With North Wilkesboro coming back this week, it is only fitting to look back on some of the greatest drivers at the track. One may confuse the list of winners at the famed short track with a list of NASCAR Hall of Famers. Well, this list of the five greatest drivers at the track features five NASCAR Hall of Famers.
All Statistics according to driveraverages.com
5. Junior Johnson
By the Numbers: 21 Starts; 4 Wins; 12.5 avg. finish; 1,413 laps led
Breakdown: A Wilkes County resident, Junior Johnson had tremendous success as both a driver and an owner at North Wilkesboro Speedway. “The Last American Hero” won four races at the track as a driver, and also won 18 races as a car owner with the likes of hall of famers such as himself, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, and Terry Labonte amongst others.
4. Cale Yarborough
By the Numbers: 24 Starts; 5 Wins; 7.6 avg. finish; 1,608 laps led
Breakdown: The first Junior Johnson owned driver to have success at North Wilkesboro post Johnson’s driving days, Yarborough was simply tremendous at North Wilkesboro. From April of 1974 until October of 1977 Yarborough never finished outside of the top two in eight races including his first four wins at the track. Yarborough was the first of the hall of famers post Junior Johnson to drive for Johnson to great success at the track.
3. Dale Earnhardt
By the Numbers: 36 Starts; 5 Wins; 6.3 avg. finish; 2,681 laps led
Breakdown: Dale Earnhardt was always somewhere in contention at North Wilkesboro Speedway during his career. He finished outside of the top 20 only once, and outside of the top 10 only four times. The 6.3 average finish is the type of average finish of legends.
Earnhardt may have had six wins and an even better average finish if not for the accident with Ricky Rudd at the end of the 1989 Holly Farms 400. Earnhardt would win his final race there in 1995, leading 227 laps. Earnhardt also famously stopped Harry Gant’s quest for five race wins in a row in 1991 with a late pass.
2. Darrell Waltrip
By the Numbers: 45 Starts; 10 Wins; 9.8 avg. finish; 2.923 laps led
Breakdown: Arguably the greatest short track racer in NASCAR history, Darrell Waltrip made North Wilkesboro another personal playground. While in the midst of his famous seven straight wins at Bristol, Waltrip had his own streak at North Wilkesboro winning five straight races from October of 1981 until October of 1983.
Not only that, but Waltrip led 1,489 of the 2,000 laps run (74.45%) in those races. Simply put, Waltrip was unbeatable at North Wilkesboro during his years driving for Wilkes County legend Junior Johnson.
1. Richard Petty
By the Numbers: 66 Starts; 15 Wins; 10.0 avg. finish; 4,699 laps led
Breakdown: So much has been made about Petty’s dominance at Martisnville Speedway, but he was actually statistically even better at North Wilkesboro. Petty won 15 races, tied with Petty’s own mark at Martinsville for most wins by a driver at one track, had a 10.0 average finish, and led an astounding 4,699 laps, most by Petty at any track.
Petty also had an impeccable streak at the track as well. From September of 1968 through March of 1977, Petty’s worst finish was seventh, and, aside from that seventh, never finished outside of the top three. In that 18 race stretch, Petty had nine wins, 17 top-fives, 18 top-tens, and an absurd average finish of 1.8.
What current NASCAR star could become the next great North Wilkesboro driver? This weekend, we may find out.