It was 70 Years Ago Today North Wilkesboro Speedway Opened

18 May 2017
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It was 70 Years Ago Today North Wilkesboro Speedway Opened Steven B. Wilson

Most fans and people alive today don’t know the names but Enoch Staley, Jack Combs and Lawson Curry took to a field in Wilkes County, North Carolina after seeing races being promoted in the 1940s south.

With just $1,500 to spend a half-mile dirt bull ring was born, but not just any bull ring it was, it was the grandest of them all back in the day, one that tested drivers with an uphill, downhill configuration that was born out of the exhaustion of money to continue building.

On May 18, 1947 Staley and partners swung open the doors for the first time to a standing-room crowd of 10,000 people showed up that day to see what would become one of the famous Flock brothers, Fonty Flock take home the checkered flag in the very first race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

The race that day was promoted by none other than Bill France Sr. who would go on to found NASCAR in the coming years.

Within two years of the opening NASCAR would come to town on October 16, 1949 for the eighth and final event in the inaugural NASCAR Wilkes 200. With Kenneth Wagner starting on the pole in a 49’ Lincoln was eventually outgunned along with the rest of the field by another flock Bob Flock driving a '49 Oldsmobile.

This day would also become significant in NASCAR history with Robert "Red" Byron finishing in the 15th spot while taking home the first official championship under the newly formed NASCAR banner.

Ten years after the original construction of the track, track founder Enoch Staley would again undertake a significant reconstruction of the track. This time taking the track from the half-mile dirt track to a five-eighth mile paved track yet keeping the uphill, downhill configuration.

Over the years North Wilkesboro would play host to many significant events in NASCAR history some of those coming from local heroes such as Robert “Junior” Johnson winning four events out of his 50 as a driver and dozens more as an owner with drivers such as Darrell Waltrip behind the wheel.

Benny Parsons the 1973 NASCAR premier champion would also make his way to the famous victory lane however under the strangest of events led him there.

In the 1979 running of the Holly Farms 400, the first for the sponsor who would do so until it’s final NASCAR events heavy rains and worms seeping onto the track surface forced a postponement of the event from its original date of September 30th. On October 14th Parsons would lead the final 92 laps en route to his one and only victory in front of his hometown crowd.

Throughout the 80s and 90s the track would see many great battles and records recorded. Some of those to this day have not and will never be broken. Adding to that controversy struck North Wilkesboro on multiple occasions.

In 1989 in the midst of the tire wars, Goodyear bought the first radial tire into NASCAR allowing Dale Earnhardt Sr. to win the race while pole sitter Rusty Wallace racing on Hoosier tires finished in ninth in the event. Later that year controversy would strike when Rudd and Dale Earnhardt would tangle and wreck with Earnhardt chasing down a championship last in the season.

Earnhardt later would go on to say "What do ya think? They oughta fine that son of a bitch and make him sit out the rest of the year, I dunno."

Wallace would win the championship that year by just 12 points over Earnhardt, some to this day blame the incident at North Wilkesboro as the cause.

Just the next year controversy again poked it head when before the advent of electronic scoring with Darrell Waltrip in the lead and a caution coming for Kenny Wallace late in the race, the pace car would pick up Brett Bodine as the race leader. It would take over a dozen laps for officials to try and sort the issue out but by the time they had Bodine had pitted, waved the field and Bodine would go on for his one and only win denying Waltrip victory that day.

In a twist of fate, Bodine would go on to become the pace car driver in the NASCAR Cup Series which he continues to do to this day.

In the 1994 First Union 400 with a runaway victory Geoff Bodine would lap the entire field on his way to victory lane that day, a feat that stands today and with the new free pass rules will never happen again.

Tragedy struck the track the next year when founder Enoch Staley passed away on May 22, 1995 a month later Speedway Motorsports would buy fifty-percent ownership into the track from the Comb family and look to strike a deal with the Staley’s for the other half.

In January of 1996 the remaining share in the track was announced to be sold to Bob Bahre at New Hampshire and within weeks the dates were moved to Texas and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

On September 29, 1996 at the Tyson Holly Farms 400 with a crowd in excess of 60,000 witnessed up and comer Jeff Gordon lead 207 laps and be lifted into NASCAR history on the famous victory lane building as the final* NASCAR Cup Series winner.

In the preceding years the gates have remained closed, locked and shuttered.

Several attempts to revive the track have failed. One of which found a Georgia businessman in jail for scamming others out of money, a second attempt was met with somewhat success however money issues plagued the group forcing racing series to nearly take over control of the final events.

Whatever the future holds for North Wilkesboro Speedway, one thing is for sure social media, websites and fans you ask all say the same in wanting it to return in some shape or form.

You can learn more about North Wilkesboro Speedway history and check out many of the photos of its history on Save The Speedway Facebook page.

*EDITORS NOTE: Chris Eggelston current NASCAR K&N West Series driver and former PASS series driver for SS Green Light Racing is officially listed as the last winner at North Wilkesboro Speedway winning the $75,000 to win PASS The Race on April 10, 2011.

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Steven B. Wilson

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