NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Inc. announced Thursday that North Wilkesboro Speedway will serve as the host of the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race, returning the legendary Wilkes County, N.C. track to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule for the first time since 1996. The All-Star Race will highlight a three-day weekend of racing from May 19-21 of next year, with the full weekend schedule to be announced at a later date.
The announcement comes less than six months after North Wilkesboro, which had stood largely dilapidated and abandoned for a quarter century, was re-opened by Speedway Motorsports Inc. thanks to millions of dollars in the North Carolina state budget allocated towards infrastructure improvements at the racetrack. North Wilkesboro held its Racetrack Revival series in August, culminating in a sellout crowd coming to attend a CARS Tour late model race that saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. compete and finish third.
The re-addition of North Wilkesboro to the Cup Series schedule was confirmed in a press conference at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, with dignitaries including Earnhardt, Governor Roy Cooper, Speedway Motorsports Inc. President and CEO Marcus Smith and NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O'Donnell. The event will also coincide with NASCAR's 75th Anniversary season in 2023.
"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," read a statement by O'Donnell. "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."
You asked. We listened. #AllStarRace pic.twitter.com/6DdZ8iDy2S— North Wilkesboro Speedway (@NWBSpeedway) September 8, 2022
The addition of North Wilkesboro to the 2023 schedule returns NASCAR to the very place of its origin, and arguably rights one of the sport's greatest wrongs. Located in the foothills of North Carolina's Appalachian mountains, where bootleggers ran moonshine and stock car racing began, North Wilkesboro Speedway opened in 1947 and was part of the NASCAR schedule from its first season in 1949 onward. The track would become one of the preeminent tracks in stock car racing, with a long list of legendary drivers visiting its Winner's Circle.
But in the 1990s, North Wilkesboro had become severely outdated as a facility while NASCAR had grown into a larger and more commercially lucrative sport. When track founder Enoch Staley died in 1995, the track was purchased by SMI CEO Bruton Smith and racetrack developer Bob Bahre, who gave North Wilkesboro's two race dates to their newer facilities in larger markets -- Texas Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- following the 1996 season. The track was shut down from that point onwards, save for brief attempts at grassroots revivals.
Ironically, North Wilkesboro's return comes at Texas Motor Speedway's expense. The Fort Worth speedway had hosted the All-Star Race for the past two years, but the 2022 edition of the race was panned by fans and observers for a lack of action and an officiating gaffe that forced Ryan Blaney to have to take the checkered flag twice. Rather than return to Texas or a similar larger racetrack, Fox Sports had signaled that they wished to see the All-Star Race shift to grassroots racetracks, according to Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal.
The original plan for North Wilkesboro had been for the track to host dirt racing in October in-between its old asphalt being torn up and new asphalt being laid down. However, the speedway announced Wednesday that those plans were being abandoned and the planned slate of dirt racing was being cancelled.