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Smith tells plans for reviving speedway | News

Conceptual plans for renovating the North Wilkesboro Speedway and a goal of racing there this year were announced during the 75th annual Membership Celebration of the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce Thursday night.

“We are working on – and I hope to be able to announce soon – actually having some kind of race at the speedway this year before we start our tear-down” for renovations, said Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) The North Wilkesboro Speedway is owned by Concord-based SMI.

Smith said that if remaining details are worked out as he expects, the race will be announced about the time of the Food City Dirt Race on April 17 at SMI-owned Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn.

Speaking to a capacity crowd of about 250 people at Wilkes Community College’s John A. Walker Center, Smith also said having NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at the North Wilkesboro Speedway is “a real possibility.”

In May, Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis tweeted that he was willing to invest up to $1 million in the North Wilkesboro Speedway “and even have a small Camping World store” there.

Smith thanked Lemonis for his support and noted that SMI hosts nationally televised races in this series at some of its other tracks. We… would love to see one of those here at North Wilkesboro Speedway.”

Smith is the son of SMI founder Bruton Smith, who purchased half ownership of the speedway in 1996 and acquired the other half in 2007. The historic .625-mile track opened in 1947, and hosted NASCAR races from 1949-1996. It mostly has remained unused since 1996.

Smith didn’t mention other specific events planned, but said $18 million included in the current state budget for bringing the speedway back to life was a great opportunity to revive it “as a fantastic community venue, not just a race track, but a place that can host lots of events” and draw crowds.

The budget said the $18 million goes to Wilkes County government “to coordinate with other relevant local governments on water and sewer and related infrastructure projects for service” to the speedway.

Local officials said this includes extending a Wilkesboro water line and a North Wilkesboro sewer line to the speedway, a few miles east of both towns. Companies have until Feb. 7 to submit engineering cost quotes for this work to County Manager John Yates.

County Finance Director Chris Huffman said county and SMI officials are working together to produce a list of items SMI would like addressed with the $18 million. County officials are also working with an N.C. Department of Commerce representative to ensure compliance with ARP requirements.

Smith said SMI has never before had a situation like this and the same is likely true for county government, “but we’re going to work together.”

He said many details are still being worked out. “We still have to work on water, sewer, electricity, roads, connectivity. Those are a lot of the building blocks that need to be done.”

Smith unveiled conceptual images showing what SMI has in mind for the speedway. He said they reflect keeping the character of the property and celebrating its history, while making it safe, convenient and enjoyable for visitors.

He said this is called “restomod” in the car world, which means looking old but working like its new. “Our hope is to celebrate history and look forward to the future. North Wilkesboro Speedway is an amazing historic place for NASCAR. It’s almost like a Fenway Park is to baseball.”

One picture showing the front grandstands with rebuilt VIP suites and the control booth “will provide that nostalgic feel that you’re not at a modern, new place. You’re at the classic North Wilkesboro (Speedway), but you’re still going to have some conveniences,” said Smith. “The plumbing and the electricity are going to work and it will be comfortable.”

He shared an image of the speedway’s front entrance after renovations and others depicting car races and a concert at the speedway.

“We think music festivals and all sorts of fun events can happen at North Wilkesboro Speedway,” said Smith. “Food, fun, music, racing, car shows – you name it, it will be a great place for big events.”

Smith said personnel from the Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway and other SMI venues will be able to add their expertise for events at the North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Smith said he had a lot of people to thank, including Terri Parsons of Purlear. “We appreciate you, love you and without you, I really don’t think this would be happening.”

Parsons moved to Wilkes with her husband, Wilkes native Benny Parsons, 1973 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion, ESPN announcer and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. Since her husband’s death a short time later in 2007, Parsons has been committed to efforts benefitting Wilkes. Utilizing her connections in the motorsports industry, chief among these is getting the North Wilkesboro Speedway reopened

Smith congratulated Parsons for being presented the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award Thursday night.

He said the prior weekend marked 15 years since Benny Parsons’ death. “I think he’s smiling tonight (about the award) and also that we’re here talking about bringing back the North Wilkesboro Speedway.”

Smith thanked Rep. Jeffrey Elmore of North Wilkesboro for “leading the charge” to get ARP funds for reopening the speedway included in the state budget when Smith, Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Greg Walter, general manager of SMI; and others were in Raleigh seeking that in 2021.

He thanked Earnhardt for his “big role in getting support” for the speedway.” He thanked Robert Johnson and Mark Hauser, former and current North Wilkesboro mayors respectively, for their support of the speedway.

He also thanked Paul Call, who lives near the speedway and is the longtime caretaker of the property. “Boy, he had to deal with so many people. What a man and a treasure,” said Smith.

Smith thanked Ronald Queen of North Wilkesboro “for picking things up where Paul left off. And for organizing so many volunteers” for speedway cleanups and maintenance. “It is such a community effort and it’s a community place.”

Smith thanked Rob Marston and Steve Wilson of Save the Speedway for they did to communicate and build support for the North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Smith noted the prominence of the North Wilkesboro Speedway in iRacing, an online, subscription-based racing simulation game. “In less than two years, there have been over 15 million laps raced at the virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway. Almost 10 million miles, 50,000 online events. It’s one of the most popular short tracks in iRacing around the world. Just phenomenal.”

He said the bright future ahead for the speedway “wouldn’t have happened without the amazing community support that’s in this room, as well as the people who have been out at the speedway to help us bring the speedway back.”

Smith said this support helped convince the legislature and Gov. Roy Cooper to support using ARP funds on the speedway. He said it brought the speedway back from a condition anyone might say was too far gone to a point where SMI can make it a “fantastic jewel for the community.”

“Bringing back races, bringing back special events, bringing back tourism, creating a very special place where the community can gather, it’s exciting. When you think about nostalgic opportunities, this is one of those one-in-a-million opportunities,” said Smith.

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