BY KEITH WALTZ
Located in the heart of North Carolina’s moonshine industry, North Wilkesboro Speedway was part of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule for nearly five decades.
Originally owned by Enoch Staley, the track was a .625-mile dirt oval when NASCAR’s premier stock car series ran its inaugural season finale there on Oct. 16, 1949.
Bill Blair dominated the 200-lap race, but the engine in his Cadillac went sour with less than 20 laps remaining. Bob Flock inherited the lead and beat Lee Petty to the checkered flag by 100 yards.
North Wilkesboro Speedway was paved between the track’s Cup Series races in 1957.
As the popularity of NASCAR racing exploded during the 1990s, the sport outgrew its southern roots. North Wilkesboro’s two Cup Series dates were eventually bought and moved to new tracks in Texas and New Hampshire.
The Cup Series’ last visit to the rural North Carolina oval came on Sept. 29, 1996. A packed grandstand cheered young Jeff Gordon that afternoon as he led 207 of the 400 laps en route to his first victory at the track. Dale Earnhardt finished second with Dale Jarrett third.
Richard Petty was the top NASCAR Cup Series race winner at North Wilkesboro as “The King” visited Victory Lane following 15 of his 66 starts. Darrell Waltrip is second on that list with 10 victories in 45 starts.
Dale Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough have five wins each as a total of 38 drivers won the 93 NASCAR Cup Series races at the track.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. recently spearheaded an effort to have North Wilkesboro Speedway included in iRacing so current and future racers can experience the iconic oval.