The news was confirmed at a press conference at N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh on Thursday. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Speedway Motorsports executives, NASCAR officials, and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. were in attendance.
"This is a great day for North Carolina," Gov. Cooper said during the announcement.
North Wilkesboro Speedway hosted NASCAR Cup Series races from 1949 to 1996. NASCAR abandoned the track as part of a large-scale effort from the sports league to swap dates from rural, smaller tracks like North Wilkesboro to larger areas and facilities like Texas Motor Speedway (Dallas-Fort Worth) and Chicagoland, among others.
“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,” Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith said.
North Wilkesboro Speedway
Ever since its closure, fans have pleaded for high-end racing to return to the racetrack that hosted NASCAR races since its inception in the late 1940s.
Efforts were attempted over the last 26 years but nothing materialized until a joint effort by Earnhardt and others was started in 2019 simply to scan the track for an iRacing race. After this, an even bigger effort grew to bring racing in person to the track.
Speedway Motorsports and XR Events teamed up to plan races at North Wilkesboro with the first races being held on Aug. 2 and Aug. 3 using modified and stock cars. An estimated nine thousand people showed up for these races.
The roster of drivers that raced in those events included NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte, who races regularly in the SMART Modified Tour. Labonte was a part of the final NASCAR race held at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1996.
"It means a lot to race [at North Wilkesboro]," Labonte said after competing on Aug. 3. "We took a picture and I was the only one here that was here in '96."
North Wilkesboro Speedway returns to glory with 2022 revival
On Aug. 31, a sold-out crowd of around 15,000 came to the track to watch Earnhardt compete in a late-model stock car race.
"It was like it (the track) was speaking to you. Like, hey man, I got something left. I can be something. I can be a value to the motorsports industry," Earnhardt said after the race. "I think we're seeing that come true today - that the track has a purpose."
Dirt races were scheduled to take place at the track in October, but those were canceled on Wednesday.
XR Events, the company that hosts races at North Wilkesboro Speedway, announced that the races will not be taking place. Organizers say the limited time between the last races on Aug. 31 and the planned October dates was not enough time to properly prepare the track.
"As we've studied the conversion process from asphalt to dirt, we've come to realize we simply cannot properly prepare the track in such a limited period of time to produce the racing product fans and competitors deserve," Barry Braun, XR Events CEO, said.
Plans were originally to use North Wilkesboro Speedway as a grassroots revival track using lower series and possibly squeeze in a NASCAR Truck Series event. However, the decision to host the NASCAR All-Star Race at the track moves the effort into high gear.
The NASCAR All-Star Race was held at Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS) from 1987 to 2019 and was traditionally a week before the Coca-Cola 600 at CMS. The track also hosted the inaugural All-Star Race in 1985.
NASCAR moved the All-Star Race from Charlotte to Bristol Motor Speedway in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. The race moved the following year to the Texas Motor Speedway to replace the race date taken from that track that was given to the Circuit of the Americas.
Now, the All-Star Race will return to North Carolina at a track that has not hosted a NASCAR race since 1996.
Richard Petty is the all-time winningest driver at the track with 15 victories. Jeff Gordon won the last event on Sept. 29, 1996.