I was watching the “Abandoned” documentary about North Wilkesboro. And I highly recommend it. It is really sad that NASCAR left the track, which was the first sanctioned speedway in NASCAR history, in such disarray.
If NASCAR is going to remove races, at least they would make some sort of attempt to keep the track area in good shape so that there would be some form of racing there. But, that would sadly make too much sense to the NASCAR brass of today. The fact that this track is sitting broken and damaged is really sad. This track and North Carolina Speedway, even though they are not near any major highways, nevertheless produced great racing in the past.
To be honest, I don’t remember North Wilkesboro too well, outside of the ESPN Classic highlights of the 1989 race when Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd battled for the win, and Jeff Gordon winning the final race at the famed track in October 1996.
However, I do remember a few races from the early 2000s era at North Carolina Speedway, when I started watching NASCAR. These races include:
2001: Steve Park holding off Bobby Labonte to win for DEI, one week after the tragic loss of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Daytona.
Later that fall, when Kenny Wallace won a Busch race after Jeff Green ran out of fuel, handing the Busch Series championship to Dale Sr.’s successor, Kevin Harvick, and finished one spot short of a weekend sweep and DEI sweep.
2002: Johnny Benson holding off Mark Martin to pick up his only career victory.
2003: Dale Jarrett holding off Kurt Busch in the closing laps to win the February race, and in November, when Bill Elliott picked up his final career win, underdog Tony Raines in the unsponsored BACE entry finished 6th, and Matt Kenseth winning the final Winston Cup championship.
And last but not least, early 2004: When Matt Kenseth held off rookie Kasey Kahne to win the final race at Rockingham.
And, not to forget, Rockingham was also host to the end of the season 76 Pit Crew Challenge, and hosted a couple CWTS races as well.
If the almighty dollar did not rule over NASCAR, then wouldn’t it make sense to fix up North Wilkesboro to the point where racing can return to the track? I could definitely see the K&N Series and the Truck Series, then eventually the Xfinity and Cup Series returning.
For those of you that were fans of the sport, what are your favorite memories of North Carolina and North Wilkesboro Speedway?