NASCAR returns to North Wilkesboro with All-Star 23

RALLY, NC (AP) – NASCAR is returning to one of its original locations it left over a quarter century ago – North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Governor Roy Cooper and Dale Earnhardt Jr. of North Carolina joined the chassis and track owner Thursday to announce that the track will host NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Racing Next year – NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season.

Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, “will be something that people from all over the country will want to come and enjoy – NASCAR All-Star Week at North Wilkesboro Speedway – to enjoy the culture, celebrations, and history,” owns the track, said at a press conference outside the North Museum Carolina History in Raleigh. “We are excited to revive it.”

The 0.625-mile (1 kilometer) long Asphalt Oval, located 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Charlotte, hosted the year-ending race in 1949 for what became known as the Cup Series. It became an annual stop on schedule, hosting two races a year beginning in 1951, and was a throwback to the days when area sunset runners—NASCAR legend Jr. Johnson among them—drive fast cars to escape the authorities.

North Wilkesboro hosted more than 90 Cup races before closing in 1996, as a result of NASCAR’s explosive growth during that time and arguments that it wasn’t big or fancy enough as the sport entered new markets. Track racing went to New Hampshire and Texas.

The oval went into disrepair, and the non-NASCAR races on the legendary track faded in early 2010. But former drivers like Earnhardt Jr. , local boosters, and state officials won’t give up on the venue, which has a direct connection to NASCAR’s birth.

But recent efforts to renovate the highway have taken off, buoyed by $18 million in US federal bailout money that the North Carolina legislature appropriated last year for infrastructure improvements.

The legislature has approved in principle another $4 million next year for additional improvements to host the race on May 21 and for future events over the next several years, said Greg Walter, general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, Speedway Motorsports. place.

The All-Star Race originally started in 1985 as The Winston and was usually held in May, a week before the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s been held the last two years at Texas Motor Speedway, and was recently won by Ryan Blaney.

While North Wilkesboro’s decision has been months in the making, Steve O’Donnell, Smith and NASCAR’s chief operating officer, said the concept has only been confirmed in recent weeks. That’s when the standing crowds attended the Racetrack Revival series at the reopened track, led by Speedway Motorsports, Earnhardt Jr., and the widow of the late Penny Parsons. Ryan Newman won the first race, while Earnhardt Jr. was third in last week’s race.

“I felt something on the racetrack that I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was the real fun and the love you had just to be there, whether you were a competitor or a fan,” said Earnhardt, TV analyst and NASCAR team owner. Our history. And I’m really excited to see what can happen next.”

O’Donnell later said it was too soon to tell if a successful All-Star race could lead to annual race dates on the track, but “we wouldn’t go back to North Wilkesboro if we didn’t think it would be successful and a place we want to look forward to for over a year.”

O’Donnell has acknowledged running more races outside of NASCAR’s strongholds in recent years to grow the sport weighing options. The 2023 season will also see a new NASCAR street race in Chicago.

“As we’ve looked at developing the timeline in the future, it’s certainly a nod to the new markets we want to be in, but also to balance that with markets where people have been forever supporting us,” O’Donnell said. “You look at our 75th anniversary and the timeline we’re putting together and it’s a perfect balance.”

Richard Petty won record races at 15 NASCAR races in North Wilkesboro, which is known for its downhill slopes on the front slopes and uphill backstage. Daryl Waltrip won 10 races, followed by Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Cal Yarborough with 5 races each.

Wearing a North Wilkesboro Speedway jacket, Cooper was Winston’s Grand Marshal in 2000, when the younger Earnhardt beat his father and Dale Garrett to the finish. The governor said the path, which he visited in May, is “almost like a cathedral.”

“This is a great day for North Carolina. Whether you care about racing or not. It means economic recovery and more money in the pockets of everyday North Carolina residents. We are the birthplace of NASCAR.”

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Gina Fryer, motorsports writer for The Associated Press contributed.

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