Updated: Nov 14
The significance of North Wilkesboro Speedway came to light for me, as I was researching for finals in a college class at OSUIT. The class was called, "Identity" and focused on corporate design, specifically, maintaining a brand voice. In the final project of the class, we were assigned to either create a new product/company, or come up with a rebrand concept of an existing one, and present it. I took this as my chance to let loose and imagine what a re-branding effort of this speedway could look like.
As a fan of stock car racing, I have seen the phrase, "Bring back North Wilkesboro," mentioned in comments online several times over and over throughout the years. Until I dug deeper and researched it, I never understood the reasoning for the hype or obsession that fans seemed to have for this particular track. 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." The video was similar to a documentary style clip, discussing the history in depth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y4ubZiJh0o&t=490s
The narrator touched on the significance of this speedway to racing. He explained some of the reasons for it being sold and abandoned in 1996. He then began citing several cases as to why he felt so strongly that the venue should be resurrected. Hearing the story from him, and all of the fan reaction that this topic generated, I knew this would be an interesting project. I would get to practice graphic design while simultaneously learning more about the sport's history. Needless to say, I was really excited to do this project.
I learned that stock car racing began during prohibition in this region of the country. During the Great Depression, settlers sold and transported moonshine in the winding roads of the North Carolina mountains, to make a living. That region was perfect to hide stills, and transport liquor. “Bootleggers,” began modifying their cars engines, suspensions, and removing the back seats, to conceal liquor and outrun law enforcement, "Revenuers." Highway 421 was a major transport route. Wilkes County became known as, “the moonshine capital of the world.”
In 1945, a man named Enoch Staley bought land along Highway 421 and constructed the speedway after seeing a race elsewhere. It opened in 47' with a huge turnout. After the opening race, Staley met with, "Big Bill," France. This meeting eventually continued in Daytona beach, and led to the creation of NASCAR. Wilkesboro became synonymous with a local guy named Junior Johnson. He grew up running moonshine nearby and became an iconic NASCAR driver and team owner. He was one of those stars who was not just an ace at the game itself, but a hero Wilkes County could identify with. Some people have even gone so far as to call the speedway, “the house that Junior built."
Johnson’s 1940 Ford Coupe is a very important piece of history and is featured in certain aspects of the brand image. His liquor company, "Midnight Moon," in fact, still exists. I took branding aspects of that, and incorporated them into the project to appeal to that target group that associates the moonshine company with the region.
The facilities were one of the main reasons for the speedway's closing. According to my research, the venue was lacking in hospitality and fan experience, even by the standards of it's time. I took this into account, and began brainstorming from there.
The parking situation was one complaint found in my research; this was due to everyone leaving through only one gate. To modernize the property, the majority of parking would be paved. Some overflow would be left around the edges for extremely busy race weeks. To address the traffic flow problem, there would be two exits. One exit would be old Hwy 421 as before. The other exit would be constructed by connecting to the neighboring Fishing Creek Road. To utilize this plan, on and off ramps to Interstate 421 would come into play as well.
The dramatic lighting and scale of this signage display visitors see as they enter or exit the property, gives them the proper sense of awe, to really appreciate the magnitude and prestige of where they are. Many motorsport fanatics (myself included) have fond memories of showing up to our first race, and how the signage of the venue set the tone, and began the raceday experience.
There are wall graphic illustrations wrapping around the exterior of the stadium, to highlight the historical roots. They showcase various drivers & cars that were popular or significant in the sport of auto racing throughout the decades, as it pertains to Wilkesboro. Entry gates are named after the driver that is illustrated above them. The stadium exterior is very brightly colored to make it highly visible from neighboring roads and onlookers driving by.
Many of the corporate suites and other structures have deteriorated beyond the capability for re-use. Some buildings have almost entirely collapsed. Even though the updated facilities are rebuilt and modernized, I wanted to give fans a sense of nostalgia nonetheless. The look of the venue, as well as the architectural design, is supposed to tell a tale. The red pillars are also reminiscent of the old stadium structures.
The seats have less contrasting 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 the speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. There is LED lighting on each of the catch-fence poles, that flash in various patterns and colors to signal cautions, green flag racing, and other track conditions. This would help 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 3 of the racetrack, is a concept for a general admission area for fans who do not have reserved tickets. These admission tickets would be sold on a first-come, first-served basis at every racing event, allowing for the target demographic to be widened. The opportunities for concessions and souvenir revenue would not be limited, in the event that the grandstand seats sell out before race day.
Fans could sit at the many picnic tables, or bring in lawn chairs, blankets, or beach towels to catch the race on the TV broadcast screen. They could also stand along the railing to see the action from turns 3/4. 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 building 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.
