Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: All the Cool Kids Are Going to … North Wilkesboro?

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.

See also
Toni Breidinger Attempting Truck Debut at Kansas

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.

See also
Waid's World: Ernie Irvan’s Successful Career Included a Brush With Death

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 to wheel one around the half-mile asphalt oval. Gordon not only made the show, he posted the sixth-fastest time and went on to finish 13th.

The new generation of racers were joined by some of the previous generation. Harry Gant, two years into his Cup retirement, came back for an appearance that ended with him in 31st. Additionally, Darrell Waltrip scored a top 10 in one of his limited Truck appearances.

In just a few weeks the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will end the nearly 30-year hiatus. But this time, it will be the beginning of a chapter rather than the end. When the checkered flag waves, Bliss and Martin will be joined by a third member of a very exclusive club. It’s hard to say if the track has another 50 years of racing ahead of it. But for the first time in a long time, NASCAR going to North Wilkesboro is cool again.

About the author

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via