Residents of Wilkes County optimistic about latest efforts to reopen North Wilkesboro Speedway

North Carolina news

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. (WJZY) – Could the roar of racecars be returning to one of NASCAR’s original tracks in North Carolina? Those who live in Wilkes County are hopeful a new campaign will catch the attention of NASCAR and the motorsports industry.

Gov. Roy Cooper, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcus Smith from Speedway Motorsports have all expressed some sort of interest within the past few months about seeing North Wilkesboro Speedway reopen. A new campaign in Wilkes County says “We want you back!”

The phrase is the first thing you see downtown. The people of Wilkes County don’t hold back about wanting racing back at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

“I had a lot of good childhood memories there,” said Jonathan Byrd, who was born and raised in Wilkes County and now owns a business in downtown Wilkesboro.

Byrd has the phrase, “We want you back”, painted on his storefront. He is not alone, with dozens of signs posted all over town. There is even a billboard just a few hundred feet away from North Wilkesboro Speedway’s old grandstands.

“I just wanna see Wilkes County take back off again. We lost many major factories when Lowe’s left and went to Mooresville. We just need it back here,” said Byrd.

The last NASCAR event at the track was in 1996. Since then the track has fallen into disrepair with millions of dollars in upgrades now needed.

Cooper has been a sign of hope by offering $10 million to the speedway as part of the American Rescue Plan. That money still has to be approved by North Carolina lawmakers.

Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis is also offering up to $1 million as well as a Camping World store somewhere on the speedway grounds.

“I think we got a good chance at it, maybe,” said Byrd.

“Personally would I love to see racing come back there? Yeah! I was lucky enough to go to a lot of races at North Wilkesboro,” said NASCAR Historian Ken Martin.

This isn’t the first time since 1996 efforts have been made to reopen the speedway. The speedway still has infrastructure issues, which could prevent a return by any major motorsports.

“The bigger this sport got, the infrastructure just was not there for those tracks to handle the crowds,” said Martin.

NASCAR moved from the City of Wilkesboro, a population less than 4,000, to cities like Las Vegas with a population of more than 600,000.

“And it doesn’t mean those places aren’t forever in our heart and a very important part of our history,” said Martin about North Wilkesboro Speedway.

FOX 46 reached out to Marcus Lemonis to see if he has had any discussions with Speedway Motorsports or Marcus Smith. Speedway Motorsports currently owns the North Wilkesboro Speedway property.

Lemonis asked we reach out to Speedway Motorsports. Officials said at this time they don’t have anything new to add, other than a statement in response to Cooper’s announcement last month:

“We’re very pleased to see Governor Cooper’s support of motorsports and statewide tourism in his new budget,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith. “Motorsports is a significant part of not only North Carolina’s past but also its future to create jobs and grow tourism.  The proposed allocations from the American Rescue Plan can have a significant impact on renovating parts of Charlotte Motor Speedway as well as starting restoration efforts at North Wilkesboro.  Our team at Speedway Motorsports will get to work on the best ways these funds could be utilized and we’ll watch closely as the proposals continue through the legislative session.” 

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