For the last 1 ½ years, Speedway Associates Inc. has taken race fans and Wilkes County residents on a history-making ride with the reopening of North Wilkesboro Speedway which had been shuttered for 14 years. However, the business climate and a lack of working capital has now brought everything at the historic facility to a screeching halt.
“Simply put, we made a lot of improvements to the speedway,” Speedway Associates Inc. President Alton McBride Jr. said Monday. “We lined up some great events. However, even though we can project positive income from events at the speedway, we do not have the money needed on the front end to make those events happen. In spite of our complete investment in the speedway and in this community, we have run out of money necessary to go forward.
“Personally, I cannot say enough about the fans, competitors and businesses that have supported us. The companies that we have partnered with are incredible and we have a priceless relationship with each and every one of them. However, Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway has not experienced the support from several corporate and/or local businesses that either promised it or cheered the reopening of the facility. A lot was promised to HNWS, but only some of them followed through on their promises. SAI put a substantial amount of money into this motorsports venture and this historic facility with every intention of fulfilling its three year lease/purchase agreement.”
Despite the unexpected re-shuttering of the track after the 2011 season had begun, McBride said it was “not entirely a sad day” due to everything that had been accomplished, including receiving the North Carolina Motorsports Association's industry award for the track's contribution to motorsports in 2010.
Speedway Associates began its journey at the five-eighths-mile track in November 2009 with an ambitious but strategic plan to reopen North Wilkesboro Speedway, which was closed after the fall NASCAR Cup race in 1996. Immediately, its name was adjusted to Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway in order to pay respect to the track's place in motorsports history.
From Labor Day weekend 2010 through the 2011 season-opening richest-ever Pro All-Star Series race, the SAI team conducted six large and more than a dozen small successful events.
In 2010 PASS and SAI executives announced “The Race”, which guaranteed a minimum $75,000 to the winner. Approximately 80 drivers, including past Daytona 500 winners Sterling Marlin and Geoff Bodine, entered the event. Every region of the United States, as well as Canada, was represented in the history-making race.
“A lot of critics said we could never pull off the race, that it was impossible, but we made it happen and it was a stellar success,” McBride said. “It turned the industry on its ear and produced a crowd pleaser that fans couldn't wait to return to in 2012. In just 1 ½ years, SAI's fantastic team returned this wonderful, historic track to its rightful place as the most popular place for past and present industry icons to come and feel the history that was being kept alive by those who carry this speedway in their heart.”
In addition to hosting the country's richest-ever short-track race, during the last 1 ½ years it:
-- Conducted events for the 2011 season-opener “The Race” under the lights, a first-ever for the facility. The entire race was scheduled to be at night, but severe storms forced postponement of the race and resulted in it not ending under the lights.
-- Provided an opportunity for nearly every short-track series to compete at the track -- PASS Super Late Model, Late Model, Late Model Stock, Limited Late Model, USAR Pro Cup, Stadium Tour Type Modified, Rolling Thunder Modifieds, Street Stock, Allison Legacy Series, United States Super Truck, and U-Car Clash. The teams testing at the track included those from the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Truck and K&N series. The Southern Truck and Tractor Pullers Association, Crit Tour Type Bike racing and Cycle Cross also held events at the facility.
-- Contributed to several regional charities, including the food bank through the coop direction of Lowes Foods and those helping disadvantaged youth.
-- Was responsible for an impact of just over $1 million on the local economy with last month's “The Race”, according to North Wilkesboro Mayor Robert Johnson and his staff.
-- Was the leader in filling the area's hotels year round when compared to the one-off regional events held annually, according to statistics compiled by SAI staff.
-- Researched and restored the “brain” in the scoring tower so it was operational for the 2011 season.
-- More than doubled its 2011 schedule, which included the first-ever USAC Silver Crown and Midget race weekend.
-- Employed more than 100 locally- and regionally-based residents on race weekends.
SAI and PASS also received from Wilkes County government officials an incentive plan, signed with Economic Development, to purchase 10,000 tickets for “The Race” in 2012 if it was awarded to Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway. The incentive plan was signed by the county commissioners and mayors of Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro. Other incentives listed in the plan would have been a huge assistance to the speedway.
“The smile on each fan's face over the last 1 ½ years will remain and will never be erased,” McBride said. “The drivers who came to compete where the best-of-the-best in NASCAR Winston Cup have raced need to understand that we, SAI, recognized them all. We remember and appreciate everyone who set foot on the property. We considered you equally important no matter the series, division, name, or level of experience. You count and we were honored to have you at HNWS. It is all about people and people are who made this so great at every event.
“To all -- racer, fan, SAI team member, media, fire and rescue, clean-up and restoration crew, security, ticketing, race series and officials, and volunteers -- you are why this worked so well for 1 1/2 years. A price cannot be put on the experiences and the people who participated in and shared the last 1 ½ years at Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway. There is a magical aspect to the place that we all feel at any event there.
“As I stated previously, being able to cover event expenses is not the problem at the speedway. The problem is that we put a lot of money into the speedway and ultimately, we did not have the amount of support that we needed. Our working capital has been drained and it has impaired our ability to hold future events.
“As I also stated, the speedway can be a viable business if it has adequate capital. If anyone wants to partner with us or stand on our shoulders to make the Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway work, they should talk to us.
“Until then, thank you to everyone who has supported us, everyone with whom we have worked, and everyone who loves what we have accomplished at this historic facility.”