North Wilkesboro Speedway is a track with a rich NASCAR heritage and a history that nearly overlaps the second World War. But you’ve probably heard that a couple times already. After all, the revitalization of the facility has been a hot topic for several years and now that it’s actually happening, even people who live under a rock have likely gotten the word.
With the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series only a few weeks from its grand return to the hallowed ground, it seemed like a good time to dive into its own history. Which consists of exactly two races.
The trucks didn’t join the party until the fall of 1995. By then, NASCAR wasn’t a back roads type sport anymore. NASCAR was flashy. NASCAR was Hollywood. NASCAR was cool. And North Wilkesboro was not. By the time the trucks made their first lap around the speedway, the end of racing there was imminent.
Track founder Enoch Staley had passed away in May 1995 and it was no secret that Bruton Smith wanted to buy the track to confiscate its dates on the schedule for his much more glamorous facility in Texas.
But the Truck debut in Wilkes County wound up being newsworthy for a much different reason. It was the first race for Ernie Irvan since his nearly fatal accident at Michigan International Speedway more than a year prior. Initially, Irvan had intended to run the previous week’s event at Martinsville Speedway, but qualifying was washed out by rain, sending Irvan’s team home.
Given a second chance in more ways than one, Irvan dazzled the crowd by qualifying second and spent 24 laps leading the field. Unfortunately, the suspension on his truck failed, sending him to the garage before the halfway point. Almost lost amongst the headlines of a miraculous return was Mike Bliss picking up his first Truck win.
One year later, the series was back and by then, the fate of the track was an absolute certainty. Mark Martin took a break from snatching Xfinity Series wins from series regulars to snatch a truck win from series regulars.
Also noteworthy was the 54 trucks that attempted to quality for the race’s 36 starting positions. Jason Jarrett, the son of eventual Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett, missed the show. Another competitor with a recognizable last name was Clint Mears. Mears was the son of Indy 500 winner Rick Mears and the cousin of eventual Cup winner Casey Mears.
He too, failed to qualify. Even Robby Gordon stopped bouncing a truck over desert sand dunes…