Walking Through This Abandoned Speedway In North Carolina Is Almost Surreal
Before NASCAR was NASCAR, one speedway in North Carolina was home to engines roaring, crowds yelling, camaraderie in the air and a general feeling of adrenaline, fear and excitement one gets when watching cars speed at daring rates around the track.
In 1945, Enoch Staley attended a stock car race in South Carolina. After his experience, he wanted to bring the same atmosphere, sport, and speed to his hometown of Wilkes County.
Plans for the speedway were set in motion. After two years of building, and dealing with the elements such as a downhill and uphill slope and a not-so-perfect oval, North Wilkesboro Speedway opened on May 18th, 1947 to a crowd of 10,000 and one of the famous Flock brothers winning the race.
In 1949, the speedway hosted the 8th and final NASCAR Strictly Stock Division. Not long after, it solidified its reputation as one of the fastest short tracks in auto racing.
But, if you’re like most North Carolinians, you know that this raceway now sits quietly abandoned, decaying, dilapidated, and filled with the ghosts of its past.
How did such an iconic North Carolina and NASCAR staple become what is now pictured above? Simply put, bigger and better came along.
In the 1950’s, the speedway was considered a prime location for watching the sport with speeds reaching upmost 75mph. Even faster than its neighbor to the south, Charlotte Speedway.
1951 marked the beginning of the annual Grand National Series which saw victory and record-breaking speeds. But it seems this time was the best time for the speedway as in the following years North Wilkes would be home to many circumstances, including the death of drivers Lou Figaro and William R. Thomasson.
But there were still amazing achievements for North Wilkes. In 1957, Junior Johnson raced in the Wilkes 160 after just being released from jail for moonshine activities.
By the 60’s larger raceways began dominating the NASCAR scene and North Wilkes fell behind in terms of holding such capacities for events as well as general track maintenance.
Owners Enoch and Jack tried to keep the facility modern, even updating and adding on additions to keep up with the changing times.
It’s hard to believe this abandoned speedway saw Richard Petty’s 10th straight win in 1967.
It was also home to one of the wildest finishes in NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 1972. At the height of the Petty-Allison rivalry, both racers neared the finish beating and banging their vehicles. Making the scene look more like a demolition derby than race. By the last lap both cars were beyond damaged, with Petty almost being injured by a fan in victory lane.
This wild reputation kept the speedway alive for the following decades as larger, better, and more expensive speedways began to open. But the owner, Enoch, knew his fans came for the heart of the sport, the passion of racing, and a great show.
By the 90’s, North Wilkes had become something of an afterthought. Enoch’s good nature and fan-first mentality ultimately led to the closing of the speedway in 1996.
Enoch always valued their experience, and never raised ticket, concession prices, or charged additional fees. Thus, he never had the available funds to keep the speedway updated and modern. Traffic to get to the races was outstanding, there was nowhere to park, hotels and motels were booked completely. Fans began to seek other alternatives for catching their favorite sport.
It’s safe to say North Wilkes was always meant to be simple, but NASCAR became anything but and North Wilkes just couldn’t keep up. Many facility and track improvements went overlooked and it seems the speedway began to decay long before its final lap.
North Wilkes closed its doors in 1996. It briefly reopened in 2010 after petitions to reopen the speedway proved a success but closed again in 2011.
Many North Carolinians hold fond memories of this speedway and wish to see it make a return.
North Carolina photographer, Daniel Benjamin Moorefield, recently visited and took all of the pictures seen above. His thoughts after visiting were, “Can you imagine it? The roar of the stadium. The throttling of engines. The smell of concessions. Over 6 decades ago people sat here, before NASCAR even existed.”
Maybe one day the speedway will return to its former glory, but for now, all we have are the memories rusting away with each passing season.
What are your memories of the speedway? Have you attended a race here? Tell us in the comments!