NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Sunday was a big day for Kyle Larson and an even bigger day for North Wilkesboro Speedway.
NASCAR returned to what’s been dubbed the “Comeback Track” for the first time since 1996 on Saturday for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Tyson 250 which got the crowd’s blood pumping ahead of the All-Star Race on Sunday.
The NASCAR All-Star Race was a calm one with only one caution compared to the 12 on Saturday during the Tyson 250. Pole winner Daniel Suarez held the lead for the first 54 laps, but it was in lap 55 that Kyle Larson, who started the race in 15th, took the No. 5 car into the lead and refused to give it up. He passed the finish line just 4.124 seconds before Bubba Wallace. Tyler Reddick took third, Chase Briscoe fourth and Chase Elliott fifth.
“The All-Star Race is such a cool event,” Larson said. “I always look forward to it. Short race kind of suits my style some and suits my mind. I don’t think I’m able to focus for 500 miles typically, so 200 laps is a little easier for me.”
Larson’s All-Star victory marked the third for the Hendrick Motorsports racer after a 2019 win at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a 2021 win at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory landed him among Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt as the only three drivers with three All-Star wins to their name. Jimmie Johnson still holds the bragging rights as the only driver to claim four All-Star victories.
But this wasn’t Larson’s only win of the weekend. He also seized victory in the Tyson 250 on Saturday, making him the first driver to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 27 years. Leading 138 of 252 laps, Larson snatched the lead from Bubba Wallace in lap 238 and held it down through overtime.
North Wilkesboro Speedway
Enoch Staley built his track in North Wilkesboro in 1947 so that they could have a safer, official place to settle the arguments about who had the fastest car and the best driver.
“The historical value of this track is we have always been told that this track was the first track ever sanctioned by NASCAR. Not the first track, but the first track ever sanctioned by NASCAR, and that’s a big component right there,” Terri Parsons, widow of the late NASCAR Hall of Famer Benny Parsons, said.
Fonty Flock — one of the famous Flock brothers — won the first race there on May 18, 1947, and it continued to be an essential track through 1996 when Terry Labonte won the First Union 400 there in April. Jeff Gordon won the last event ever held at the Speedway by winning the Holly Farms 400 at the end of September 1996.
Two different people bought part ownership in 1995, including Bruton Smith‘s Speedway Motorsports. While it’s known they bought it so they could move race dates to other venues they owned, but they never tore down North Wilkesboro. The speedway simply stood like a fortress against the tide of time as nature took its course.
Then, beginning in 2022, North Wilkesboro Speedway transitioned from a ghost track on the brink of extinction, with dilapidated buildings and deteriorating infrastructure, to a 21st-century facility with an old-school feel.
The revival began several years before when Dale Earnhardt Jr. convinced the online racing simulation iRacing to scan the track for its service. The virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway debuted on iRacing with perfect timing to be used as a racing forum by NASCAR as the world entered the 2020 pandemic shutdown.
In April 2022, the first huge announcement about North Wilkesboro Speedway came in a press conference at Bristol Motor Speedway. Racing was coming back to North Wilkesboro in the late summer of 2022. It was dubbed, “Racetrack Revival” and featured a month of racing by many classes of racers you’d find at local tracks across the nation. The Wilkes County manager later said that the events of August 2022 generated roughly $500,000 in new tax revenue for the county.
In September 2022 it was announced that NASCAR would host the 2023 All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. The county was receiving $18 million in tax funds earmarked to use at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Speedway Motorsports was all in, and in the months since it nearly finished turning North Wilkesboro Speedway into a modern facility with an old-school vibe.