May 21, 2023
North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
An Interview with:
MARCUS SMITH: Thank you to you all for all the positive coverage and all the great storytelling. It takes a lot of people to put this event on, and there's been a lot of great stories to talk about. The community of western North Carolina of Wilkes County, Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro, the NASCAR community with the way everybody has pulled together, the amazing people that have been here working to revive this speedway for the last seven months straight, our contractors, and just so many people that have worked tirelessly over particularly the last seven months but then so many that never gave up for years leading into this to get us to the point where we can make this happen.
Jessica, our executive director of the NASCAR All-Star Race here and our chief experience officer, was on point from the beginning to make things happen. She and Steve Swift worked together as a great duo to do some things that people thought couldn't be done.
It was a long road, but we got here and did some things that were really special.
THE MODERATOR: Jessica, any particular comments you want to make about this effort and what's taken place the last six months?
JESSICA FICKENSCHER: Yeah, just to echo what Marcus said, it was the community that kind of came behind us and really helped us. Huge thanks to the DOT, highway patrol, local law enforcement. We had countless meetings with them to try to figure out the best way to make this successful for not just for our fans but for the industry and for our neighbors. We still have traffic leaving but so far it's been a really smooth week in that regard.
They've just jumped in and helped in any way that we could. Local towns, for anybody that was at the fan fest, I don't think I've seen a hauler parade of fan fest with that much excitement and that much pride in a town in the 27 years that I've been with Speedway Motorsports. So that was really exciting.
Q. Jessica, from the people we talked to, the traffic concerns never really materialized. People got here early enough, I guess. What do you attribute that success to?
JESSICA FICKENSCHER: Definitely planning. From the day we decided we were going to have the All-Star Race here, we got on the horn with everybody we could locally and just had countless meetings, brought in some of our folks, the best in the business from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway and just kind of brain stormed. We worked with Waze, which is something we had never done before, to come up with specific routes. So if you were parking in a certain lot, we wanted you go that way and not have everybody come up through one main artery. So that was really successful, something that we'll probably replicate at other facilities now that we've seen it work.
Just a lot of town meetings, a lot of -- every Monday morning we would have a meeting with the mayors and the town managers from both towns, two mayors, two town managers, City Council. Just constant communication making sure they knew everything we were doing, meetings with all the neighbors. I think communication was the key, absolutely.
Q. Marcus, I know it's really early, but is there a place for North Wilkesboro in the SMI schedule of NASCAR events next season?
MARCUS SMITH: It's a question that's on my mind, as well. I think that when you see a successful week of events like we've had here, it's natural to think, boy, maybe we could come back here. I'm definitely thinking that way, that it's got a lot of potential.
I've never been to a NASCAR week where everybody was in such a good mood and everything was just going so well. It's definitely something that we're thinking about.
We just started working on next year's schedule with NASCAR, so we'll see. I think that -- not speaking to next year specifically, I do think that there's definitely a place in the NASCAR world for North Wilkesboro Speedway, and whether it's a special event like All-Star, maybe one day it's a points event, I don't know. I think it's a very important place for short track racing, the late model races, the modifieds, you name it. It's a special place. It's like walking into a museum that's active and living and very special for the competitors and the fans alike.
Q. Marcus, are you going to have to repave before you have another event, and if so, was there still any thoughts of just making it dirt?
MARCUS SMITH: Great question, so it depends on who you ask. I talked with Darrell Waltrip earlier before the race, and he said, you've got to repave this thing. I talked with the King, and he said, let them race on this old pavement.
There are a lot of different ways to think about it. I think for -- what I think is that our team has done an amazing job at preserving the track, keeping it together. They've learned some new things on the surface and kind of managing it, keeping it together and creating a really varied surface that I think challenges the teams.
It'll be interesting to see how it weathers, and when it needs to be repaved, we'll repave it. I think I would lean towards not repaving until we absolutely have to.
Q. Marcus, even as we've seen Atlanta, the technology now with a repave is different than what it used to be, and the perception can be different --
MARCUS SMITH: Well, yeah. Our goal in the next repave is to present a track where the asphalt surface is not like a parking lot surface. Our paving goal is totally different than what asphalt is actually made for in paving. But a parking lot or a street, you want it to last for a super long time and you want it to be smooth.
