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WILKES COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Terri Parsons will never forget the last Winston Cup race at the old North Wilkesboro Speedway.

“People were hanging out in the rafters and {I remember} thinking to myself, this place certainly isn’t closing because of lack of attendance,” said Parsons.

The speedway was popular for all 50 years cars ran there.

North Wilkesboro is the home of NASCAR – not just because it is the neighborhood that the moonshiners pioneered the sport in as they ran from the government revenues. It is also where Enoch Staley built his track 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.

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.

A lot of folks never dreamed the sport could leave North Wilkesboro behind.

“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,” said Parsons. “Well, how do you tear down history?”

The answer is that you don’t.

North Wilkesboro Speedway was not torn down – it simply stood like a fortress against the tide of time as nature took its course.

Two different people bought part ownership in 1995, including Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports. Everyone knows they bought it so they could move race dates to other venues they owned but they never tore down North Wilkesboro – they never wanted to because they knew what the place meant.

“It’s much more than just a speedway, it is a place where memories were made for seven decades and all the people that were part of that have stories to tell. And that’s really what that’s really what our venues are all about,” said Marcus Smith, who now runs Speedway Motorsports after his father’s retirement. “It’s not just about what happens at the race itself on the track. But what happens around that race and all the people that come in from around the world literally to enjoy themselves and build friendships.”

For people like Terri Parsons, who grew up in Daytona Beach married NASCAR legend Benny Parsons and eventually moved to Wilkes County, they saw the track that was left behind and how integral it was not just to the community but the sense of who Wilkes County people were and are.

“I knew the track was vitally important and I knew that they really took a hit economically when this track closed, and especially when Lowe’s closed, also, I mean, that just pulled the rug out from under the whole county,” said Parsons. “But after living here, and I’ve lived here now 15 years, since two weeks after Benny passed away in 2007, there’s not a person here that has given up on this track, I don’t think there were a few naysayers that said we’d never get it back open again. But this track was absolutely everything, not only to the local people but to people that lived outside the state, other race fans, because they had memories with their parents and grandparents from this track.”

Then a little something happened on Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s podcast that helped change the track’s fortunes.

Marcus Smith was the guest on that episode and at the end of 90 or so minutes of talking racing, Dale Jr. asked if Marcus had anything else on his mind. Marcus said, “Yes, North Wilkesboro.”

That led to plans to rehab the track and get some kind of racing back in Wilkesboro.

“It’s because of that community that we’re doing this, I think, to have the impact they’ve made on me is that this is a special place to Wilkes County, to people in Western North Carolina,” said Smith. “And it means more than just a racetrack. So, I know it means a lot. I don’t know that I fully comprehend how much it means but I know that it means a lot. And I’ve seen the support I’ve seen just the outpouring of volunteerism and excitement and heartfelt gratitude. And it makes it extra special for us to be a part of that.”

See how the track looks today and hear more about how it will be revived, in this edition of the Buckley Report.