North Wilkesboro Speedway

North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway
Location Wilkesboro Township, Wilkes County, near North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
Capacity 40,000
Owner Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
Broke ground 1945
Opened May 18, 1947
Closed May 9, 2011
Major events

Wilkes 200 (1949–1953 and 1961)
Wilkes 160 (1953–1959)
Wilkes 320 (1960 and 1962)
Wilkes 400 (1963–1976)
Gwyn Staley 160 (1959–1960)
First Union 400 (1961–1996)
Tyson Holly Farms 400 (1979–1996)
King's Ranson 300 (2010)
PASS Labor Day Classic 200 (2010)

USARacing Pro Cup 250 (2010)
Length 0.625 mi (1.006 km)
Banking Turns: 14 degrees
Straights: minimal banking
Lap record 0:18.905 (Terry Labonte, Hendrick Motorsports, 1994, Sprint Cup Series)
Alan Kulwicki's trophy for winning the pole position in 1992

North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996. NWS was reopened in 2010 and briefly played host to several Stock Car series such as the now defunct ASA Late Model Series, USARacing Pro Cup Series (formerly Hooters Pro Cup) and PASS Super Late Models before closing again in the spring of 2011.

The track is located on U.S. Route 421 about four miles (6 km) east of the town of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. It measures five-eighths of a mile (0.625 miles (1.006 km)). A unique feature was the uphill backstretch and the downhill frontstretch.

Citing North Wilkesboro Speedway's age and lack of modern amenities, former New Hampshire Motor Speedway owner Bob Bahre and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO Bruton Smith, who already owned several NASCAR circuits, purchased the track in 1996. North Wilkesboro's spring date was given to Smith's new Texas Motor Speedway, while the fall date was taken over by Bahre's New Hampshire track and moved to early September as part of a schedule realignment.

Since the sale to Bahre and Smith, there have been attempts and gestures to buy the track and re-open it by, among others, local native Junior Johnson. The last Sprint Cup race was held there in September 1996, with Jeff Gordon winning.

On November 8, 2007, Bahre sold his share of North Wilkesboro Speedway to Smith as part of Smith's deal to buy Bahre's New Hampshire Motor Speedway. On October 31, 2009, announced that the USAR ProCup Series would host an event at North Wilkesboro Speedway on October 3, 2010. Also in 2010, the track will also host the ASA Late Model Series for the King's Ranson 300 and the PASS Late Models.

On January 7, 2010, the track announced that there would be a PASS Super Late Models race on April 7–9, 2011 which would be a 300 lap race for $153,000 in winnings. They also announced that the Buck Baker Driving School would be the official driving school of NWS. The track also announced sponsorship from Goodyear.

On May 9th 2011, a press release from Speedway Associates Inc. announced that the track would be silent once again as they would be ending their 3 year lease prematurely.



North Wilkesboro Speedway opened its doors on May 18, 1947, to a crowd in excess of 10,000 people who showed up to see one of the famous Flock[1] brothers win the race.[2]

On October 16, 1949, North Wilkesboro Speedway held the eighth and final race of the 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock Division. At the end of the day Robert "Red" Byron walked away as the first NASCAR champion.[3]

The speedway held races for 50 years until September 29, 1996, when Jeff Gordon won the last race to be held at the speedway. The speedway reopened in 2010 with 3 races on the schedule. The most notable investor was Terri Parsons, widow of 1973 NASCAR champion Benny Parsons.

