The North Wilkesboro Speedway has had a relentless fighter in its corner for a long time in the form of Terri Parsons.
The speedway’s imminent revitalization—sought for many years but considered by many to be a far-flung fantasy—is a checkered flag for Parsons, a Purlear resident who still has many NASCAR connections to her late husband, racing champion Benny Parsons.
The use of $18 million in the state budget to bring the speedway back to working order—starting with water and sewer connections—purports to be in the local headlines in 2022.
This interview with Parsons was conducted last week and has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: As a longtime advocate for the revitalization of the speedway, how gratifying is it to see the steps finally being ready to be taken for its facelift?
A: It is absolutely incredible. I have been fortunate enough to have gotten to work with Steven Wilson with Save the Speedway Foundation for over 15 years towards this reopening. Prior to me he had been working with Benny. Everyone knows the story by now how Benny left me a list of things to get done for him. This now completes that list.
Q: We should know much more after track owner Marcus Smith speaks at the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce’s annual member dinner on Jan. 20, but what’s your personal take on what will happen at the speedway in the 2022 calendar year?
A: I feel 2022 will be one where we see a lot of focus on infrastructure of the facility. There is a lot to be done before the “old girl” gets the cosmetic facelift that everyone who drives by on (U.S.) 421 (North) wants to see happening.
As Ronald Queen, the new (speedway) director of operations always says, “You have to be able to flush toilets and turn on the lights first.”
Q: Looking five years ahead, what are your goals (and dreams) for the reemergence of the speedway?
A: Five years from now, I would like to see the tremendous impact this facility, being re-opened and in operation, has economically generated back to our county. I want to see new businesses relocating to Wilkes County because of the speedway. We have had a couple already.
Along with those businesses will come employees who need to purchase or lease housing. I hope to see more hotels and restaurants as we take our rightful place in the history of the sport of racing.
I would like to see North Wilkesboro Speedway give race fans from around the United States what they have all been saying they want—racing “the way it used to be.” We need to tell people of our important past as we move forward into the future.
Q: What would one of Wilkes County’s favorite sons, Benny Parsons, think about the effort that’s gone into the “saving” of the speedway? Has his spirit helped bolster your drive and determination?
A: I know Benny as well as (late Wilkes native, NASCAR driver and owner) Junior Johnson would be thrilled watching our whole county come together as one to help move this towards the next phase. They never would have believed all the elected officials, local residents, businesses and organizations could finally work as one.
I know how badly both Benny and Junior wanted this to happen for the people of Wilkes County. Both of them have bolstered a lot of our drive and determination to make this happen. Wilkes County has never been so cohesive.
Q: Will the speedway’s sprucing up have a synergic effect on the filming of movies and videos here in Wilkes? Are there any projects upcoming in 2022 that you can speak of?
A: Yes, it will help.
I think a lot of people think films and videos are only filmed at the speedway. That just isn’t true. There are a lot of commercials, music videos and so forth shot at the speedway, but the majority of movie, TV, videos and commercial ads are shot throughout the county. Wilkes County has so many different looks and such great locations.
As for upcoming movie productions involving the speedway, this spring “Wilkes County Line,” which is currently in pre-production, will be shooting throughout the whole county. The creative premise for “Wilkes County Line” came to the director and writer (team of Rick Balentine, Tanille Um and Mark Rickerby) after reading about the “We Want You Back” campaign we were doing as a county.
Editor’s note: “Wilkes County Line” is being produced by Charlotte-based Temple Gate Films. Parsons is also the Wilkes County film commissioner.