10 October 2020 at 22:22:24 MDT
it's in the nature of time that old things, old ways, basically old anything must give in and make way for the new.
this is especially the case drag strips, oval tracks, and roadcourse/racing circuits.
among one of the most famous of abandoned racetracks and one that is still in every race fan's hearts and thoughts and never forgotten even to this day has been getting a lot of attention lately and a group was even formed with an effort to save it, which one?, no it's not Brooklands in Surrey England, I'm actually talking about North Wilkesboro Speedway.
North Wilkesboro Speedway is by far one of most famous racetracks in America and in Nascar.
from it's first nascar race at opening in 1947, to it's final official race in the association in 1996, North Wilkesboro is a racetrack that usually comes to mind if you ask a Nascar fan, "if you were to revive a Nascar track, which one would it be?", North Wilkesboro Speedway is perhaps one of most talked about racetracks among the racing fan community, as well as the racing community.
so those who probably familiar with that track (though highly likely that they are) what is North Wilkesboro Speedway?, why is it so famous?, well to answer those questions?, we have to go all the way back to the beginning.
our story begins in the years before Nascar was even founded (founded 1948), Wilkes County, North Carolina and the neighboring counties around her were moonshine havens, in fact one writer who wrote a wikipedia article about the track stated that it was the moonshine capitol of America.
the state's local economy was dependent on booze after the great depression swept away all profitability out of farming and the region's undulating topography offered places that were perfect for hiding liquor stills during the prohibition era.
it's location in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains also proved convenient for distillers and distributors of moonshine.
one North Wilkesboro local who was also a stock car driver, Benny Parsons, recalled the era, "trust me, there was nothing to do in the mountains of North Carolina back in the 30's, 40's, and 50's, you either worked a distillery at a hosiery mill, a furniture factory, or you made whisky".
in 1945, a man named Enoch Stanley attended a stock car race in South Carolina sponsored by Bill France (who would later go on to create Nascar).
Enoch was inspired by the races and was impressed by the large crowds attending what was back then a new sport, so afterwards he decided to build his own racetrack in his native Wilkes county back in North Carolina, and he asked Bill France to promote the races and assist with their operation.
Enoch along with his partners, Lawson Curry, and Jack Combs, purchased some farmland near North Wilkesboro and broke ground on construction in 1945.
however when construction was underway, they only had budget of $1,500 to begin with which got quickly exhausted.
now with very little money, they were forced to change the design of the track, instead of a perfect oval, they wound up building a track that had two straightaways that had different elevations, the front stretch had an downhill slope, and the back stretch had an uphill slope, regardless of this flaw, they managed to complete the racetrack in 1946.
a year later on May 18, 1947, North Wilkesboro Speedway is opened, the track on it's grand opening day originally started out as a dirt track, Bill France promoted the speedway's first official race, a modified race event that included heat races as well as a feature race (if you don't know what a modified race is, look up Nascar Modified Series).
the attendance at North Wilkesboro's inaugural race was pretty good for it's time, 3,000 people were expected to show up, but instead 10,000 people showed up for the event, in the end the grand opening was a success and it's inaugural race was won by one of the famous Flock brothers (one of Nascar's earliest drivers).
two years later on October 16, 1949, North Wilkesboro Speedway held the eigth and final race of the Nascar Strictly Stock Division, Kenneth Wagner won the first cup pole at the track with a speed of 57.563 miles per hour.
a total of 22 drivers competed in the race, Bob Flock in his Bob Christian owned 1949 Oldsmobile, passed Bill Blair's Cadillac which was fading in the race with twenty laps to go, and he won the race by about 100 yards over Lee Petty.
at the end of the day though, another driver, Robert "red" Byron, would walk away as Nascar's first champion.
through the years from 1949 to 1996, North Wilkesboro has been one of Nascar's major tracks featured in their season race schedule.
the was accepted shortly after the formation of the National Association for Stock-car Auto Racing (NASCAR) in 1948, and the speedway and it's annual stock race event would become part of their annual scheduled seasons.
as the years went by, the sport of Nascar grew in popularity, and that popularity skyrocketed with the completion and grand opening of the Daytona International Speedway in 1959 and it's inaugural Daytona 500 race.
this speedway even today, can seat up to nearly 170,000 spectators and today the speedway generates over $10,000,000 dollars a year.
North Wilkesboro Speedway while not quite as modern as Daytona and only having a seating capacity of up 60,000 and was a little behind the Nascar standards, the fans didn't really care much at all, the speedway had a charm to the locals and the Speedway continued to prosper in popularity especially as Nascar grew, after all, the track is built in a small town who's population majority is pretty much racing fans who grew up attending local races including ones at North Wilkesboro, some of Nascar's famous drivers such Junior Johnson came from North Wilkesboro or were even from around the area and even won a race at the speedway during their careers, also because of North Wilkesboro Speedway's small size, the track made for some exciting close quarter fender to fender racing, keeping the spectators entertained and on the edge of their seats excited and top speeds on average would only reach almost 150 miles per hour vs. Daytona's 200 mile per hour top speeds, the slower speeds at North Wilkesboro meant there would a lot more action which is what Nascar fans really liked and get turned on from.
not only did the track put on a great show, but some of the details of the track right down to the concession stands never cheaped out on what others did, small details like that are what set North Wilkesboro apart from other racetracks and the speedway had a bit of an emotional connection to the locals.
during the 1950's North Wilkesboro Speedway carried a reputation as being one of the fastest racetrack in the sport with cars reaching speeds between 72 to 85 miles per hour and that's probably because of the uphill and downhill slopes of the straightaways I mentioned earlier in this review.
