ANDY CAGLE: Racing Returns to Historic North Wilkesboro
A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from a colleague that stopped me in my tracks with four words in the subject line.
North Wilkesboro Speedway Reopens.
It went on to read ... "With Coveted Date in USARacing Pro Cup Championship Series," but that really wasn't the important thing.
The track hosted racing from 1947 until Bruton Smith and Bob Bahre came to town in 1996 and bought the track to ship its dates off to Texas and New Hampshire.
For 14 years, the North Wilkesboro Speedway sat neglected and decaying, but not forgotten. In 2005, Rob Marsden founded a group called "Save the Speedway," which was dedicated to bringing racing back to the track.
The group first began a petition and caught the attention of the current owners. Smith and Bahre eventually agreed to sell the track for $12 million, but the track, which has been valued by county tax assessors at $4.83 million, was not sold until recently.
A group of investors dubbing themselves Speedway Associates, led by Benny Parsons' widow, Terri, bought the track and promptly announced the USARacing event.
Scheduled for Oct. 3, 2010, the race will be on the traditional fall weekend that for many years hosted NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series race from the beginning of NASCAR in 1949 until the track closed after its fall race in 1996.
"We are extremely pleased to be the first national touring racing series to return to the true roots of stock car racing," USARacing Managing Partner Larry Camp said. "We know the people of Wilkes County and the surrounding areas of North Carolina have missed stock car racing on this storied track.
"All of us at the USARacing Pro Cup Series are proud to be a part of this rebirth. Personally, I know the many stock car racing purists will mark Oct. 3, 2010, as a red letter day in the sport. I know Benny Parsons would be extremely proud of Terri for helping return stock car racing to the county that he and his family so dearly loved."
But the new owners weren't done there. The ASA Late Model Series announced that the track will also host the "King's Ransom 300" in 2010.
In a racing world dominated by corporate prerogatives and a NASCAR obsessed with bigger, sexier markets, this is a win for race fans. It's part of a trend that Andy Hillenburg started in 2007 when he purchased the erstwhile North Carolina Speedway that was also a victim of Bruton Smith's machinations vis-a-vis Texas Motor Speedway and his decades-old war with NASCAR and the France family.
Hillenburg took a gamble that people in North Carolina still cared about racing and would support racing at the historic 1-mile oval, rechristened the Rockingham Speedway. Additions and upgrades, including a combination quarter and a half-mile Little Rock Speedway and the reopening of the infield road course, have made the track viable, hosting test sessions for all NASCAR's top divisions and sessions and events for ARCA, USARacing, ASA Late Models, Frank Kimmel Street Stocks, the Allison Legacy Series and Legends racing (I'm sure I'm leaving something out).
It's good to see the folks in North Wilkesboro getting the same chance. I know when the next green flag drops at the old up and down track, I'll be there.
More like this story