NASCAR to move All-Star race to North Wilkesboro, my takeaways

Rumors of the move started to surface over the last year that NASCAR was wanting to move the All-Star race from the Texas Motor Speedway. Then with the revival of North Wilkesboro and Fox Sports wanting NASCAR to a more grassroots it made the most sense for this to be the destination of the 2023 All-Star event.

With the delay of the schedule release, this was the behind the scenes writing on the wall. On Thursday, it was confirmed. The All-Star race in NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season will take place on May 21, 2023 at North Wilkesboro.

North Wilkesboro, then a dirt track, hosted its first race in May of 1947. Over the next five decades, the 0.625-mile circuit hosted 93 NASCAR Cup Series races – its list of winners a variable who’s who of NASCAR royalty, including Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and hometown hero Benny Parsons. Next year, the 39th running of theNASCAR All-Star Race will mark the first Cup Series event at North Wilkesboro Speedway since 1996.

NASCAR Hall of Famer and noted motorsports historian Dale Earnhardt Junior has been a passionate supporter of the revitalization of North Wilkesboro Speedway.

“Some of my best memories as a little boy were going to North Wilkesboro,” said Earnhardt.  “And it got even better when I raced there as a teenager. I never thought I’d see that place full again, and then I got to race there this summer in a late model before a full house. There’s just something special about it. I know the track, the fans, and the community will put on a show when we’re back with the Cup cars for the All-Star race.”

“North Wilkesboro Speedway boasts a winners list that features the true giants of our sport, and next year, another great will be added as the NASCAR Cup Series stars once again race at this historic facility,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief operating officer. “As part of our 75th anniversary season, we’re are excited to return to the roots of the sport for the NASCAR All-Star Race. This will be a can’t-miss event as we honor our past and look forward to the future.” 

This will be the first major race on the .625-mile oval as the last time the Cup Series has been here was 1996. Ironically enough, they didn’t return in 1997 as this date went to Texas. Now, 26 years later, North Wilkesboro takes the All-Star race from Texas.

“The NASCAR All-Star Race has always been the fans’ race, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the fans during NASCAR’s 75th anniversary than returning to North Wilkesboro Speedway,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith. “We couldn’t have made this happen without tremendous support from so many people including Gov. Cooper, our state legislature, NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and of course, the people of Wilkes County. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve got the will to create something special alongside a community and hard-working staff that will get it done.”

The announcement was made outside of the North Carolina Museum of History, with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. and NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell joining Smith for the program.

“Motorsports are critical to North Carolina’s history, culture and economy, and our investments have helped to get the engines running again in places that needed revival,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “North Wilkesboro Speedway is back and better than ever, and the All-Star Race will take it to new heights.”

Complete schedules for on-track competition and fan entertainment will be announced at a later date, as will the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race format. Register for the “Join the Movement” email list and follow North Wilkesboro Speedway social channels to stay up-to-date on all the latest information. The NASCAR All-Star Race will be broadcast worldwide on Fox Sports One and the Motor Racing Network.

All-Star Race To Be Moved Around?

With this announcements, North Wilkesboro becomes the 3rd different venue in the last 4 years to host the All-Star race. It’s the 2nd short track however.

North Wilkesboro will become the fifth host of the All-Star Race next May. Texas hosted the last 2 which came after Charlotte hosted 34 of them prior beginning in 1985. Atlanta hosted in 1986 before moving back to Charlotte from 1987 through 2019. The race was held at Bristol in 2020 before going to Texas in 2021 and again in 2022.

Does this open the door up to move this event around?

They do so in most other professional sporting leagues which is why this move could really open the possibility up of rotating this event.

In saying that, SMI seems to own the deal in the fact that they’ve only raced on SMI tracks. Does the Nashville Fairgrounds come into play soon too?

What’s The Long Term Focus Here?

To continue the thought process above, what’s the goal here? The track needs updates. The press box isn’t available. There’s no functional score board. There’s no soft walls. The concessions and bathrooms need updated. The track eventually needs repaved.

The track sat mostly dormant other than a short revival 12 years ago. But in November of last year, an $18M allocation from federal American Rescue Plan funds was designated for infrastructure improvements at North Wilkesboro Speedway through the North Carolina state budget. Earlier this week, Wilkes County awarded construction contracts for the forthcoming work. The General Assembly has agreed in principal to provide a $4M economic grant next year toward additional facility improvements to host the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race and future special events.  

“For decades, North Wilkesboro Speedway was at the heart of racing and tourism in Western North Carolina,” Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said. “We look forward to seeing the renaissance of this track as it transforms into a premier venue for races and events in Wilkes County.”

So if the All-Star race becomes revolving or this being a 1-2 year fix, what’s the thought process behind this? Why pour a bunch of money into a track for a one time use? Does this end up being a points paying venue in the future?

That’s why this is relevant in the fact that you’re paying a lot of money to upgrade a facility to use in NASCAR’s premiere series but there’s no way you do that for a one year or even 2 year use.

Does This Move The Needle?

It absolutely does with the existing fan base. Fans have been wanting a return to this track but the main question is, does this move the needle for the younger generation? Does this gain new fans to this base that aren’t already fans right now?

First off, I applaud this move. I absolutely love it and think it’s fantastic. But I’m not the demographic that they’re chasing. I’m already a fan of this sport. So are most of you reading this.

The premise of a sport is to keep growing which is why I’m curious if this race and the nostalgia around it will do so.

For TV, it’s NASCAR’s version of the Field of Dreams. That could gain some fans in that sense. But those there, it’s going to be like walking back in time. They don’t have the upgraded facilities yet that these newer tracks do. Which is why I say this is fantastic news for those that are already fans for the sport….

Can this race gain new fans is the question?

NASCAR Listening To Fans, Can They Avoid The Fatigue

A few years ago, fans were questioning on why NASCAR wasn’t listening to them. They wanted less cookie cutter tracks and more short tracks/road courses. Now, a couple of years later, they keep proving that they’re listening to their fan base.

The series has gone from 3 to 6 road courses. They replaced the Clash at Daytona with a football stadium. They’ve added a street course. Now they have added North Wilkesboro back.

Gone are Chicagoland, Kentucky, 2 dates at Michigan, 2 dates at Dover, etc. Replacing them are places the fans want NASCAR to go to.

The thing is, the fatigue factor is settling in on road courses. Some say 6 are too much. Do you risk doing so with short tracks in the same area now?

Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond and North Wilkesboro are all in close proximity of one another. How much of a role does this play too….

Race Needs To Be Longer In Length

The format wasn’t released yet but when it is, NASCAR needs to change up the idea of shorter segments and go back to longer ones. I get that this car and this race is all about entertainment and by having short lengths of green flag runs means more restarts and more restarts mean more chaos, but this track is better for longer runs instead.

The tire wear will provide better racing and more actual “racing” than shorter bursts which in turn betters the show.

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