North Wilkesboro Speedway prepares for NASCAR future while honoring its past

North Wilkesboro Speedway prepares for NASCAR future while honoring its past

North Wilkesboro Speedway might look different when NASCAR returns to the famed facility in May for the All-Star Race, but its historical feel will not be erased.

Renovations are well underway to make North Wilkesboro a modern facility capable of hosting NASCAR national series events. Among the most significant updates laid out Tuesday during an update by Speedway Motorsports SVP of operations and development Steve Swift is a new wall, putting in a SAFER barrier and a new catch fence.

Lighting is also on the list of updates, with LED lights set to be installed. Swift said they would come with the functions for the staff to do different things with them under green and yellow flag conditions.

“We love challenges,” said Swift. “We strive on challenges just like the drivers strive on the challenge to make the playoffs and the championship. Our construction teams and our company strive on the challenges of making things happen for the first time or bringing back great, historical properties like this.

“We’re excited. We’re really looking forward to producing this. The biggest thing is to not disappoint and make sure we hang on to the history and nostalgia and not create too much new stuff that when fans show up in May, they actually feel they are stepping back in time for a great event.”

Other updates include:

• To the infield infrastructure for better drainage

• Paving the infield

• Wi-Fi and other necessary accommodations for media and the sanctioning body

• Updating the scoring pylon with LED lights (but it will keep its original look)

• The scoreboard in Turn 3 will return to its original form that will be manually changed every 10 laps

There is also plenty that is not changing. Although upgrades are necessary, Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith and others have been adamant the track needs to keep its old feel.

“Always, Marcus or Bruton, are intimately involved in construction,” said Swift. “The word Bruton used to use is that he’s a frustrated builder, so it’s always fun for me and great job security. But Marcus has really taken this one under his wing. This is really a special project for him to bring it back to the county, back to NASCAR.

“To bring something historical like this back is always special anyway, but it holds a special place in his heart just from being up here and meeting with different people and as much help as the state’s been to bring this back, and how important it is. It’s definitely been different than in the past (projects). It holds a special sport in Marcus’s heart, for sure.”

North Carolina was granted $5.7 billion from the American Rescue Plan. Governor Roy Cooper awarded money to different racetracks in the state (Wilkesboro, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Rockingham Speedway) for revitalization efforts. It’s believed that Smith has also put in money of his own.

Among the features at North Wilkesboro remaining untouched:

• The racing surface will not be paved before May

• Victory lane will remain unchanged, including using the car lift

• The metal grandstand seats will be the same

• The old signage around the racetrack from the 1990s will remain unchanged

North Wilkesboro is already sold out for the May events, capped at 24,000 seats. A temporary grandstand for 5,000 will be brought in near Turn 3 on the backstretch.

NASCAR is bringing the Craftsman Truck Series to North Wilkesboro and the All-Star Race will run on May 21. There will be a concert, as well, on May 20.

Jeff Gordon won the last NASCAR race run at North Wilkesboro in Sept. 1996.