop in early for some photographs, but even I couldn’t get a clean shot of the car without fans in it.
Other cars, like those of eventual winner Carson Kvapil, saw less traffic around them.
Soon Jr himself would arrive, surrounded by a horde of fans and media. I was fortunate enough to sneak in for a quick photo and to get my 1998 crew shirt from his 1st Busch Series Championship signed.
After that I headed to meet some friends in the absolutely packed stands and I wouldn’t leave (or even be able to easily leave) those seats for a couple of hours. 20,000+ people packed around this tiny racetrack to watch Dale Jr make his first late model start in 20 years, but more importantly to see this track really come back to life. Every time Jr made a pass the place went wild, and I had to join in on the excitement myself.
I was only 5 years old the last time they packed the house in 1996, and I certainly never thought I would see the day when that happened again or much less be fortunate enough to be there for it. Seeing this track fill up brought great joy to my heart. While I am still an avid NASCAR fan, it just isn’t quite what it was back when I was growing up. I certainly still enjoy it, but being able to step back in time to more what it used to be was incredible.
I hope to make it back next May when the Cup Series makes its return, but for now it is certainly safe to say that Racetrack Revival accomplished exactly what it set out to do. North Wilkesboro Speedway is certainly revived.
I’ll see you on the road (or the track)…..