The future Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is helping a classic stock car racetrack survive – in iRacing. Earnhardt, a well-known iRacing fan and driver, pays for the abandoned North Wilkesboro Speedway to be cleaned up and scanned into the ultra-realistic racing simulator.
Earnhardt shared pictures on his social media earlier this week, in which he and an iRacing delegation visited the facility. The cleanup (no renewal) removed “a huge pile of weeds and dirt” from the track and left “a super race-ready surface”.
“I am delighted that this track will be made available to the iRacing community,” said Earnhardt.
The medical center looks like something from Left 4 Dead 2 …
In a recent episode of his podcast, Earnhardt thought about cleaning up the surface and integrating it into iRacing. Apparently, he and the team at iRacing, which is being developed and published in Boston, have teamed up in the meantime. The makers of Earnhardt and iRacing know each other well, and his team, JR Motorsports, created a full-time team in the eNASCAR Peak Antifreeze iRacing series (the Sim companion series for the eNASCAR Heat Pro League, in which JRM also has a team).
iRacing is much more than just a simple race on a console. It is a sophisticated and very precise driving simulator that requires high hardware requirements to participate. Professional drivers are known to be driving there, and NASCAR-promoted William Byron certified iRacing to start his professional career in real life. Earnhardt was also Byron’s first boss and signed him to compete in a late-model race for JRM in 2014.
The last races in the Winston Cup took place at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1996 (the peeling billboard still surpasses the US 421). This year, the Speedway’s local owners sold the track to Bob Bahrah, the owner of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and North Wilkesboro Given to larger stretches of Bahrain and Bruton Smith, whose Speedway Motorsports is the largest chain of NASCAR tracks.
The condition and cost of upgrading the North Wilkesboro Speedway was prohibitively expensive even in the 1990s, as NASCAR had (and still has) short-distance events in Martinsville and Bristol.
Earnhardt Jr., who retired in 2017, has never participated in the NASCAR top series in North Wilkesboro. His career began in 1999. His father, the late Dale Sr., raced there from 1979 to 1996 and won five times.
Although NASCAR’s administrative headquarters are in Charlotte, NC, few locations reflect the origins of the sport in rural garages and souped-up bootlegging vehicles, more than in North Wilkesboro, which is still known for producing moonlight. The driver and owner of the Hall of Fame, Junior Johnson, is from nearby Ronda, NC (in fact, Johnson himself had a 1956 moonlight conviction pardoned by President Ronald Reagan) in North Wilkesboro.
In 2003, Johnson considered buying the North Wilkesboro Speedway, restoring it, running small series NASCAR races, and using it for a driving school and test track. However, the plans failed due to disputes among investors and the numerous economic obstacles they would face to get the line going again.