The CEO of Speedway MotorSports (SMI) discussed the North Wilkesboro Speedway’s potential future with NASCAR, the issue of repaving the track and the local response to the historic venue’s comeback in a post-NASCAR All-Star Race press conference Sunday.
Marcus Smith was asked if SMI has a place for its North Wilkesboro Speedway in the company’s schedule of NASCAR events next season.
He responded by saying the question is on his mind. “It’s definitely something that we’re thinking about.”
He added, “I think that when you see a successful week of events like we’ve had here, it’s natural to think, boy, maybe we could come back here. I’m definitely thinking that way, that it’s got a lot of potential.”
Smith said he is telling people that the North Wilkesboro Speedway is going to have racing on its calendar in the very near future. “I have had great conversations with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick about what could we do here with the CARS Tour.”
Smith said he’s never been to a NASCAR week where everybody was in such a good mood and everything went as well as it did during NASCAR All-Star Week at the North Wilkesboro Speedway.
He continued, “We just started working on next year’s schedule with NASCAR, so we’ll see. I think that — not speaking to next year specifically, I do think that there’s definitely a place in the NASCAR world for North Wilkesboro Speedway, and whether it’s a special event like All-Star, maybe one day it’s a points event, I don’t know.
“I think it’s a very important place for short track racing, the late model races, the modifieds, you name it. It’s a special place. It’s like walking into a museum that’s active and living and very special for the competitors and the fans alike.”
Smith was asked if the historic tracks asphalt surface will have to be repaved before another race is held there, and if there are still thoughts of just making it dirt?
Smith said views differ on this. “I talked with Darrell Waltrip earlier before the race, and he said, ‘you’ve got to repave this thing.’ I talked with the King (Richard Petty), and he said, ‘let them race on this old pavement.’”
He added, “There are a lot of different ways to think about it.”
Smith said the Speedway MotorSports team did an amazing job preserving the track and keeping it together.
“They’ve learned some new things on the surface and kind of managing it, keeping it together and creating a really varied surface that I think challenges the teams. It’ll be interesting to see how it weathers, and when it needs to be repaved, we’ll repave it. I think I would lean towards not repaving until we absolutely have to.”
Smith continued, “Our goal in the next repave is to present a track where the asphalt surface is not like a parking lot surface. Our paving goal is totally different than what asphalt is actually made for in paving. But a parking lot or a street, you want it to last for a super long time and you want it to be smooth.”
He added that he doesn’t mind how long it lasts because what he really wants a track surface that allows cars to race really well.
Smith said data from Sunday’s race will be reviewed before a decision on what comes next with the surface of the North Wilkesboro Speedway.
He said thousands of people have told him how much the North Wilkesboro Speedway means to people in Wilkes County.
“I think we all kind of feel that. This is a special place and a special event, and it’s because of this rebirth opportunity. It’s never happened before that you’ve taken a sporting venue and left it for dead and it’s been revived. It’s a true Lazarus story.”
He said the North Wilkesboro Speedway is special for fans and competitors alike. “When I was having that conversation with Darrell Waltrip and the King, they asked me, now how old is this pavement again?”
When Smith said it was last repaved in 1984, they both looked at each other and said they both raced on the track.
“So, what a cool thing, for every race car driver to race on the same surface as Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip and a bunch of other legends. We want to make that available for a lot of racers that will come from all over the country to be here.”
Smith said it’s cool that NASCAR fans are truly embracing the history of the sport.
“The history of our sport is more important now than ever, and it’s the 75th year of NASCAR, so we finally have a good bit of history that people can look back to.
He said it was common for him to see and talk to three generations of fans over the weekend – grandfather, son and grandson.
Smith was asked to describe his emotions at the North Wilkesboro Speedway this weekend.
His response was, “Incredible gratitude. I am just amazed at how hard everybody here worked to make this happen.
He said Jessica Fickenscher, chief experience officer at Speedway MotorSports, and Steve Swift, the company’s vice president of operations and development, led a team of about 200 people who came to work with a real mission mindset instead of a typical clock-in, clock-out mindset as the speed was brought back to life. He said this shows in what they achieved.
“They were able to start this project in January, and it’s May right now. This place was covered in kudzu vines and poison oak and trees growing out of the grandstand less than 12 months ago. They completely built a brand-new facility out in Turn 4.”
Smith said that when he saw Gov. Roy Cooper at the speedway during the open house there May 17, Cooper said, ‘I gave it a 50/50 shot that you would actually get this done…. And I was being generous at the time.’”
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