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North Wilkesboro lands 2024 NASCAR All-Star race. $4M incentive in NC budget could bring even more.

Ross Chastain's No. 28 late model crosses the finish line
Mitchell Northam
Ross Chastain's No. 28 late model crosses the finish line at the North Wilkesboro Speedway in the CARS Tour race on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

In front of the North Carolina Legislative Building on Thursday, NASCAR announced that its All-Star race will return to the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway in 2024 during the weekend of May 17. It will mark the second consecutive year that a NASCAR-sanctioned race runs at North Wilkesboro, following the sport’s return there this past May after an absence of nearly 27 years.

And more NASCAR races could be on the way.

When North Carolina lawmakers passed the latest state budget last week, it all but guaranteed the return of a NASCAR Series race to the North Wilkesboro Speedway.

The budget — which Gov. Roy Cooper is allowing to become law without his signature — approves $4 million from the State Fiscal Recovery Reserve to Speedway Motorsports, LLC, which owns and operates the speedway in Wilkes County.

The conference report of the budget gives further details. It reads that the funds will be used for “repairs, renovations, and other capital improvements at the speedway if the (North Carolina Department of Commerce) enters into an agreement with the grant recipient (Speedway Motorsports, LLC) to host one NASCAR Series race at the speedway, which shall be in addition to the 2023 All-Star Race, before the end of the 2028 race season.”

Simply put: It seems like Speedway Motorsports only gets these funds from North Carolina if it agrees to bring another NASCAR Series race back to North Wilkesboro Speedway before 2028.

Despite the All-Star race being a non-points exhibition race, it does satisfy the budget requirement, Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) told the Associated Press.

It remains to be seen whether or not North Wilkesboro can land a Cup Series points race — NASCAR's top competition — a mid-level Xfinity Series race, or a third-tier Truck Series contest between now and 2028, but the 0.625-mile track will be repaved for the first time since 1981 before the 2024 All-Star race. That should improve the track's chances of landing future races going forward.

Among those present at Thursday's announcement included NASCAR President Steve Phelps, Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith, Senate Majority Leader Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).

“We are very grateful that NASCAR and FOX Sports have supported our efforts to bring the NASCAR All-Star Race back to North Wilkesboro in 2024,” Smith said Thursday. "We’re thankful to have the opportunity to bring back an international spotlight for the second consecutive year to North Wilkesboro and the great state of North Carolina.”

The track had laid dormant for more than two decades until it landed the NASCAR All-Star race this past May. It was widely seen as a genuine attempt by NASCAR to return to its roots during a season in which it was celebrating its 75th anniversary.

First opening in 1947, the North Wilkesboro Speedway hosted 93 NASCAR Cup Series races over five decades. But after Jeff Gordon won the Tyson Holly Farms 400 on Sept. 29, 1996, Wilkesboro’s twice-a-year race dates were shifted to other tracks. During an era when NASCAR and its track operators had nationwide expansion in mind, one of North Wilkesboro’s race dates went to New Hampshire and the other went to Texas.

Bringing the NASCAR All-Star race to North Wilkesboro earlier this year was made possible through state and federal funding. In 2021, Cooper earmarked $18 million from the American Rescue Plan Act for Wilkes County for improvements to the speedway.

“(The funds) were designed to help us recover from the pandemic,” Cooper said at the speedway back in May, after those funds had been put to use to renovate the track, adding new plumbing, lighting, fencing, Wi-Fi, bathrooms, seating and a paved infield.

Roy Cooper and Marcus Smith
Mitchell Northam
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith stand atop the media center at the North Wilkesboro Speedway on May 17, 2023.

Smith said in May that he envisions the track becoming a multi-purpose venue, one that can host concerts, festivals and more racing.

“One of the things that we wanted to do when we started with the plans for North Wilkesboro is to develop a facility to be used year-round for lots of different events,” Smith said.

Another revenue stream will be available to North Wilkesboro Speedway beginning next year too when sports betting goes live in North Carolina. The speedway — like Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium and Raleigh’s PNC Arena — is one of eight approved venues for a retail sportsbook.

According to the Wilkes Journal-Patriot and WBTV, there’s also $3 million the state budget to build a pedestrian bridge over U.S. Highway 421 that leads into the North Wilkesboro Speedway. There’s also $40,000 in the budget for an economic impact study on the 2023 All-Star race.

Additionally, the budget has a combined $7 million set aside for two other pedestrian bridges near racetracks; one at U.S. Highway 29 and Bruton Smith Boulevard near the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and another over U.S. Highway 1 near the Rockingham Speedway.

North Wilkesboro Speedway is hosting racing this weekend as NASCAR’s Whelan Modified Tour Wilkes County for the Brushy Mountain Powersports 150. The grandstands open at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and racing begins at 7:05 p.m.

Tickets for the 2024 All-Star race will go on-sale to the general public at 10 a.m. on Oct. 5.

Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.