On Monday night May 9th 2011, a press release from Speedway Associates Inc. announced that "the business climate and a lack of working capital has now brought everything at the historic facility to a screeching halt" and as a result the track would be silent once again. [4]

Memorable moments

  • The Wilkes 400 in 1972 featured Bobby Allison against Richard Petty in a 39-lap slugfest. The lead changed thirteen times. In the final five laps, Petty was held up by a slower car. Both drivers plowed into the fences, guardrails, and each other. Both continued at full speed. Allison led with one lap to go, but Petty passed him for the win.
  • Bobby Allison came back for the win in the 1973 Wilkes 400 by passing Richard Petty on the final lap.
  • In the late 1970s, Cale Yarborough dominated the track. Yarborough blew a tire and made up three laps in the fall 1978 race to win easily.
  • In 1979, Bobby Allison led most of the race. In the final 150 laps, Darrell Waltrip caught Allison. The two hit together hard and Darrell nailed the front stretch wall. Waltrip began crowding off Allison under the caution and got black-flagged for the crowding. Wilkes County native Benny Parsons won the race; it would be Parsons' only win at the speedway.
  • In the fall 1988 race, Dale Earnhardt led nearly half the race until Ricky Rudd caught him. The drivers banged fenders for the final 41 laps. They were both black flagged to the rear of the field and pounded together again with five to go. Rusty Wallace passed Geoff Bodine with ten laps left. Bodine struck Wallace's car at the start of the final lap. Wallace pushed Bodine sideways, and Wallace crossed the finish line for the win.
  • In the 1989 Holly Farms 400 (October), Dale Earnhardt led 343 laps, but a caution set up a two-lap showdown with Ricky Rudd. Rudd went side-by-side with Earnhardt. The two spun, and Geoff Bodine passed the two for the win. After the race Earnhardt was asked about the incident between him and Rudd, to which Earnhardt said on live television "I think they ought to fine that (expletive deleted), and make him sit the rest of the season." Earnhardt finished 10th instead of first (collecting 144 points instead of 185), which ultimately cost Earnhardt the championship, which he lost to Wallace by 12 points. NASCAR did not have a penalty for obscene language at the time, something adopted in 2004.
  • Brett Bodine led most of the spring 1990 race. During a caution the pace car picked up the wrong leader, which gave Bodine a lap lead (NASCAR scoring used a clock and a scorer at a scoring stand who wrote down the point their car crossed the scoring line, with official lap sheets every ten laps and unofficial sheets compiled during other intervals; in the 1980s that was augmented by scorers pushing a button and a backup writing the number; on May 14, 1993, at the Save Mart Supermarkets 300, they were replaced by the current transponder-based AMB scoring system.) . Bodine put on a set of tires before the error was corrected. He held off Darrell Waltrip for his only career Winston Cup win.
  • In 1991 Harry Gant looked like he was going to win his fifth straight win in the Cup series until his brakes faded late in the race. Dale Earnhardt went on to win.
  • Many races at North Wilkesboro were exciting, but in the Fall of 1994 Geoff Bodine lapped the field on his way to the checkered flag. The only challenge Bodine received all day was when Rusty Wallace tried to get his lap back on a restart. Wallace pulled a nose out front but after a little bit of beating and banging, Bodine beat Wallace back to the caution after Dale Jarrett spun and hit the wall. Only three other drivers even finished within two laps of the leader that day. The race was the last race ever to finish with the leader lapping the field, and most likely the last, as the Beneficiary Rule allows the first lapped car to regain a lap, developed after a close call in 2003.
  • April 14, 1996 (Final Spring Race), Terry Labonte added to the luster of his racing longevity winning the First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway in which he tied Richard Petty's NASCAR Winston Cup Series record for consecutive starts—513. Labonte also set a track record with the closest finish in track history, beating Jeff Gordon by .239 seconds, as NASCAR only recognises finishes after May 14, 1993 because of electronic scoring.
  • September 29, 1996 (Final Winston Cup race) Jeff Gordon became the final Winston Cup winner at North Wilkesboro. A new record was set for most cars running at the finish. All 37 cars saw the checkered flag. Only five modern-day races—two at North Wilkesboro (36/36, 37/37), Loudon (43/43), Richmond (43/43), and Bristol (43/43) have seen all cars take the checkered flag.
  • May 15, 2010 the #2 Legendary Ford Flathead of Bill Blair (as a baby attended the first race in 1947 with his dad driving in the race) wins the first race since the reopening of the speedway, on this day also the first female ever to win at North Wilkesboro Speedway Susan Kimel driving the #67 Chevelle wins the Carolina Vintage Series race.

