North Wilkesboro Speedway Today

The following is an excerpt from
When The Engines No Longer Roar: A Case Study of
North Wilkesboro, NC and The North Wilkesboro Speedway.

A Thesis By: Andrew J. Baker
2005 , All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 3

The End of NASCAR at North Wilkesboro Speedway: 1996

3.6 The Speedway Today

During the fall of 2004, engines were finally heard echoing from the local speedway.  Unfortunately, for the town’s race fans the roaring engines were only part of Roush Racing’s “Race for the Ride” testing session in which twenty-six drivers compete for a chance to earn a ride in the 2005 Craftsman Truck Series.  The Roush Racing team felt that North Wilkesboro would be a great place for testing young talent because it is a “driver’s track,” further adding that none of the drivers would have an advantage because none of them have ever raced there (Mitchel, 2004, 1).

Roush Racing’s #50 Ford F-150 testing at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
(Mitchell, 2004)

With the exception of these few test dates, the track has remained silent.  Billboards around the track are fading and peeling away, much like the paint on the track’s walls and on the sign that greets visitors at the entrance.  Grass can be seen growing up through cracks in the racing surface.  Bushes can be seen growing through the Junior Johnson Grandstand bleachers.  A windstorm in 1997 tore the roof off the concession stands and restrooms outside the fourth turn.  At the north end of the grounds along Speedway Road lays a go-kart track that was once a favorite of young race fans.  The tiny go-kart track has suffered the same demise since racing stopped at the speedway, with rusty gates, grass growing through cracks, and paint peeling from walls. (Although it was back in operation in 2003, unsure of its current status).

The worn sign at the speedway’s entrance off Speedway Road.

Nevertheless, stock car race fans visit the track to take pictures and view the legendary track.

3.7 Economic Impact

One estimate suggests Wilkes County has suffered $34 million each year in lost revenues (Smith, 2001).  Many local businesses have closed down, while others continue to suffer from the economic loss.  Eric Williams, owner of Williams Hotel in North Wilkesboro responded in a January 4, 1996 Journal-Patriot article by saying, “…it’s a sad day for Wilkes County.”  Other business owners noted the severe economic impact of losing the two races.  Don Jarvis, a local restaurant and hotel owner, speculated that it would cost his business “at least $15,000 per year”.  Bob Ashley, president and owner of many convienence stores, noted “we get a lot of traffic here fifty-two weeks a year from people driving over just to see the track.” Bill Harrold, manager of Lowe’s Foods which is the closest supermarket to the speedway, estimated a ten percent increase in profits.  He noted that fans begin arriving on the Tuesday before the Sunday race, with the “bug push” coming in on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Wilkes Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Sandie Gambill felt that losing the track would create a domino effect on many businesses.  She adds that the number of inquiries to the chamber about Wilke’s services and attractions double during a race weekend. (Ju. Hubbard, 1996a)

Pressboxes and suites on NWS’ front sretch.
After ten years of being closed, the facility is still in decent condition.

During the following February of 1996, the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors sent a letter to the new speedway owners and NASCAR president Bill France, Jr.  The letter noted that the speedway “has been a tradition in Wilkes County and Northwestern North Carolina” and that “it is an important part of the county’s history and economy.”  The letter also stated “the removal of Winston Cup racing from this the birthplace of racing legends and the cradle of NASCAR represents a major loss for our community.”  The board also suggested that North Wilkesboro would be a prime location for a NASCAR museum depicting “the original Thunder Road.” (Williams, 1996c)

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