After more than a quarter century as a decaying relic of NASCAR's heritage, the legendary North Wilkesboro Speedway finally came back to life on Tuesday night with cars on track and grandstands packed with fans. And on a track that so many NASCAR stars have sought to win at, it was one longtime Cup veteran who got the distinction of taking the track's first checkered flag in many years.
Former NASCAR Cup Series star Ryan Newman won the first race of North Wilkesboro's Racetrack Revival, taking the checkered flag in the Uncatchable Moonshine 50 for Tour Type Modifieds. Newman took the lead from Spencer Davis with six laps to go, outlasting the dominant driver of the night to win the 50-lap feature.
Matt Hirschman, Ryan Preece, and Burt Myers rounded out the top five.
"This is really special," Newman said in a report by Matt Weaver of Racing America. "I drove by this place for years watching the trees grow up. I didn't know if it would ever be open again. It's a special place. It holds so much history with NASCAR and the Cup Series."
Located in the high country of Western North Carolina, the very place where moonshiners once roamed and NASCAR racing began, North Wilkesboro was a stock car racing institution for most all of NASCAR's first 50 seasons, hosting races from the Cup Series' inaugural season in 1949 until well into the mid-1990s. But when track owner Enoch Staley died in 1995, the aging and antiquated facility was sacrificed for the sake of NASCAR's growth.
The track was purchased by Speedway Motorsports Inc., which closed the track after the 1996 season and moved its two race dates to newer facilities in bigger markets.
But after a North Carolina state budget allocated millions of dollars for improvements to North Wilkesboro, Speedway Motorsports Inc. announced in April that the track would be re-opened and revitalized with a focus on becoming a premier facility for short track racing and grassroots touring series. Multiple asphalt series will compete on the track in August, and the fall will see dirt racing at the speedway in between the track's old asphalt being torn up and a new asphalt surface being laid down for 2023.
Newman dedicated his victory to the Parsons family, particularly NASCAR Hall of Famer Benny Parsons and his widow Terri. A Wilkesboro native, Benny Parsons had been very passionate about trying to re-open North Wilkesboro before he died of complications of lung cancer in 2007.
"It meant so much to Benny Parsons to get this place back, to try to get this place back open. It means so much to Terri Parsons and when it's from someone who has become family to you, it becomes personal to you too," Newman said. "To be a part of this, with all the sponsors and people that made it happen, it's a special feeling."