Despite the fact that nature is beginning to reclaim a famed relic, I visualized this piece of history looking incredibly different. The idea came as I was researching for finals in a college class at OSUIT. The class was called, "Identity," and focused on corporate brands. We were challenged to present a new enterprise idea, or rebrand an existing one. I took this as my chance to imagine a rebrand effort of this speedway.
I have seen the phrase, "Bring back North Wilkesboro," in comments several times over the years. Until I dug deeper and researched, I never understood the obsession that fans seemed to have with this place. I knew it was popular, but my knowledge was limited to that. This all changed when I came across a YouTube video by a channel called, "S1apSh0es." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y4ubZiJh0o&t=490s
The narrator touched on some of the reasons for it being abandoned in 1996. He then began citing several cases as to why he felt so strongly that the venue should be resurrected. After hearing all of the fan reaction this content received, I thought this project could start some interesting discussions. I was excited to see where this project could lead me.
I found that the sport has deeper roots here than I originally thought. During the great depression, many sold and transported moonshine in the Carolina mountains. “Bootleggers,” began modifying their cars, to conceal booze and outrun, "revenuers." Wilkes County became known as, “the moonshine capital of the world.”
In 1945, a man named Enoch Staley bought land along U.S. 421 to create a track. His associates ran out of funds during construction, causing it to be asymmetrical. The front stretch slightly angled downhill, while the backstretch went back uphill. It opened in '47, nonetheless, with a huge turnout. Afterwards, Staley met with a promoter from Florida named Bill France. According to my research, this meeting would later be continued at Daytona Beach, and lead to the organization of NASCAR.
In Wilkesboro's heyday, NASCAR was sponsored by Winston cigarettes. Hence the, "Winston Cup Series," signage at the facility today. I picked up on something after following the sport for a decade. Older fans associate the red Winston branding used by NASCAR at that time with the good old days. When someone comments, "I miss the Winston Cup," I don't believe they are talking about Winston sponsoring NASCAR. I think they are talking about an era, and a sport culture from that time period that they miss. This widespread fondness for the past has the potential to be a major selling point.
I took this to heart, and decided that red would be the main branding color. I went with a brighter red than Winston to give the speedway a look of freshness to it. This separates the identity from the tobacco company in a subtle way, but still provokes feelings of a, "blast from the past."
Wilkes is synonymous with a local named Junior Johnson. He grew up running moonshine and became a NASCAR icon. Although he was briefly arrested, Junior boasted that he was never caught during a liquor run. He was not just an ace at the sport itself, but a hero that Wilkes could identify with. Some refer to the speedway as, “the house that Junior built."
Johnson’s 1940 Ford Coupe is an important piece of history and is featured in certain aspects of the brand image. A liquor company he founded called, "Midnight Moon," still exists today, using subtle imagery of that car.
En-route to the new track, patrons pass a monument; a life size replica of Junior's number 3 Coupe. The car is mounted on an angled platform, inside a structure reminiscent of a moonshine jar. The main marketing tagline of the speedway reads, "Birthplace Of NASCAR," which is featured on a plaque beneath the jar.
This could be displayed on trophies, much like Dover's mascot on theirs. I envision a mason jar atop the trophy for races at Wilkesboro, with a die-cast of the winner's car mounted inside. This personalized prize could become highly sought after, like the Harley J. Earl trophy from Daytona or grandfather clock from Martinsville.
Parking and infrastructure were some complaints I read, due to everyone leaving through one gate. To address the traffic flow problem, there would be two exits. One exit would connect to Old U.S. 421 as before. A new main entrance would be constructed by connecting to the neighboring Fishing Creek Road. To utilize this exit, on and off ramps to Interstate 421 would have to be built as well. To modernize the site, there would be paved parking. Some overflow is left around the edges for busy race weeks.
The dramatic lighting and scale of the entrance signage gives visitors the proper sense of awe, to appreciate the prestige this venue represents. Many fans have fond memories of showing up to their first race; the signage of the venue set the tone, and began the raceday experience.
Wall graphics wrap around the exterior of the stadium. They showcase various drivers and cars that were significant throughout the decades. Entry gates are named after the driver that is illustrated above them. The stadium exterior is very brightly colored, making it eye catching to onlookers.
