Part 1: The Back Story
Over the past few weeks, I’ve read stories and even interviewed a few drivers of what it meant to race at North Wilkesboro. I work in sports, so the rush of excitement is something I live for, this was just different. So here I am writing my own experience.
Growing up, the racetrack was a ghost town. I have countless memories of when my parents would drive by the back side of the grandstand on Hwy. 421 and mumble “It’s just so sad to see it like this.” On many occasions I would ask if we could just go see it. A quick, “We can’t get inside” was about all I ever got.
Though I couldn’t imagine what NASCAR once was, I learned to understand it. My dad watched every race and if we were out-of-town, we listened to it on the radio. To my demise in the moment, listening to sports on the radio forced me to learn. I thought I was a Jeff Gordon fan due to his colorful car (I was like 6 and thought he drove a Polly Pocket car). That wasn’t going to cut it.
I tell you this to show you what brand loyalty means in this sport. My dad was a die-hard Jimmie Johnson fan. Why? Because Lowe’s Hardware was his main sponsor. Do you know where Lowe’s Hardware started? Yep, Wilkesboro.
I’ve given you enough back story but here is the WHY it broke me so much for not only my hometown but my family. My dad is a first cousin to Benny and Phil Parsons. He went to so many races, recounting to me numerous times the excitement of Benny’s win at Daytona in 1975. Benny had retired from racing by the time I was born. He announced on ESPN, and maybe my personal favorite – made an appearance in the movie, “Herbie Fully Loaded”.
Though I was young, I remember sitting at Benny’s funeral watching NASCAR greats file in the door. I knew I couldn’t get by with it at a funeral, but I REALLY just wanted to ask them if they were sad there wasn’t racing at North Wilkesboro. I was 10, maybe I could have gotten by with it.
Fast-forward, I’ve studied this industry a lot. The more I learned, the more I knew the power of what the return of racing could do in North Wilkesboro. It would not only revive a sport but bring excitement back to a community.
Although after 1996 the two North Wilkesboro NASCAR races were moved to bigger tracks, many times in the years that followed I thought racing was coming back.
To explain just how “out-of-reach” I felt the return of the racetrack was, here is a short story: During the pandemic I spent a lot of time at home. My mom and I spent many days exploring as one did, going down memory lane. She took me to the old “cook-out shed”. A place where Wilkes native Benny Parsons held a cook-out for drivers in town for the race. It felt like a memorial for racing in Wilkes County. This was less than a year ago.
I’ll admit, I’d heard it would happen before, but it actually did. It came back.
Part 2: The Race – coming soon