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Pro Invitational Series ending at North Wilkesboro

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Credit: NASCAR

Twenty-four years ago, North Wilkesboro Speedway hosted its final NASCAR Cup Series event. Twenty-four years later, the track will once again play host to a NASCAR race, though a virtual race this time. During Sunday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race broadcast, Fox Sports confirmed the historic speedway will host the sim racing league’s finale next Saturday.

The legendary circuit was a part of the Cup Series’ inaugural season in 1949, a race won by the first-ever pole winner Bob Flock. North Wilkesboro went on to host races for nearly five decades, with the track running two Cup dates annually since 1951. However, aging and NASCAR’s continued growth eventually left the speedway behind, and it hosted its final race in 1996.

Then-one-time champion Jeff Gordon won the Tyson Holly Farms 400 to close out the track. The now-four-time champ and Fox commentator quipped on the broadcast about potentially participating in the race; he had made his Pro Invitational début last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I said Talladega is the only race that I’m gonna do on iRacing,” Gordon said. “I don’t know, that news is exciting. I may, I may have to come back to North Wilkesboro.”

After NASCAR departed the track, it began to fall into disrepair. Various grassroots series like the Pro Cup Series and American Speed Association (ASA) held races there in 2010 and 2011, but it has sat mostly untouched since. Despite some fan efforts to enter the track and the presence of a caretaker, it is greatly discouraged.

Nevertheless, fans have regularly hoped that North Wilkesboro would make a real-life return to the NASCAR schedule. Since 2005, the group Save the Speedway has led a campaign to preserve and reopen the track.

In 2019, Dale Earnhardt Jr. spearheaded an operation to scan the track into iRacing, and the service intends to officially release it into public use by June.

The Pro Invitational Series schedule has followed the real-life Cup calendar prior to its pause due to COVID-19, but with the season set to resume on 17 May, NASCAR will wrap things up in a special way.

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History major at San Jose State University and lifelong motorsports fan who covers NASCAR and the Stadium Super Trucks.
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