Today, May 18th, 2022 is the 75th anniversary of the very first race at the old North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Back in 1947 that would have been a dirt track race featuring a collection of random souped-up cars that were purchased commercially, driven by all sorts of characters. It would have been a far cry from the sterility and order of today’s NASCAR.
As the plans for the revitalization of the old track continue, there’s been a flurry of activity this week, with NC governor Cooper speaking at the track yesterday and an open house today for people to take a last look at the old speedway before renovations begin.
I went today myself, not as a racing fan, but as a history fan, but I couldn’t help feel a tangible excitement among the people in attendance. I had assumed there might be a small group to turn out, but by the reckoning of a firefighter working the event I talked to, there were already between 5 and 600 people at 6PM and the track was going to be open until 8PM. It’s also worth nothing parking in the area they had marked off for the occasion had already begun to get crowded and there was a steady line of traffic coming down the narrow road that leads in.
In the grandstands and on the asphalt, there was a diverse crowd in attendance. Young, old, very old, very young, teenagers. Bits and pieces of stories of the “old days” were carried on the breeze from every direction, and talk of the future was not in short supply.
As I drifted around taking pictures, I even bumped into a man who had driven all the way from Cincinnati to be in attendance, wearing a shirt from the last race he came to at the Speedway in 1996. A local EMT mentioned that he had briefly talked with a couple wo have driven from New York state to see the track again. Clearly the old raceway holds a special place in the hearts of many people, and I share their excitement that the speedway might soon rediscover it’s former life as a functioning venue and integral part of the community. Time will tell.
UPDATE: The final count for the open house was estimated at 2,500 people.