Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: Time to Add North Wilkesboro Back to NASCAR Schedule

Speedway Motorsports put it on the fans to show whether or not North Wilkesboro Speedway should have a future, and the fans delivered.

So far, there have been two nights of racing since North Wilkesboro’s Racetrack Revival started, and the crowds have been tremendous.

The track doesn’t currently have the 40,000 seats it once had, with the backstretch grandstands no longer existing. But still, it sold out on the first night and had a pretty full crowd for night two. And those were mid-week races where the touring modifieds were the headliners (granted, those modified races did include the likes of Ryan Newman [who won the first night], Bobby Labonte and Ryan Preece).

 

I could see ticket sales taking a slight dip the next few weeks when a few late model and pro late model series race there. But after that, the CARS Tour races at North Wilkesboro, and I guarantee a sell out for those races.

Why? Because some guy named Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be racing the No. 3 Sun Drop late model.

When the asphalt is ripped up and races are held on the original dirt this October, attendance will probably be high for those first races as well. Though I’m a little concerned for what it will like in the next few weeks of that.

See also
Sky Is Limit for North Wilkesboro After Newfound Hope

But still, imagine the ticket demand for a weekend of NASCAR races.

Yes, Rockingham Speedway had a great turnout when it was revived for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2012 before attendance fell off a cliff in the series’ return there. But Rockingham is not North Wilkesboro, especially when it comes to attendance. North Wilkesboro was never taken off of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule because of low attendance. The races there sold out right until the very end in 1996.

Rather, the North Carolina short track was removed because Speedway Motorsports wanted the NASCAR Cup Series at its new facility, Texas Motor Speedway, as well as a second date at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. New Hampshire has since lost that second date, and Texas deserves to lose one of its two dates as well.

Texas is the only intermediate track so far where the Next Gen car hasn’t vastly improved the racing. Yet the track maintains its two slots on the Cup schedule, with one of them being the All-Star Race. Despite largely negative reviews of the racing there in recent years, Speedway Motorsports seems adamant to keep boring everyone to death twice a year.

It’s time to complete the circle and undo the wrong that was done 25 years ago. Take a date from Texas and give it back to North Wilkesboro.

Whether it’s the All-Star Race or a points-paying date, it doesn’t matter. That track just deserves to have Cup cars going around it once again.

Fortunately, the track will be repaved after the dirt races in October conclude. Unfortunately, Speedway Motorsports President Marcus Smith made it seem like Cup races wouldn’t happen there again. In January, he made it sound like only a Truck race could happen there. Then he backed up on even that stance in March.

“I don’t see Cup racing happening in that market,” Smith told NBC Sports. “But I think if we have local, regional racing, if we have short track racers return to Wilkesboro, this will be hallowed ground for anybody who races short tracks in the entire country. That alone is a big deal.

“If, somehow, someway, we could have a larger national tour series, like you mentioned the Truck Series, it would be beyond the expectation, I think, of everybody involved.”

If that train of thought continues, the track will eventually die again. Because there are already plenty of tracks in the Carolinas and Virginia that are fighting other tracks over car counts.

And yes, North Wilkesboro is close to Charlotte Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. But North Carolina is the heart and soul of NASCAR. It should have more than just two dates in it. Meanwhile, Smith has no problem going to three tracks in Tennessee that are all pretty close to each other.

Plus why are we acting like markets and attendance matter anyways? TV ratings are king. And if you give fans some solid short-track racing at the Cup level instead of cookie-cutter intermediates or 100,000 road courses on the schedule then maybe more fans will tune in.

After all, fans keeps clamoring for #MoreShortTracks, and NASCAR, meanwhile, has added every track type to the schedule except that.

See also
4 Burning Questions: Is North Wilkesboro Returning?

OK, I guess that last statement isn’t entirely true. NASCAR did hit a homerun by adding a short track race via the Clash at the L.A. Coliseum in February. And NASCAR hasn’t added every track type. There is still no figure-eight track on the schedule, although the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course gets the same desired effect.

But the Coliseum race was the first short track event added to the schedule since Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway got a second date in 1973. But the Coliseum only replaces the loss of a short-track date at Bristol Motor Speedway when one of its races became a dirt race. We’re still at six short-track races on the schedule, and if Richmond Raceway loses a date (and I hope it doesn’t), there would only be five.

That’s why we need North Wilkesboro on the Cup schedule more than ever. Outside of that, the Fairgrounds seems to be the only short track option being considered, and I’ll believe that one when I see it. There are just too many politics involved there.

So SMI, this week, the fans put their money where their mouth is. They want #MoreShortTracks. How about you actually listen to them?

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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Mike Kalasnik

I attended BOTH Tues & Wed races. Tuesday and Wed were both VERY well attended. I’d say Tues was 95% full, Wed 90%. Fantastic crowds for 2 days of mid week racing. No doubt they will need to open the turn 1/2 seats (if possible) for some of the upcoming races.

Could Cup ever run here again? Sure. Marcus Smith isn’t going to over promise. You dont go from running mini stocks to Cup, so lets give it time. I’m not to worried about attenance falling off fort the dirt stuff, as long as they give us a good track surface.

As for The Rock, year 2 of the Trucks the attendance didnt fall off a cliff. I was at both and both were well attended. I do recall weather being an issue all day. It also didnt help NASCAR ran Texas (I believe) prior, making a lot of the Cup guys not wanting to make the trip up from running Texas Sat night and The Rock at 12pm the next day.

John

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I I expect this honeymoon will be brief and hopefully it will at least break even for SMI. For those of us that may actually travel to see a race next year, it sure would be nice to see a schedule so we can plan around it. The only dates I know for sure are for a street race I wouldn’t drive across the street to see.

DoninAjax

I wouldn’t walk down the street for a NA$CAR event in any city. If I lived in Chicago I might watch the event from home looking through bullet-proof glass.

Bill B

Kind of preaching to the choir.
If they are changing it to dirt, and NASCAR insists on having a dirt race every year, then give us back our spring Bristol race and let NW be the dirt track.

DoninAjax

Now, you know, that makes sense! But it will only happen if it makes cents to the NA$CAR brain trust led by you-know-who.

Chris

Glad to see Michael Masse continuing what is becoming the Frontstretch tradition of writing articles that sound like elongated Facebook com box rants rather than serious, at least somewhat researched, op-ed pieces.

Fed Up

Brought to you by $17 million in Federal and State stimulus (taxpayer) money, along with $10 million each for Rockingham and Charlotte. Don’t forget to pay your income taxes.

SteveC

Fed up, you’re absolutely right, I hate to see na$car come in and f#ck it up trying to gimmick everything to death with their “free”money”.

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