NASCAR Tracks of the Past: Part 1


North Wilkesboro Speedway. (Photo: ISC Archives)


There are a number of tracks no longer on the NASCAR landscape that created many memorable moments during their existence.

Since the sport’s inception all three of NASCAR’s top divisions have competed at a variety of venues literally from coast to coast as well as north and south of the border. While many facilities are no longer in operation and others are in disarray, here are Pete Pistone's opening five in the first installment of "Tracks of the Past."

North Wilkesboro Speedway
NASCARNorth Wilkesboro may be the most beloved former race track on the planet by many NASCAR fans. The North Carolina short track was on the NASCAR scene from the very start and hosted the eighth and final race of the inaugural 1949 NASCAR season. It remained a fixture on the schedule until its untimely demise in 1996 when Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith purchased the facility and harvested its dates to New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway respectively. New ownership brought the beloved facility back to life in 2010 but a handful of regional touring series races were not enough to keep North Wilkesboro alive. Jeff Gordon will go down as the final NASCAR race winner at Wilkesboro in 1996 while Richard Petty set the mark of 15 career wins at the .625-mile track. 
The Milwaukee Mile
NASCARThe legendary Wisconsin track holds the distinction as the oldest operating track in the world hosting at least one auto race every year since 1903 with the exception of during the World War II years. Housed at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds “The Mile” has seen some of the sport’s most famous names competed at the historic facility. NASCAR made its first foray to Milwaukee in 1984 when the then Busch Series competed in a race won by Sam Ard. The series came back in 1985 but it did not return again until the 1993 season when Steve Grissom was victorious. The Camping World Truck Series began racing at Milwaukee in its debut season with Mike Skinner winning in 1995. Both divisions competed annually at Milwaukee until promotional issues ended NASCAR’s involvement at the track. The track continued to host Indy Car racing until a few seasons ago and a recent story in the Milwaukee Business Journal suggests the facility’s existence is in question.
Heartland Park Topeka
NASCARBefore today’s road racing craze, NASCAR visited a unique road circuit literally in America’s heartland. When the Kansas venue opened its gates in 1989 it was the first brand new auto racing facility built in the United States in 20 years. The multi-purpose facility included a drag strip and twisting road course that hosted the Camping World Truck Series for five years starting in 1995 when Ron Hornaday was victorious. The race was also memorable as the field included team owner Rick Hendrick, who started 16th and finished 23rd that afternoon. Mike Skinner, Joe Ruttman, Stacy Compton and Mike Bliss all took checkered flags at Heartland Park in the series’ run at the track. Sports car and drag racing continue today at Heartland Park. 

Walt Disney World Speedway
NASCARThose longing to have their racing itch scratched during the winter months no doubt look longingly back to the days when WDW Speedway was in operation. The track located just outside the famed Magic Kingdom was built in 1995 by IMS Events Inc., a subsidiary of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The unique layout was a three-turn tri-oval and was created primarily to host the season-opening Indy Racing League Indy 200, which kicked off the year in January. In 1997, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was added to the track schedule also in January and two races were held. Joe Ruttman took the checkered flag in the 1997 debut with Ron Hornaday winning the following season. The final professional racing season at Walt Disney World Speedway was in 2000 with an Indy Racing League-USAC Silver Crown card before what was known as “The Mickyard” shifted into a business model as a host for the Richard Petty Driving Experience and the Indy Racing Experience for fans. Sadly the track was ultimately demolished to make way for more parking.

Pikes Peak International Raceway

The mile-long PPIR track sits in Fountain, Colorado and had a strong run on the NASCAR schedule for many years. Both the Busch (now XFINITY) Series and Camping World Truck Series debuted at Pikes Peak in 1998. Matt Kenseth won the first of what would a total of eight Busch Series races at the track. Ron Hornaday Jr. was victorious in the Truck Series race that same year. NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series West also competed at Pikes Peak for many seasons with the likes of Michael Waltrip and Kevin Harvick finding Victory Lane. The track ceased operations for some time but has been brought back to life in recent years as a home for driving schools and training. The area of the country presents an opportunity as an underserved market for big-time auto racing and a return to PPIR has a chance to be greatly embraced by fans in the area.

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