I don't mind how long it lasts. I really want it to come out of the box racing really well.
We'll see how it works, and I'm sure after tonight we'll have some more data and look at what's next.
Q. Along the same line, we keep peppering you with the same things, but I was talking to fans today, there was one guy in particular, he grew up around this track and he was walking around and he was in tears. He said, we're proud -- we can go to Darlington, we can go to Charlotte, but those aren't our tracks. This is our track, and we're proud of it. Obviously we can't sit here and say tonight we'll be back next year for the All-Star, but what's the immediate future for this track? Is it cars, a tour, that kind of thing? What can we tell these guys that live close to here and are so pumped up about the future of this track?
MARCUS SMITH: Yeah, that's great. People have talked about how special this is. Thousands of people have said to me, you have no idea what this means to our community.
I think we all kind of feel that. This is a special place and a special event, and it's because of this rebirth opportunity. It's never happened before that you've taken a sporting venue and left it for dead and it's been revived. It's a true Lazarus story.
I intersected with a number of those fans that had a similar story, and for everybody I would say, this place is going to have racing on the calendar in the very near future. I have had great conversations with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick about what could we do here with the CARS Tour.
I think like I said earlier, this place is special not just for the fans but the competitors alike, and in fact, when I was having that conversation with Darrell Waltrip and the King, they asked me, now how old is this pavement again? And I said it was 84, and they both looked at each other and said, "We raced on this track!"
So what a cool thing, for every race car driver to race on the same surface as Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip and a bunch of other legends. We want to make that available for a lot of racers that will come from all over the country to be here.
Q. Marcus, can you take off your business hat for a second and just describe what it was like, your emotions all weekend coming to and from the track and seeing what was going on and just this place being back to life?
MARCUS SMITH: Yeah, just incredible gratitude. I am just amazed at how hard everybody here worked to make this happen.
Jessica and Steve Swift have led this team of a couple hundred people that have come to work with a real mission mindset, not a typical clock-in, clock-out mindset but a real mission mindset, and I think it shows up in what they've been able to achieve.
They were able to start this project in January, and it's May right now. This place was covered in kudzu vines and poison oak and trees growing out of the grandstand less than 12 months ago.
They completely built a brand new facility out in Turn 4. Governor Cooper, when I saw him on Wednesday, he said, I gave it a 50/50 shot that you would actually get this done, and he said, and I was being generous at the time.
It is truly amazing.
My feelings have just been incredible gratitude. I'm just so inspired by them. It's really great.
Q. What have you learned out of this experience, and where do you see that experience being able to be translated into other tracks, specifically even Nashville where you guys are trying to get at?
JESSICA FICKENSCHER: I think for me, it was that I've learned that the community is really important, and it's the catalyst to being successful. Just listening to them and being a voice for them and just -- I don't know, the community was the most important thing to me, I think, in this whole process, and I really wanted to make them proud. Terry Parsons was a big part of this. You with your Save The Speedway efforts were a big part of this, and just seeing everybody kind of really see what happens when you take a grass-roots effort, and it's our field of dreams right now.
MARCUS SMITH: I learned how cool it is that NASCAR fans are truly embracing the history of the sport. The history of our sport is more important now than ever, and it's the 75th year of NASCAR, so we finally have a good bit of history that people can look back to, and this weekend, more than I've ever seen, I've seen three generations of fans. It was very common over the last week to talk with a grandfather, his son, and the grandson. Really, really cool to see three generations of family members coming out here and how much our fans love the history of the sport.
Q. Could you speak to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s role as kind of the ambassador of this track and what he's done to push things forward throughout the week?
MARCUS SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. There are a lot of people that you could say it wouldn't be possible for us to be here today if it weren't for so and so, and there truly are many, many people. Dale Jr. is a critical part of that. If he hadn't had the passion and the history for the sport to say -- and the passion for iRacing to say, hey, can we just capture this thing for iRacing, then you wouldn't have the momentum to continue kind of believing, I think.
Then we had the Racetrack Revival. Dale got behind that, wanted to be a part of it. Grandstands sold out. Just the magic was everywhere during the Racetrack Revival this past August, and then of course having his platform of his podcast is just so tremendous.
I mean, he's the pied piper of NASCAR fans around the world, and I think his support was the jet fuel to make this happen.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports