During a live recording of the "Dale Jr. Download" podcast in Nashville, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he will enter the CARS Tour late model stock car race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Aug. 31. The event will be among the first held at North Wilkesboro in North Carolina as part of the track's revival, a process Earnhardt has played an integral part in.
The event will mark the NASCAR Hall of Famer's first late model stock car race since 1997 -- the year before he moved up to what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series -- and his first race at North Wilkesboro since 1995. Earnhardt recently tested a JR Motorsports late model at the speedway alongside JR Motorsports Xfinity Series driver Josh Berry and late model driver Carson Kvapil.
A few weeks after his initial announcement, Earnhardt announced that he would be driving a green No. 3 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Sun Drop, an iconic North Carolina soda. The car will be a throwback to the late model that Earnhardt drove in the early 1990s, including at North Wilkesboro in 1993.
"I came to North Wilkesboro so many times as a kid," Earnhardt said in a press release. "It's a special place. I never thought I'd get a chance to race around here again. To put this program together with Sun Drop, who sponsored my late model in '93, I wouldn't want it any other way. They were with my dad for years and one of my first sponsors. Seeing the Sun Drop Chevy at Wilkesboro again will bring back some great memories for me."
Earnhardt served as an important advocate for North Wilkesboro in a series of events that ultimately led to the track being re-opened after sitting largely abandoned for the past quarter century. In 2019, Earnhardt helped lead an effort to clean the track so that it could be scanned and digitized for use on iRacing, and he would later speak to North Carolina state lawmakers to support a state budget that would allocate $18 million toward infrastructure improvements at both North Wilkesboro and Rockingham Speedway, another classic NASCAR racetrack that was dropped from the schedule due to the sport's expansion into larger markets.
through the American Rescue Plan helped give North Wilkesboro new life. The track -- located in the very western North Carolina moonshine country where stock car racing began -- had been a NASCAR institution from 1949 onward, but it became antiquated by the mid-1990s when track owner Enoch Staley died. Following the purchase of the speedway by Speedway Motorsports Inc., the track was closed at the end of the 1996 season with its two dates moved to newer facilities.
In April, Speedway Motorsports Inc. announced that North Wilkesboro would be reopened with a focus on hosting grassroots touring series and potentially attracting a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in the future. Multiple asphalt racing classes will compete on the track in August, and dirt racing classes will race in October in between the track's old asphalt being torn up and a new asphalt surface being laid down for 2023.
Tuesday marked the very first night of racing in North Wilkesboro's revival, with Modifieds and Mini Stocks being the first to take to the track. Ryan Newman won the Modified feature, while the other two races on the night were won by Paulie Hartwig III and Robert Strmiska.