Campaign launched

North Wilkesboro Commissioner Andrew Palmer helps put up a “We want you back” banner the front of the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce building along Main Street, North Wilkesboro on Thursday.

A campaign has been launched to tell owners of the North Wilkesboro Speedway that Wilkes Countians want to see the track reopened.

It began late last week with a banner that says, “We want you back,” being hung across the front of the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce building on Main Street, North Wilkesboro. North Wilkesboro Speedway logos are on either side of “We want you back.”

“We want you back” yard signs with the speedway logo were also put up along the sidewalk in front of the B Street Park on Main Street, North Wilkesboro.

“We want to assure Marcus Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc. that Wilkes Countians would like to see something happen with the speedway,” said Wilkes Chamber of Commerce President Linda Cheek on Friday.

Marcus G. Smith is president, chief operating officer and director of Concord-based Speedway Motorports Inc. (SMI), which owns the North Wilkesboro Speedway. He is the son of Bruton Smith, SMI’s founder and chief executive officer.

SMI encountered opposition to its plans to bring NASCAR racing back to Nashville, Tenn., and Cheek said the “We want you back” effort is intended to show SMI that it wouldn’t experience opposition in Wilkes.

Terri Parsons of Purlear, Wilkes County’s film commissioner, is credited with initiating “We want you back” and is spearheading the effort. Parsons said she was talking to Eddie Settle, chairman of the Wilkes County commissioners, about their shared interest in seeing the North Wilkesboro Speedway reopened when Settle brought up the need to “show some love” to the Smiths.

Parsons has long-standing ties to NASCAR, the Smiths and others prominent in motorsports racing through her husband, the late Benny Parsons, a Wilkes native who won the 1973 NASCAR Cup Series and was inducted posthumously into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Parsons said reopening the North Wilkesboro Speedway is the only one of 10 things her late husband left her to accomplish.

The Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority board approved granting $5,000 for the “We want you back” effort at its April 27 meeting. Cheek requested the funds to pay for banners, yard signs and any other “We want you back” promotions. Cheek’s term on the TDA board ended in June.

She said a “We want you back” billboard will be put up near the North Wilkesboro Speedway, visible from U.S. 421. Cheek said local business people plan to put up billboards with the same or similar messages,

Wilkesboro TDA Director Thomas Salley said the $5,000 will be paid to the Ragg Company in North Wilkesboro for making the banners, signs and other promotional materials. Salley said the Ragg Company already had North Wilkesboro Speedway logo files from doing business with SMI.

Cheek said people should contact the Ragg Company to get signs and other “We want you back” promotional material.

North Wilkesboro Town Manager Wilson Hooper said Crystal Keener, Downtown North Wilkesboro Partnership director, is participating in the “We want you back” committee. Hooper said the town is promoting the campaign by posting it on its social media.

Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said Wilkesboro is participating through the Wilkesboro TDA.

Cheek and Salley both said the campaign is in response to comments Marcus Smith made when he was interviewed on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Podcast on March 30.

Smith told Earnhardt during that interview, “I just want you to know that we haven’t forgotten North Wilkesboro. We haven’t given up on it,” referring to the North Wilkesboro Speedway.

When asked what that meant, Smith responded, “It means we’re thinking. We’re working on it. No promises, but we have not forgotten about it. That’s the big message.”

Smith added, “I know a lot of people think that I don’t care, and that’s not true, I really do care. If we can think of a way to do something there, we’re going to…. I don’t want people to think that we don’t care. I work on ideas regularly to figure out how we do something there.”

He continued, “I think there might be hope to do something there” at the North Wilkesboro Speedway. “You never know. To be sure, I’m not saying a NASCAR race. I’m just saying that something could be done.”

The North Wilkesboro Speedway opened in 1947 as a dirt track. It was later paved and became a mainstay in Winston Cup racing, with spring and fall NASCAR races each year. Jeff Gordon won the final NASCAR Cup Series event on Sept. 29, 1996.

If sat dormant for over a decade before being revived for a series of short track touring division races, including Pro All Stars Series and Pro Cup, in 2010 and 2011.

The track has been the venue for several commercials, music videos and other film projects and received some upkeep in preparation for being the basis for an iRacing simulated race online last year. Otherwise, it remains dormant and falls deeper into a state of disrepair.

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