And just like that, it’s North Wilkesboro week.
Yes, thanks to this weekend’s All-Star Race, the center of the NASCAR universe once again revolves around the 0.625-mile short track in Wilkes County, North Carolina.
How long has it been since NASCAR ventured to one of its original tracks in an official capacity?
The last race there was held on Sept. 29, 1996, 27 years ago.
What else was going on back then?
President Bill Clinton was still in his first term of office.
A little song called “The Macarena” was in its 10th week atop the Billboard Hot 100.
Those were the days when 34 million people could be expected to tune in to watch an episode of “ER” each week.
It was a very different era.
At the time that Jeff Gordon won the final Tyson Holly Farms 400, I was five years old.
I have no personal connection to North Wilkesboro Speedway.
I couldn’t tell you if my dad and I watched the ESPN broadcast of that final race.
Even though I lived in the Charlotte area twice for four and a half years, I never went out of my way to drive the roughly 90 minutes to get a glimpse of the track.
I honestly never yearned for its return.
To me, North Wilkesboro represented a pipe dream that many naively thought was possible.
Then, in 2019, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the charge to have the track scanned for iRacing.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
Then the ensuing eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series gave us a taste of what modern NASCAR could look like at a revitalized North Wilkesboro.
Next came $18 million from the American Rescue Plan.
And so on and so forth.
All of it, including the successful CARS Tour race held there last summer, resulted in a pipe dream becoming a tangible one.
When I watched that CARS Tour race, featuring my favorite driver in Dale Jr., I was insanely jealous of all my NASCAR friends and fellow journalists who got to attend.
While not a NASCAR event, the night looked like pure, unadulterated NASCAR at its peak.
Imagine what the real deal will feel like?
We’ll get to find out Sunday, May 21.
While the track only seats 25,000 people — down from the roughly 40,000 it seated in the ’90s — Sunday’s race is likely to be one where the number of people who claimed to be there grows with each passing year.
It will undoubtably be a madhouse, unlike anything we’ve experienced in NASCAR in years.
The track isn’t the only throwback…
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