First Sgt. Sgt. Richard Aldridge of the N.C. Highway Patrol said effective traffic management was critical during NASCAR All-Star Race Week, especially Sunday when NASCAR Cup drivers competed at the North Wilkesboro Speedway for the first time since 1996.
“We all understood that it was very important to pull off a safe and efficient plan” for managing traffic, said Aldridge, supervisor of the Highway Patrol district that includes Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany counties “We knew traffic was a main point for opening the speedway and bringing NASCAR back.”
Everything indicates that the North Wilkesboro Speedway passed the traffic test with flying colors, including Sunday when the All-Star race, Dierks Bentley concert and other events drew a capacity crowd of over 25,000 people.
Aldridge said the goal was to have all parking areas managed by Speedway MotorSports, owner of the speedway, cleared of vehicles within two hours after the All-Star race ended Sunday night. He said this was accomplished in one hour and 42 minutes.
He attributed the success to thorough planning and cooperation between multiple agencies and Speedway MotorSports. Discussions among these partners about traffic began in December, he said. “I can’t say enough about the (N.C.) Department of Transportation, Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro police departments, Wilkes Sheriff’s Office and Speedway MotorSports all pulling together in the same direction.”
Aldridge said representatives of the partner entities knew traffic was a factor they could control during All-Star Race Week, an event one motorsports blog host characterized as the speedway’s audition for NASCAR.
NASCAR’s future use of the historic venue is still uncertain despite growing fan support for returning it to the Cup circuit, but Wilkesboro Police Chief Tommy Rhodes said it’s safe to say there would be little hope for this if traffic had been a mess Sunday.
Even Dale Earnhardt Jr., among the speedway’s most effective advocates, voiced concern about the potential for traffic problems during All-Star Race Week. In a podcast a few days before the week began, Earnhardt said he feared traffic would be a difficult challenge. He also acknowledged some of the steps taken to prevent this.
A key issue is lack of direct access to speedway property via a four-lane highway, which could be remedied with construction of a new exit ramp from U.S. 421. This has been discussed in the legislature.
Concerns were fueled by traffic problems when over 22,000 spectators — more than expected — turned out for CARS Tour race at the speedway on Aug. 31, 2022. Representatives of Speedway MotorSports said they learned from this experience and were determined to prevent a repeat.
Aldridge credited Speedway MotorSports for spreading out arrival of fans at the speedway by scheduling popular events at different times, including Sunday when a concert featuring country music recording star Dierks Bentley started several hours before the All-Star race began at 8 p.m.
He said the public responded well when Speedway MotorSports asked fans to buy parking passes in advance, download and use the WAZE navigation app to find their assigned parking areas and arrive early to take advantage of a “Fan Zone,” family-friendly activities, food and beverages and multiple concerts.
Jessica Fickensher of Speedway MotorSports, executive director of All-Star Race Week, said traffic was spread out by WAZE showing fans the most efficient routes to their parking spaces. “So that was really successful, something that we’ll probably replicate at other facilities now that we’ve seen it work,” she said.
Fickensher said Speedway MotorSports representatives had countless meetings with DOT, Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officials “to try to figure out the best way to make this successful not just for our fans but for the industry and for our neighbors. They’ve just jumped in and helped in any way that we could.” They also consulted with certain traffic experts.
She regularly met with representatives of the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, Wilkes Economic Development Corp. and governments of Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro and Wilkes County to plan the Hauler Parade and Fan Fest in the Boros on May 18 and other aspects of All-Star Race Week. “I don’t think I’ve seen a hauler parade or fan fest with that much excitement and that much pride in a town in the 27 years that I’ve been with Speedway Motorsports,” she said.
Aldridge said Eddie Dew, a retired Highway Patrol trooper who served in Wilkes and still lives here, assisted planning efforts by providing written traffic plans for NASCAR Winston Cup race weekends at the speedway before they ended.
Parking provided by Speedway MotorSports included a privately-owned 20-acre field along Fishing Creek Road about a mile from the speedway and the parking lot of the former Lowe’s Companies corporate headquarters in Wilkesboro, with free shuttle service between these sites and the speedway. Combined, these had handled about 7,000 vehicles.
Aldridge said use of these two parking areas did much to reduce congestion in the area around the speedway. He said people leaving the 20-acre field on Fishing Creek Road were directed to N.C. 115 instead of in the opposite direction to Speedway Road and the speedway. He said that in 1996 and earlier, off-site parking was available only in a large field on the south side of U.S. 421 East, directly opposite the speedway on the north side. This field was used during All-Star Race Week.
After races, the outside eastbound lane was limited to traffic leaving the field. Motorists leaving the field who wanted to head west had to drive east to the Red, White and Blue exit to turn around. The access point between the field and Fishing Creek Road was only available to shuttle vehicles. People turning into field from U.S. 421 used the newly-paved shoulder of the outside eastbound lane as a turning lane to help avoid traffic problems.
There were plans to convert both of the two lanes of Speedway Road to northbound lanes for vehicles leaving parking areas adjacent to the speedway, but traffic never was heavy enough for this. Aldridge explained that a continuous flow of traffic was needed to avoid having problems with southbound vehicles,
There were about 3,500 parking spaces on-site at the speedway and about 5,000 spaces for sale by landowners along Speedway Road and Fishing Creek Road, said Thomas Vesey, director of guest services for Charlotte Motor Speedway and the North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Sign Up For Newsletters
Success! An email has been sent to with a link to confirm list signup.
Error! There was an error processing your request.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.