Why North Wilkesboro Means So Little to Many NASCAR All-Stars
North Wilkesboro Speedway was one of the eight venues chosen to host races during NASCAR's first Cup (then, it was Strictly Stock) season in 1949.
In fact, it was the moonshine industry’s epicenter in North Carolina for three decades—1940s through the 1960s.
When NASCAR’s Cup Series last raced at the historic short track on Sept. 29, 1996, two All-Star competitors—Austin Cindric and William Byron—weren’t yet born.
Stock car racing’s roots trace back to moonshining, two businesses in which North Wilkesboro Speedway and Wilkes County, North Carolina, played key roles.
North Wilkesboro was even one of the eight venues chosen to host races during NASCAR's first Cup (then, it was Strictly Stock) season in 1949.
The bootleggers honed their driving skills on the dirt roads fleeing federal agents—revenuers—and the illegal whiskey runners often challenged each other to races in an open field to determine who possessed the fastest car. It wasn’t uncommon for those who built powerful engines to service cars on both sides of the law.
When NASCAR was in its infancy in the 1950s, moonshining was rampant in Wilkes County. In fact, it was the moonshine industry’s epicenter in North Carolina for three decades—1940s through the 1960s. Several of stock car racing’s early stars hauled the corn liquor, which was illegal because no taxes were paid on it. For many families living in the Appalachian Mountains and foothills, it was their only source of income.
Bill France Sr., along with several other entrepreneurial men, saw the crowds the impromptu bootlegger races drew and NASCAR was born. For the first 20 years of the 21st century, NASCAR tried to disassociate itself from its roots so it would appeal more to New York City’s Madison Avenue.
However, with NASCAR’s return to North Wilkesboro Speedway for its All-Star race, the sport’s moonshine heritage is being embraced. The trophy is a replica of a still, designed by Call Family Distillers, a Wilkesboro-based craft distillery that’s also the Official Moonshine of North Wilkesboro Speedway. Also, located atop the frontstretch grandstands is the Checkered Past Speakeasy.
While all of this may be familiar to Wilkes County residents and long-time race fans, it’s unfamiliar territory for those competing in this year’s All-Star race.
When NASCAR’s Cup Series last raced at the historic short track on Sept. 29, 1996, two All-Star competitors—Austin Cindric and William Byron—weren’t yet born. Most were infants or young boys. Kevin Harvick was the oldest at age 20. Next was Martin Truex Jr. at age 16.
Below are the ages of the other All-Star competitors when NASCAR conducted its last Cup race at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1996.
Ross Chastain – 3 years old
Austin Dillon – 6 years old
Kyle Larson – 4 years old
Brad Keselowski – 12 years old
Kyle Busch – 11 years old
Chase Elliott – 10 months old
Denny Hamlin – 15 years old
Ryan Blaney – 2 years old
Chase Briscoe – 21 months old
Chris Buescher – 3 years old
Christopher Bell – 21 months old
Joey Logano – 6 years old
Bubba Wallace – 2 years old
Erik Jones – 4 months old
Tyler Reddick – 9 months old
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 8 years old
Daniel Suarez – 4 years old