Historic Abandoned NASCAR Track Becomes Its Newest 2023 Venue

NASCAR abandoned one of its most iconic short tracks almost 30 years ago as it supersized its tracks, spectator accommodations, and pockets. Now, it is gearing up to reopen North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina, for the first since 1996. And it is preserving much of its current state as a nostalgic nod to the track, which was one of the mainstays of Stock Car racing for 50 years.

How modern will the historic NASCAR track become?

Nascar Cup Series logo
Nascar Cup Series logo | Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Built by moonshiners in 1946, North Wilkesboro Speedway is a five-eighths-mile oval. This was, after all, the home of moonshine production. And moonshine running. In 1948, it became one of NASCAR’s first sanctioned tracks. A dirt track when racing began in 1947, it was paved in 1957.

NASCAR has already begun modernizing the track while trying to retain much of its remaining vintage vibe. Speedway Motorsports’ Steve Swift is handling the preservation/restoration. One of the most notable of many planned improvements will happen in the infield. 

Tall race haulers are a rather new obstruction. For better sightlines organizers are lowering the infield. As rain typically floods the infield, it will have improved drainage. Swift said, “They could have hosted boat races.” It will also get paved as it has remained a dirt infield since it was built. And things like safety barriers will be replaced with the latest available equipment.

Will they paint over the old signage?

North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway | David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the most noticeable visuals of the track is the Winston Tobacco advertising. NASCAR’s premier series was the Cup Series. But with tobacco sponsorship, it became the Winston Cup. This tied into its tobacco sponsorship. But tobacco advertising at sports events was banned decades ago, so it will be removed. Or will it? 

To enhance the nostalgic location, and after receiving legal approval, the signs will remain as legal markers. They’ll soon receive a sealant to help maintain them. You can’t smoke at race tracks, so that won’t be a problem.

“We want to maintain the patina,” said Smith. “The facility will look like it did, as close as possible to when it was running back in the ’90s and the ’80s. We’re trying to preserve that energy of stepping back into time but also updating it to the present day. We want to maintain many of the old signs and the track’s old look. We want to hold on to that old feel”.

When will NASCAR hold the first race?

North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway | ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images
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The track features an unusual configuration. First, it is not a true oval track. While the backstretch is uphill, the front stretch is downhill. That’s because the original group that created Wilkesboro only had $1,500 to construct it. Money ran out. So they revised their plans and shortened the track. It was one of the fastest short tracks in the U.S. 

As seen in these recent NWS images, there is plenty left to upgrade or restore before any racing can commence. But the first scheduled 2023 All-Star Race at Wilksborough won’t be until May 21, so there’s plenty of time left. Want to take in the nostalgia combined with NASCAR racing? You could be out of luck, as grandstand seats are already sold out.