Many structures have deteriorated beyond the capability for re-use. Some buildings have almost entirely collapsed. Even though the surrounding structure is rebuilt and modernized, I want to give a sense of nostalgia of how it used to look. The red pillars are purposely reminiscent of the old stadium.
Before repaving, the surface would be scanned and mapped in a 3D software. This is so that the exact shape and characteristics of the original track can be replicated. The asymmetrical up and downhill slant, and bumps are part of what made Wilkesboro so challenging and fun. The uniqueness of this is important, as it sets Wilkesboro apart from other tracks.
The seats have low contrast colors, while the racetrack walls have heavily contrasting red and black stripes. This makes the track the most eye-catching part of the stadium. This strategy was very well executed at Bristol Motor Speedway. There are LED lights on the catch-fences, that flash in various patterns and colors to signal cautions, and other track conditions. This helps racers and fans know what's going on, in real-time. It would also add to the interactivity of the fan experience, much like the SMI® owned, Texas Motor Speedway.
The open space in the grandstands entering turn three of the racetrack, is purposed for fans who do not have reserved seats. General admission tickets would be sold on a first-come, first-served basis at big events. The opportunities for concession sales and souvenir revenue would not be limited, in the event that the grandstands sell out.
Fans could sit at the picnic tables, or bring in lawn chairs, blankets, and beach towels to catch the race on the jumbotron screen. They could also stand along the railing to see the action from turn three. This idea came to me partially from past experience attending the Chili Bowl Nationals at Tulsa Expo.
Similar to other speedways owned by SMI, the ticket office serves as the official gift shop, and tour building as well. The gift shop portion is slightly offset lower than the rest of the lobby. This is intended to keep the building from looking cluttered from outside. This gives a more inviting look to the ticket buying experience.
Corporate hospitality is modernized to compete with other sports arenas. The VIP suites are a high-end, luxury experience. There is a private bar in each suite with catering service, and social activities for associates. Menu items would include dishes from barbecue vendors statewide, and fresh seafood from the coast. Feature alcoholic beverages are supplied by Midnight Moon liquor company, founded by the late Junior Johnson himself. Just past the steps and railing are several rows of theater like seats. The glass and walls would be very well insulated to filter noise.
Prime places for concession and souvenir vendors are common foot-traffic areas inside the stadium. One way to make this more profitable, is to give incentive to hang out and look around. Daytona has something called, "The Walk of Fame." Every year after the 500, the winner signs their name on a sidewalk tile. This is a tourist attraction and it got me thinking. My plan includes floor graphics of famous drivers in the concourse. Near each driver's picture, there would be shadow-box displays with more information and race-used artifacts along the walls. This makes the venue function as a stock car racing history museum for visitors.
One way to attract younger eyes to the sport, is having kid-friendly attractions. Teaming up with Disney Pixar would be a perfect collaboration. In the third production of the "Cars" franchise, the fictional, "Thomasville Speedway" was based off Wilkesboro. The, "Junior Moon," character is a direct tribute and was voiced by Johnson. Wendell Scott, Smokey Yunick, and other historical figures are hinted at, in the movie. Interactive games, exhibits, and booths to purchase memorabilia tailored to kids, would all enhance their experience. In the arcade, there are racing simulators facing a giant theater screen, so they can race against other kids and family members next to them.
Incorporating the backstory of characters and scenes, would raise interest in learning about the sport. This strategy would not only entice parents to bring their children to the races, but also inspire young people to keep coming back as they get older. Most lifetime motorsport fanatics seem to have developed their interest at a young age.
This merchandise, features Junior Johnson. The design style of the shirt was intended to have a vintage, classical look. Other merchandise would include flannel shirts, old-school baseball caps, posters, and other vintage products. Speedway employees would wear a uniform polo that resembles those worn in the Winston Cup days. This adds to the nostalgia, bringing the attendee back in time during their visit.
At the speedway's return, I envision the first race featuring late models, or open-wheel modified cars. These are popular in that region. Late models are occasionally raced by NASCAR stars in their free time. Having fan-favorite drivers join the pack would boost the track's growth. In my example of an opening event like this, Hallie Deegan, Kyle Busch, and Chase Elliott are in the field. I believe this attention they bring would lead to events with the NASCAR Truck, Xfinity, ARCA, K&N Pro Series, CARS tour, as well as other well known divisions.
