The revival of North Wilkesboro Speedway moved one step closer on Thursday night as Speedway Motorsports revealed its initial plans for the historic North Carolina short track.
Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith was the guest speaker at the Wilkes County Chamber of Commerce 75th Membership Celebration, where he shared conceptual renderings for what was once the oldest venue in NASCAR … and could be once again.
Using funding released by North Carolina’s portion of the Federal American Rescue Plan, and approved by the state legislature in November, $18 million has been earmarked to the short track for improvements designed to bring motorsports, concerts and other entertainment options to the foothills region.
"The future of North Wilkesboro Speedway is bright," Smith told a group of 250 people gathered for the event. "There is a great opportunity to revive this fantastic venue to be, not just a race track, but a place that can host lots of events, a place that people will come to from far away and enjoy the community, enjoy the region and enjoy special events."
Very specifically, Smith said he has already envisioned a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at North Wilkesboro, as title sponsor Marcus Lemonis has already pledged financial and business support to the region through the revival of the speedway.
Smith called it a real possibility.
"We specifically - and I’ll thank Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of Camping World for his voice of support - we specifically think it’s a real possibility to bring back NASCAR and the Camping World Truck Series to North Wilkesboro Speedway," Smith said. "Those races are nationally televised events, and it’s a national NASCAR touring series. We have a number of those (races) in our portfolio, and I would love to see one of those here."
The rendering showed what North Wilkesboro could become as both a revitalized motorsports venue and concert hall. The earmarked funds will also go to basic infrastructure improvements. Smith said the goal is for the speedway to retain a charm reflective of its historic status.
"Water, sewer, electricity, roads, connectivity – those are a lot of the building blocks that we need to get done," Smith said. "We want to keep the character of the property, celebrate the history, but, of course, make it safe, convenient and enjoyable for everyone who comes to visit.
"In the car world, I would call it a resto-mod. It’s going to look old, but it’s going to work new. When you think about nostalgic opportunities, this is one of those one-in-a-million opportunities.
"Our hope is to celebrate the history and look forward to the future. North Wilkesboro Speedway is an amazing, historic place for NASCAR. It’s almost like Fenway Park is to baseball. I think, with this money from the state and the American Rescue Plan, we can make some dreams a reality at North Wilkesboro Speedway."
An additional $13 million would be allocated to the City of Concord for similar improvements to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Rockingham Speedway is currently designated to receive $9 million. The state budget has also allotted $1 million to state short track and grassroots facilities through the Department of Commerce.
The motorsports industry contributes over $5 billion to the North Carolina economy each year.
"I’m very excited to hear the ideas that are coming from Speedway Motorsports," said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, whose district includes Wilkes County. "This track is a symbol of our community. He (Smith) used the word ‘hope.’ It’s very exciting to see the vision that he’s putting forth and how it’s tying to the past and looking to the future."
North Wilkesboro hasn't hosted a NASCAR event since 1996. A series of revival events featuring Late Models and Modifieds took place in 2010 and 2011. It has sat dormant ever since, but enthusiasm for the facility has never waned over the following decades.
"Bringing back races, bringing back special events, bringing back tourism, creating a very special place where the community can gather, it’s exciting," Smith said. "When you think about nostalgic opportunities, this is one of those one-in-a-million opportunities.
"I think there’s a bright future ahead for North Wilkesboro Speedway. It wouldn’t happen without the amazing community support that’s in this room as well as the people who have been out at the speedway to help us bring the speedway back. Anybody might have said this place is too far gone, but this community rallied and brought it to a place where we can rebuild it and it can be a fantastic jewel."