In his 1976 ballad “All Our Past Times,” the English guitarist Eric Clapton sings about the pains of faded love:
“It makes no difference where you think you are going. But please remember not to slam the door.”
As we have all found out, the door on North Wilkesboro Speedway was not quite slammed shut after all. OK, maybe we did have to pry it open a bit. But since the door was kicked down, there has been so much to say about how this miracle came to be (like here or here or here).
Those same yearnings of love came rushing back, as evidenced by every one of the estimated 30,000 tickets offered sold out within the first few minutes of going on sale.
So why is this weekend so special for so many?
Journalists ask questions to get answers. Unfortunately, this journalist does not have a definitive answer to this question. Those answers lie in the hearts of the 30,000 who will embark on a long-awaited pilgrimage to the circular strip of asphalt in a North Carolina farm field this weekend.
Instead … some perspective.
Before I am a journalist, I am a race fan, and despite growing up only an hour away from the track, I have no connection to racing at North Wilkesboro. After all, the last NASCAR Cup Series race was run nearly four years before I was born. My only memories came from passing glimpses of the derelict southern grandstands as our family sedan whizzed past on Highway 421.
As my fandom of stock car racing blossomed, an appreciation for those hollowed grounds eventually spawned, like one afternoon on a drive home from college. Pulling off the highway, I drove up to the barricades guarding the rusted gates that once greeted thousands of happy race fans and sat quietly yearning to experience the glory days gone by but succumbing to the truth that those days were just that. To again reference Clapton:
“I just want to be one who would share in this dream.”
And somehow … we all will.
If the hauler parade through the city of North Wilkesboro on Thursday was any indication, there are people far and wide who have come to witness this dream. The streets of North Wilkesboro were lined wall to wall with smiling faces, easily the best-attended hauler parade in recent memory.
Up and down the streets of Wilkes County, the friendly phrase “Welcome race fans” is spelled out on banners, marquees and homemade signs. It is a nostalgic gesture, as those messages have not graced the billboards of the region in 27 years.
This weekend, North Wilkesboro is just another race. We will trek to the track or flip on our TVs. For many of us, we get to take in another edition of our pastime. Yet for this one race, can we all just take a step back and relish this moment? Let’s not worry about how bad our package is or wonder who Ross Chastain will wreck this week.
NASCAR will never be as big as it once was when NASCAR left North Wilkesboro to strive to become even bigger, but for now …
“I don’t count the loss, as long as I can see your face again.”
North Wilkesboro, we are so glad to see you again, and if there is anything that your improbable resurrection story should remind us of, it is that we get to watch something we love deep down: a group of individuals trying to prove they are faster than each other. It’s the fundamentals of NASCAR.
Some might just call that NASCAR 101.
About the author
Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.
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.