during the 1960's and 70's Nascar began focusing on bigger and faster tracks such as Daytona I also mentioned a moment ago, this gave rise also to other large and faster speedways such as Charlotte, Atlanta, and Texas Motor Speedway which allowed stock cars to race at up to 180 miles per hour and much like Daytona, these racetracks have massive capacities nearing to 200,000.
while North Wilkesboro had been modernized a little in the 1970's, the speedway still didn't have the seating capacity of the more modern speedways, it was still 60,000 at most, but inspite of that, it still strong popularity among the locals for being able to host exciting bumper to bumper action packed racing.
however by the 1990's things started to take a downward turn for the North Wilkesboro Speedway, Enoch Staley, the speedway's owner, passed away on May 22nd, 1995.
less than a month later, Bruton Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., bought 50% ownership of the speedway from the Staley family and by 1996 the remaining 50% was sold to track developer and marketer Bob Bahre for $7,000,000.
the Staleys now no longer had control of the track and there was soon speculations of North Wilkesboro Speedway losing it's Cup Series race dates with Nascar.
the new owners hoped to add new races to the speedway, the odds were heavily stacked against them have been for some time.
by this point, the popularity of Nascar had grown soo big, the association required more to meet demand, tracks like Texas Motor Speedway which was built in the 90's and opened in 1996, can meet that demand with the seating capacity required to meet it.
Texas Motor Speedway can seat up to 180,000 people while North Wilkesboro Speedway can only seat up, as I mentioned before, 60,000 people.
and if the low seating capacity was enough of a setback, there was also the location of the speedway to consider, North Wilkesboro Speedway is in location that now by today's standards inconvenient for Nascar, being located approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes away from the nearest major city (or 80 miles if you want to measure the distance in miles), that along with it's now outdated facilities made it a poor choice for Nascar to continue racing there.
so on September 29th, 1996, Nascar hosted their final Cup Series race at North Wilkesboro, Jeff Gordon would be the last Nascar Cup Series winner at North Wilkesboro.
the speedway was now permanently closed and without a Nascar future, much less a future in motorsports as a whole, and all dates for next season's races were given to Texas Motor Speedway.
the two owners attempted to find new events and races to be held at the track but to no avail.
in 2003, North Wilkesboro Speedway was put up for sale for a pricey $12,000,000 inspite of the track being evaluated at only $5,000,000.
due to this rather absurd price, the track never sold, so it sat dormant for the next few years with few events.
but in 2009 racing eventually returned to North Wilkesboro, Goodyear offered to sponsor the speedway for another 3 years, giving the track a highly catchy new name "The Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway Presented By Goodyear".
for the entire 3 year period, the speedway held 300 lap races and all of them were considered to be successful, but behind the scenes, things were much were grim for the speedway.
in May 2011, Speedway associates ended their partnership with Goodyear and closed the North Wilkesboro Speedway for good.
now today, the track sits vacant with absolutely no future at all and very poor condition and after 9 years of abandonment so far, the North Wilkesboro Speedway is slowly rotting away.
the paint is slowly peeling away, it's steel rusting away also, the seating now structurally unsafe, and it's buildings slowly caving in on themselves from years of decay, and the pavement of the track itself (at least up until Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a team game developers from Iracing cleaned it up for laser scanning for their game) was slowly being overgrown with grass and weeds.
the overall condition of the track itself has reached a point where if the track were to be used again, it's original facilities can never be used again and would have to be demolished and rebuilt.
what will happen to this great speedway?, well...nothing really, there are no plans to revive it or even demolish it, so if anything, it's only fate is that it will just sit there and slowly rot away out of existence over the remainder of the 21st century unless someone with a lot of money steps in to save the track and use it once again for racing or turn it into museum, but that's highly unlikely.
as for the town of North Wilkesboro?, they're currently in economic rut right now, the permanent closure of the speedway had a devastating on the town, the amount of revenue generating from the North Wilkesboro Speedway benefited the town's local economy, it was pretty much their only major source of revenue for the town and now that's gone, even the mayor of the town explained it well that without the revenue from the speedway, their town will remain in the tank unless something miraculous happens to where the town would boom and prosper economically again.
oh by the way, a couple of things I want to mention, inspite of the speedway's impending fate, even if it completely disappears overtime and will only live the Iracing simulator game, the track will live in a Disney/Pixar movie, "Cars 3", as much as I hated this movie and saw it as alet down, there is one scene in the movie I did like, it's the scene where Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez visit an old abandoned racetrack called the Thomasville Speedway and it's supposed to be tribute to the North Wilkesboro Speedway, even the deserted/neglected buildings and the shape of the racetrack are modeled after North Wilkesboro, in fact, it was a huge inspiration for the movie.
and the other thing I wanted to mention?, Top Gear at one time visited the track during their east coast road trip back when it was still open to the public in 2010, and I highly recommend watching it if you haven't, I know I haven't yet and I soo want too.
now as of recent there have been new plans to re-open and revive the speedway with new facilities but that hasn't happened yet, will it ever happen?, that's hard to say and judging by the lack of up dates on the outcome of these plans?, it sound highly unlikely they will ever happen, so there's no telling what will happen in the future other than the fact well...it just sits there and rots away into obscurity, it's too sad to even mention, and I do hope I can visit this and maybe at least walk a lap around it before something terrible happens to it, that's an item on my bucket list.
and that is a short story about the North Wilkesboro Speedway, a kinda short lived yet legendary footnote in Nascar history.