In a reversal of fortunes that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago, North Wilkesboro Speedway has been named the site of the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race.
The race is scheduled May 21, 2023 as part of a planned three-day race weekend at North Wilkesboro.
The announcement was made Thursday morning at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh in a press conference attended by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell, Speedway Motorsports chairman Marcus Smith and former Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has been at the center of the track’s revival.
Details of the All-Star format and more information about the race weekend schedule will be released later.
“It wasn’t that long ago that people said we’d never race again at North Wilkesboro Speedway,” Smith said. “This has been a team effort, a group effort. This has been a rocketship with that speedway, the community, the state. Obviously, this will take a lot of work. There are lots of details we won’t have today, but we’re working on it.”
Cooper said the return of the track will be an economic boost to many.
“We are the birthplace of NASCAR,” Cooper said. “You’re going to see this moonshine-to-motorsports heritage trail that’s going to bring people from all over the world to see the history of racing and NASCAR, and what better place to concentrate it than North Wilkesboro Speedway.”
Cooper called the fact that the All-Star Race could be scheduled at North Wilkesboro, considering its past, “almost beyond comprehension.”
Steve O’Donnell said having a street race in Chicago and the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro next year will make the schedule unique. “As you look at evolving your schedule, you can’t forget about the past,” he said. “What would have the most meaningful impact on the schedule — if you could marry up a street race in Chicago and bring the All-Star Race to North Wilkesboro. If you can run both of those races in NASCAR’s 75th year, what a testament to the sport.
“There will be a lot of questions to answer along the way. But we put on big events. This will be an experience. It’s going to be really cool.”
The May 21 event will be the 39th All-Star Race. The event once was a highlight of the NASCAR season but has lost much of its glow in recent years.
The last time Cup cars raced on the .625-mile track was September 1996, when Jeff Gordon outran Dale Earnhardt Sr. for the win.
Although still popular with fans, the track had been in decline for years.
North Wilkesboro’s two Cup dates were moved to Texas Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and the speedway property was largely abandoned. Members of the local community continued to push for its return over the years, however, and the ultimate result was a solid reopening of the facility this year for several short-track series.
Smith put the Speedway Motorsports name behind the attempts to return racing to the track, and Earnhardt Jr., a student of the sport’s history, joined in. In December 2019, Earnhardt, Smith and local volunteers attended a cleanup day at the track, largely to prepare it for scans by iRacing, a computer form of competition endorsed by Earnhardt.
The revival gained momentum last year when millions of dollars of American Rescue Plan money was allocated to improvements.
“There’s something about those old nostalgic facilities that you go back to and kind of go back in time,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports. “I don’t know why you’d go through all that work and not having something like that (a major NASCAR race) there. It’s ludicrous to think that the track is going to survive off late models and modifieds and Saturday night shows. No way.”
Earnhardt Jr. joined the racing at the track by driving in a CARS Late Model event Aug. 31 before a sellout crowd. He finished third.
“I felt something at the track, something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time,” Earnhardt said Thursday. “It was the true joy and the love you have for being there, whether as a competitor or fan. You could see it on everybody’s face.”
The speedway opened in 1947 with a dirt surface and was one of eight tracks on the original NASCAR Cup (then Strictly Stock) schedule in 1949.
Read more about NASCAR
North Wilkesboro to host 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race originally appeared on NBCSports.com