After many months of rumors, it’s finally happening. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has assembled a cleanup crew and headed to North Wilkesboro Speedway to begin the difficult task of cleaning the debris from the track. After the cleanup is complete, iRacing will scan the .625 mile facility for a future release.
North Wilkesboro has continued to languish since its closing in 1996 despite several attempts to purchase the track and restore racing to the facility, most notably:
- A local realtor, Robert Glen, started a petition as a way to bring racing back to the track. Glen sought condemnation and rebuilding of the racing facility. County officials decided that was not the way to go despite more than 3000 signatures on the petition.b
- Junior Johnson and a group of investors considered a purchase in 2003. Johnson gave up on the idea due to numerous obstacles including disputes between the owners.
- Save the Speedway, aka STS Motorsports, Inc., is a group founded by Rob Marsden. STS has tried to bring racing back to North Wilkesboro. In 2005, the group started a petition and got the attention of owners Bruton Smith and Bob Bahre. County tax assessors valued the track at $4.83 million. Smith and Bahre agreed to sell for $12 million. Obviously there were no buyers willing to pay that ridiculous amount. STS worked for over two years to try to find investors to purchase the track. Greed won the day and no sale was ever made.
- In 2007, Bahre and Smith agreed to allow a real estate company to attempt to sell the track for the ridiculous amount of $12 million. Near the end of 2007, Bahre sold his share of the track to Bruton Smith as part of their New Hampshire Motor Speedway deal.
- Racing did return to North Wilkesboro Speedway in limited form in 2010 and 2011. The USAR ProCup Series hosted a race on October 3, 2010, then there was a PASS Super Late Model event on April 7-9, 2011. ASA also ran their King’s Ransom 300 at North Wilkesboro Speedway on October 31, 2010.
Mark Martin had this to say about the historical North Wilkesboro Speedway:
It was a shame because it was really the perfect racetrack. It was a combination of Martinsville and Richmond but better than both because you had room to race and could carry momentum off the corners. It was amazing racing, and it’s just a shame that we couldn’t have stayed there longer.
King Richard Petty holds the record for the most NASCAR wins at North Wilkesboro Speedway at 15.
It appears that real world racing will probably never return to the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway, but now, through the efforts of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and iRacing, a virtual version will be kept on the iRacing servers for all iRacers to enjoy.
Here’s a good video about the closing of North Wilkesboro Speedway, and the return of racing in 2010.