Since the closure

Car owner Jack Roush of Roush Fenway Racing held round one of "Roush's Race For The Ride" at North Wilkesboro Speedway, a competition to find the next Roush Racing development driver.

After Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith purchased the track and moved its two dates to other locations, the track saw little racing. Both owners showed little interest in selling the track until 2005.

In 2010, returned back at North Wilkesboro Speedway with the help from the Speedway Associates, Save the Speedway and more. In the same year, Top Gear (2002 TV series) USA Road Trip Special, the presenters visited the North Wilkesboro Speedway as part of their East Coast tour.

Save The Speedway

STS Motorsports, Inc., a group founded in 2005 by Rob Marsden, has been trying to bring racing back to the track. The group first began a petition and caught the attention of the current owners. Bruton and Bahre eventually agreed to sell the track for $12 million. The track, which has been valued by county tax assessors at $4.83 million, was not sold.[5]

The Save The Speedway group spent fall and winter of 2005 attempting to find a buyer or buyers of the track as well as proof that there was still interest in racing at the facility. Over a dozen touring series had expressed written letters of intent about holding events upon reopening, as well as three driving schools, and several NASCAR teams showed interest in using the facility for testing.

In 2006 the Save The Speedway group worked with a developer from New York in an attempt to get investors, but parted ways when neither party could come to an agreement.[6] As of 2007, the group had not yet found investors to purchase the track.

The group worked with the state of North Carolina and erected a NC Highway Historical Marker in 2008 off Highway 421 to recognize the achievements and contributions of the racing there.

In 2009 it was announced the Save The Speedway group would be partnering with Speedway Associates to work with them on the speedway during their lease. However after the April 2011 race at the speedway, Save The Speedway said they would step away from working with Speedway Associates and no longer help them with the speedway.

Speedway for public sale

In January 2007 during the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Media Tour, Bruton Smith announced that he and co-owner Bob Bahre had agreed to let a real estate company attempt to sell the track for the asking price of $12 million.[6] On September 28, 2007 Worth Mitchell, a land developer, announced plans to purchase the speedway.[7] However Worth Mitchell estimates his odds are 50–50 of pulling off the deal and since that time there has been no further information. Speedway Motorsports officials had no comment on the negotiations.[6]

Highway historical marker

Save The Speedway applied for a highway historical marker that was approved at the May meeting of the NC Highway Historical Marker Advisory Committee. Placement of the marker occurred May 24, 2008.[8] The plaque reads:


Pioneer NASCAR dirt track. Built 1946; paved in 1958. Hosted sanctioned events, 1949-96. 5/8 mile oval 3 mi (4.8 km). W.

In popular culture

North Wilkesboro Speedway has been featured in several NASCAR-related video games including NASCAR Racing, NASCAR Racing 2, NASCAR Racing 4, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season and NASCAR Heat. It has also been featured in GeneRally.[citation needed]

The speedway was featured during the USA Road Trip special of Top Gear's 15th Series where presenter Jeremy Clarkson happened to wear down the rear tires of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG that he was driving.


  • Richard Petty's fifteen wins were the most in the history of the track.
  • The last time a winning driver totally lapped the field on the way to the win was October 1994 at North Wilkesboro Speedway, NC when Geoffrey Bodine won, completing 400 laps while 2nd place was Terry Labonte who completed 399.
  • The youngest driver to ever start a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at age 17 was Bobby Hillin Jr. who made his start on April 18, 1982 at the Northwestern Bank 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. This is no longer possible as NASCAR, per request of the Master Settlement Agreement signed with the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1998, was forced to mandate a minimum age of 18.
  • Cale Yarborough is the first Cup driver to win a points-paying race on his birthday, on March 27, 1977 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Kyle Busch is the only other driver to win on his birthday.[9]


External links

Coordinates: 36°8′32″N 81°4′21″W / 36.14222°N 81.0725°W / 36.14222; -81.0725

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