It is a week that most thought would never come again. It’s North Wilkesboro Speedway race week. One of NASCAR’s original tracks, the quaint 0.625 mile short track hosted races in each of the NASCAR Cup Series’ first 48 seasons.
With all of that history, it is only natural that North Wilkesboro would have some pretty incredible races. Here are the top five best races at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
5. 1990 First Union 400 (Brett Bodine Gets his First Win?)
The 1990 First Union 400 is a race that Darrell Waltrip is still hot over. Brett Bodine elected to stay out under a caution at lap 186, handing him the lead. Dale Earnhardt eventually took the lead before Bodine short pitted while about a half-lap down under the ensuing long-green flag run.
After the pit cycle had completed, a caution came out with 62 laps to go. The pace car picked up Earnhardt as the leader. However, NASCAR realized a potential scoring error, and an 18 lap caution period ensued.
It’s important to note that electronic timing and scoring was not yet implemented. That was not until 1993, so scoring errors and scoring disputes were not uncommon.
NASCAR elected to put Bodine in the lead as he had made up his lap with fresh tires. He would pull away for his first and only Cup Series win.
Did Bodine win? It depends on who you ask. Bodine maintains that he won, but Waltrip claims that he or Earnhardt could have won.
4. 2020 IRacing Pro Invitational Finale (North Wilkesboro Back on the Map)
Yes this was only a virtual race at North Wilkesboro, but the impact this had on putting North Wilkesboro back on the map cannot be understated. After being closed following the 1996 racing season, the track fell into disrepair. Until Dale Earnhardt Jr. led an effort from iRacing to clean up the track and scan it for iRacing.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR filled the gap created by no live races by televising virtual races on IRacing, and the virtual North Wilkesboro was added to the schedule. Denny Hamlin would take the win in the race, but that was not the true story.
North Wilkesboro had always had a grass roots movement to get the track reopened, but this put it in front of the entire fan base. That combined with help from the State of North Carolina helped get North Wilkesboro to today’s schedule.
3. 1995 Tyson Holly Farms 400 (Ernie Irvan Returns)
Ernie Irvan suffered life-threatening injuries in a practice crash at Michigan in 1994. Many believed his racing career was over, but Irvan refused to quit on his career. After a long rehab, he made his return at North Wilkesboro wearing an eyepatch.
With only one eye, Irvan qualified seventh, led 31 laps, and finished sixth. All of this in a race that featured the most lead changed of any North Wilkesboro race with 28. A race won by Mark Martin.
2. 1988 Holly Farms 400 (Rusty Wallace’s Bump and Run)
Being a short track, North Wilkesboro Speedway has seen its’ fair share of bump and runs. A couple of late cautions set up a three lap dash to the finish between Rusty Wallace and Geoff Bodine. On the final lap, things got dicey.
Bodine bumped Wallace out of the way in the first turn, but Wallace still remained close. Heading into the final turn. Wallace pushed Bodine out of the groove, handing Wallace the win. Bodine would fall to third place as Phil Parsons would finish in second.
1. 1989 Holly Farms 400 (Dale Earnhardt vs Ricky Rudd)
Dale Earnhardt dominated the fall race at North Wilkesboro in 1989 leading 343 laps. However, he had to hold off Ricky Rudd in the final three lap dash to the finish. Rudd stayed on Earnhardt’s bumper immediately following the restart.
On the last lap, Rudd moved to the inside heading into turn one, and he and Earnhardt touched sending both into a spin. Geoff Bodine would come through to take the win as Rudd and Earnhardt fell to ninth and tenth.
Not only did the crash cost Earnhardt the race, but it ultimately cost him the championship. Earnhardt lost a potential 41 points. Rusty Wallace would beat Earnhardt for the championship by only 12 points.
The North Wilkesboro Speedway story is not done yet. This weekend will almost certainly add to this list.