The corporate hospitality is modernized to compete with other major sporting arenas in the U.S. The VIP suites are a very high-end, luxury experience. There is a private bar in each suite with live catering service, bartending, plenty of seating, social activities for clients and their associates in a comfortable, uncluttered space. Just past the steps and railing are several rows of theater like seats. The glass, and walls would be very well insulated to filter engine noise.
The prime area for concessions and souvenir vendors is inside the stadium. One way to make this more profitable, is to give fans incentive to hang out in that area, and look around. Daytona International Speedway has something called, "the walk of fame." Every year after the 500, the winning driver signs his name on a sidewalk tile. This area is a huge tourist attraction for Daytona and it got me thinking. My plan includes floor graphics of famous drivers in the concourse, which would pique the interest of fans. Near each driver's picture, would be shadow-box displays with more information and memorabilia of that driver along the walls. This makes the venue function as both a racetrack and a racing history museum for visitors.
One way to attract younger eyes to the sport, is to have kid-friendly attractions and activities. Teaming up with Disney and Pixar would be a perfect collaboration opportunity to appeal to younger people. In the third production of the "Cars" series, there are several references to historical NASCAR facts, and some even believe that the fictional, "Thomasville Speedway" was based off Wilkesboro. The, "Junior Moon" character is a direct tribute and was actually voiced by Junior Johnson himself. Wendell Scott, Smokey Yunick, and other motorsports individuals are hinted at, in the movie. Areas in the stadium with interactive games, exhibits, and vendor booths to purchase toys and memorabilia tailored to kids, would all enhance their experience. Information about the backstory of the characters and scenes, would also raise interest in learning about the sport. This strategy would not only entice parents to bring their children to the races, but entice young people to later want to return.
The fan apparel, attributes Junior Johnson. The design style of the shirt was intended to have a vintage, classical look. Other merchandise would include flannel shirts, vintage style posters, old-school style baseball caps, and other vintage products. This adds to the effect of bringing the attendee back in time, seeing fellow race-fans wearing this gear at the track.
Upon the return of a motorsports venue like this in the North Carolina market, I envision the first major race would feature asphalt late models, or open-wheel modified cars. These disciplines of short track racing are extremely popular in that region of the U.S. This would likely be the first step to get this track back on the map, in the industry. Late models are also widely raced by NASCAR stars in their free time. Having fan-favorite drivers join the field would help boost the track's growth. In my example of an event like this, Hallie Deegan, Kyle Busch, and Chase Elliott are all in the field.
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, and I was quite pleased with the results.
Lowe's Home Improvement is a featured sponsor, as the company was founded in North Wilkesboro NC in 1921, and had a relationship with the speedway in the past. Duke Energy, a company serving the Charlotte area, along with several bank franchises in the Charlotte area could be potential sponsors as well. Bank of America and Credit One come to mind specifically, as they have partnered with NASCAR, and/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 and colleagues to sporting event suites for outings. Ninety percent of the demographic getting this mail-piece will likely be business-people. They may own, sponsor, or have another type of corporate connection in the sport. The mail campaign rewards them for referring first-time attendees. This will give the speedway an extra boost, in the beginning stages.
In addition to Charlotte and Mooresville, Winston-Salem, Hickory, and Statesville, could be prime towns 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 mobile devices account for more and more of the total percentage of all internet activity, making the speedway's website mobile-friendly was a priority. The homepage functions as a blog, with news updates and press releases posted. When a viewer clicks on the, "buy tickets," button, they would be directed to Ticketmaster to choose their seats and make purchases.
Social media could be used for much more than just selling tickets to future races. It could be used to interact more closely with followers and add value to the fan experience, at the track. Some ways to accomplish that are to host giveaway sweepstakes and Q&A sessions with drivers, crews, and media. Sharing behind-the-scenes content is another way to engage fans throughout the raceday. Hashtags and stories could be utilized very effectively to motivate fans to follow, and interact with the speedway online.
A Camaro is featured as the official pace car of the speedway, because of Chevrolet's relationship with SMI® over the years. I had the target demographic in mind, and kept the wrap design simple enough to be legible from various different angles. 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, and used all over the nation. This opens opportunities for Wilkesboro Speedway to 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 honestly believe that if the funds were invested, the speedway could be a huge success. It could not only stay afloat, but even compete in today's marketplace. As the local economy climbs again because of this, the possibilities become endless. Hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and more would come to town once again.
It could become a major, nationally esteemed venue and tourist destination, perhaps as prominent as Daytona, and Indianapolis, if marketed well. Every diehard fan would be curious, and want to come witness history at the, "birthplace of NASCAR" with their favorite stars racing on haloed ground. 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!