Randy Dowell’s last-minute decision to take in the NASCAR All-Star Race Hauler Parade on May 18 resulted in an especially memorable experience.
Knowing his 5-year-old son, Caston Dowell, loves race cars, the Moravian Falls man decided it was too good of an opportunity to pass up after he got off work at Appalachian Lumber Co. in Wilkesboro that afternoon.
Caston was on his father’s shoulders in front of the Liberty Theater on Main Street, North Wilkesboro, when the man known as the “king of NASCAR” suddenly was just a few feet away.
Dowell stepped over and leaned in to give Caston an even better look at parade marshal Richard Petty, sitting on the back of a convertible. Petty obviously couldn’t resist reaching out to shake the young fan’s hand, and just for a moment their two smiling faces and hands connected.
Dowell later acknowledged that Caston only knew he had shaken the hand of a real race car driver. Dowell told Caston a little about the seven-time NASCAR champion from Level Cross to help him understand the significance, knowing it will mean much more to him later. Petty, 85, won at the North Wilkesboro Speedway 15 times, the most of any NASCAR driver.
Caston did get to see several (replica) race cars in the parade, including Petty’s number 43. These were followed by about 40 brightly-painted tractor-trailers that haul the race cars and related equipment of NASCAR Cup Circuit drivers. Drivers of the rigs frequently blew their air horns.
The parade was led by Wilkesboro Police Chief Tommy Rhodes and North Wilkesboro Police Chief Rob Thornburg.
The thousands of parade watchers in the Wilkesboros included local residents and people here for NASCAR All-Star Race Week at the North Wilkesboro Speedway.
The parade and Fan Fest made the return of NASCAR to the North Wilkesboro Speedway even more memorable. There hadn’t been a NASCAR event at the historic track since the last Winston Cup race there in 1996.
Earl Sharpe, a retired military police officer living in New Brunswick, Canada, watched the parade with a fellow Canadian and several North Wilkesboro police officers. Sharpe had exchanged police patches with local officers.
All-Star Race Week was part of a series of NASCAR events Sharpe was attending, including the Goodyear 400 in Darlington, S.C., on May 14 and the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 28.
The parade began at 6 p.m. in Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge in Wilkesboro and ended with the 18-wheelers headed down East Main Street, North Wilkesboro, and to the North Wilkesboro Speedway via N.C. 115 and Speedway Road.
The crowd size was considerably larger than the turnout for a Wilkes County Christmas Parade. Capt. Brad Mathis of the North Wilkesboro Police Department said the plan for handling Christmas parade traffic was adapted for the post-hauler parade traffic. Mathis said this went well.
The NASCAR All-Star Race Hauler Parade was part of Fan Fest in the Boros on May 18, organized by North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro officials in cooperation with Speedway Motorsports LLC, owner of the North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Fan Fest began at 4 p.m. with opening ceremonies, with Speedway Motorsports President Marcus Smith sharing welcoming comments. It concluded with fireworks that night in North Wilkesboro’s Memorial Park.
The event included live music, food trucks and activities in and around the Yadkin Valley Marketplace in downtown North Wilkesboro and the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons in downtown Wilkesboro. Wilkes Transportation Authority provided free shuttle rides between the two venues.
At the Yadkin Valley Marketplace, there were 12 food trucks, a 36-foot-tall Ferris wheel, remote control racing, virtual racing, a “pit crew challenge” in which participants were timed as they changed a tire.
A mechanical bull was a big hit at the Commons in Wilkesboro.
The Speedway Children’s Charities Cornhole Tournament also was on the Central Business District Loop in front of the Yadkin Valley Marketplace. It was coordinated by Luke Jarvis, founder of Wilkes Youth Life Development (WYLD). The winning team of Warren Hose of Pilot Mountain and Gregory Jones of State Road received tickets to the NASCAR All-Star Race on Sunday, May 21. Speedway Children’s Charities is the charitable arm of Speedway Motorsports.
WYLD, which works to build positive environments and provide meaningful experiences for youth in Wilkes, was among numerous local non-profits that received financial support from Speedway Motorsports for assisting in various ways with NASCAR All-Star Week. WYLD also organizes cornhole competitions during Wilkesboro’s Concert in the Commons series.
The Justice Project, a ministry of Unified City Church in North Wilkesboro, received $3,000 from Speedway Motorsports for manning golf carts that shuttled people at the North Wilkesboro Speedway during All-Star Race Week, said Jody Brady, co-director of the Justice Project with his wife, Nickie Brady. An individual donor matched this with another $3,000. The Justice Project provides assistance to children in low income families, homeless people and others in need.
Speedway Motorsports employed Deena Parsons, volunteer coordinator for MerleFest, to coordinate involvement of numerous volunteer organizations.
Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports LLC, made welcoming comments during opening ceremonies of Fan Fest. Speedway Motorsports, owner of the North Wilkesboro Speedway, donated $5,000 apiece to the Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro for Fan Fest activities.
Downtown North Wilkesboro retailers and restaurants stayed open later than normal Thursday and said business was good.
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