The end of an era. That is the only way to describe the closing of North Wilkesboro Speedway on May 26, 2019. The speedway, which opened in 1929, served as a proving ground for some of the greatest racers of all time. Now, it is time to bid adieu to one of America’s most storied venues.
The announcement came as a massive shock to the community. Just a few weeks earlier, the legendary track had been included on the list of the Top 10 Historic Racing Venues in America. The track’s popularity saw it host numerous world-class events, including the National Championship, over its 88-year lifespan. Thousands of fans showed up on what was arguably one of the most important dates in the track’s history, as it was the day before the 2019 Memorial Day Weekend.
Although the track had been struggling for a while, it was still held in high regard among fans and the racing community. After all, nobody can compete with the beauty of a sunset at the Bristol Motor Speedway combined with the roar of thousands of racing fans. Sadly, those days are gone. The track will close in May and then be dismantled.
Decline Of The Track
North Wilkesboro is far from the only track to close its doors. Over the past few years, several legendary venues have shut down, leaving fans across the country disappointed. The two biggest tracks, for example, are Bristol and Darlington. Both closed down in 2019 and will no longer host any form of racing. It is truly a grim time for racing fans, with many tracks closing down, leaving only a handful standing.
What happened? The main reason behind the decline of America’s sporting venues is the increasing difficulty in securing sponsorship to underwrite the costs of competitive racing. Many tracks, like Bristol and Darlington, have been facing this problem for a long time, with the venues struggling to find sufficient revenue streams to support their racing programs.
The situation has become so dire that even the flagship tracks, such as Kentucky and Charlotte, are looking to close down their respective motorsports arms. It certainly isn’t a sustainable situation.
New Horizons For Racing
Thankfully, there are signs that the sports world is changing for the better. At least for auto racing. In February 2019, Chase Carter, the CEO of Watkins Glen International, spoke to the media and laid out his vision for the future of the sport.
“I think it’s going to become more of a family-oriented sport,” Carter said. “More kids are going to be interested in it, and more families are going to come together and enjoy the sport.”
Amen. It is a goal of ours to see kids engaged in motorsport, especially given the increasing cost of child care these days. We have a five-year-old daughter, and it is simply not affordable to bring her to races, not to mention the fact that she would probably want to join in the activities, anyways.
Why Are Racing Fans Attracted To These Venues?
There are many reasons why fans are attracted to these venues. First of all, they are located in some of the most beautiful parts of the country, boasting stunning views of the countryside or downtown areas. Add to that the aura of nostalgia that comes with these places, and you have a potent cocktail that ensures fans will keep showing up.
The venues have also hosted some of the greatest races in the history of the sport, from the humble beginnings of the NASCAR Cup in the ’50s with a few hundred thousand spectators, all the way up to the modern era, with crowds in excess of a million fans attending the biggest events, such as the Winston Cup or the Indy 500.
It is safe to say that these days are gone, as attendance at NASCAR races has decreased by about half over the past two decades. The sport has also lost a lot of its luster, as many tracks now host only one or two events per year, while others don’t even host any racing at all. That is not good news for the sport, which still struggles to find a way to keep going, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic put a huge dent in its viewership.
As great as these venues are, they are not indestructible. Anyone who has ever seen Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, knows that no matter how grand the venue, it can be destroyed, in the end. The same goes for the other venues on this list, which have all succumbed to time and nature.
So what is the future of racing? In 2021, fans should have hope of seeing a revival in the world of motorsport. The right formula for attracting fans and sponsors has yet to be found, but it will come sooner or later. In the meantime, tracks are doing their best to hold on as long as possible, albeit, many are struggling, like North Wilkesboro. But that is a whole other story.