The program cover was subtly inspired by the late Sam Bass's use of line-work to emphasize movement in his paintings. I experimented with a Huion drawing tablet, and the paint tools in Adobe Illustrator a bit.
Lowe's Home Improvement is a featured sponsor, as the company was founded in North Wilkesboro NC in 1921, and had a past relationship with the speedway. Duke Energy, along with several bank franchises could be sponsors as well. Bank of America and Credit One come to mind specifically, as they have partnered with NASCAR or SMI recently.
The grandstand tickets for the first race have a vintage look, so that they feel like a blast from the past with a modern twist. The QR code on the front would be used both for gate admission and promotional purposes. If fans download an app called, "Wilk Racing TV," they could scan the code to get access to live audio and video feed of the event. Wilk Racing TV would be a paid subscription service otherwise, but with the QR code, fans get free access for that particular race day, as a benefit for ticket holders. The number would also be used to access a public WiFi network at the speedway. This encourages fans to share their experience.
QR codes open up opportunities for promotional partnerships with sponsor organizations as well, to get the speedway's image involved in the community. An example would be showing your QR code at a sponsored business (gas station, restaurant, auto parts store, etc) for a discount.
A direct-mail campaign is aimed at season ticket holders; specifically, those who have a VIP suite at the speedway. I took into consideration that corporate executives often invite clients to sporting events for outings. Ninety percent of the demographic receiving this would be business-people. They may own, sponsor, or have another type of connection in the sport. The mail campaign rewards them for referring first-time attendees. This would lead to word of mouth advertising Wilkesboro Speedway needs, in the beginning stages.
Charlotte, Mooresville, Winston-Salem, Hickory, and Statesville, could be places to advertise, and get local support. This motion graphic promotes the opening, "Carolina Nationals." It would be used on social media, TV commercials, and on digital billboards in those areas.
As more and more internet activity is going mobile, making the speedway's navigation smooth and efficient on those devices was a priority.
Social media could be used for much more than just selling tickets. It could be used to interact with fans and add value to their experience. One way to do this, is to host Q&A sessions with drivers, teams, and media. Giving fans an opportunity to win prizes for posting a picture from their seat with a hashtag is another way to spark fan interaction. Online interaction is key to the speedway building a strong presence, as many social platforms consider that in their algorithms.
A Camaro is featured as the official pace car of the speedway, because of Chevrolet's relationship with SMI® over the years. White areas, along with text and logo elements in the design, have a matte finish. The base colors of the car have a reflective, color-chrome finish.
Souvenir trailers would be parked outside the stadium along with other vendors. These could also be used across the country at other events. They could advertise at events like the PRI (Performance Racing Industry) trade show, season banquets, outings, and other events in the industry.
A fan site called, "Save The Speedway," was founded in 2005 as a grass-roots movement to reopen the racetrack. Their content is really interesting, and they already have a big following. If you are interested in learning more about that, you should definitely check out SaveTheSpeedway.net. I would also like to shout-out to, Mod Squad Racing Media, as they were a big help. They visited the speedway in 2017, and took many high-resolution photos. I appreciate them for graciously allowing me to access their gallery. The photos aided with the signage, and other aspects of the property, used for this project.
In closing, it has been estimated that $45 million dollars of revenue is lost annually in Wilkes County, North Carolina, in correlation to the speedway shutting down. Not only would its return mark a new era in motorsports culture, but it would also help a little town in the middle of nowhere get back on its feet. I am not alone in believing that if the necessary funds were invested, Wilkesboro could be a success. It could not only stay afloat, it could compete. As the local economy climbs again, the possibilities would become endless. Hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and more would come to town once again.
It could become a major, nationally esteemed tourist destination, perhaps as prominent as Daytona and Indianapolis, if marketed well. Wilkesboro has the potential to surpass other venues and become the crown jewel of the sport because of its rich history and the uniqueness of the facility.
Every diehard motorsport fan would be curious, and want to come witness history at the, "Birthplace of NASCAR." If the speedway made a comeback, you could definitely count me in to buy a ticket.
I'd love to know what you think of the ideas presented. Let me know what your thoughts are!