Dale Earnhardt Jr. May 8, 2021; Darlington, SC, USA; Former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits in the restored 1984 Chevy Nova driven by his father the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. on pit road prior to the Steakhouse Elite 200 at Darlington Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this month, NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he will drive a JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the CARS Tour Late Model Stock race at the new and improved North Wilkesboro Speedway on August 31.

Now a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, Earnhardt Jr. is thrilled at how the North Carolina track has been repaired since it was wasted away following the NASCAR Cup Series departure in 1996. The .625-mile track with uphill and downhill straightaways was left to be reclaimed by nature until recently when it was revived and is now ready to race once more.

“It was fascinating,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports. “I thought for sure it was gone forever. And here we are.”

Now, Earnhardt will be getting behind the wheel of the No. 3 Chevrolet, which will be sponsored by Sun Drop, and he’s nervous and excited about the return to racing.

“I’m nervous about going there and knowing whether we can compete, but it really doesn’t matter in the end,” Earnhardt said. “I just want to cross the finish line and drink a cold beer.”

For Earnhardt, this race is the culmination of a long clean-up effort that he played a role in getting going.

“I had come to the realization that North Wilkesboro was lost forever, that the track and property would never find any purpose,” Earnhardt said. “So we asked Marcus (Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports, which owns the property) if we could scan it for iRacing. It was in decent enough shape that we could scan it, but we had to clean it up.

“We did that, and that was the last box to check before the place was going to slowly disappear. I’m extremely passionate about iRacing, and that was a way for the track to live in a virtual sense. That created a lot of conversation around the track, and I think Marcus realized in that moment that there were a lot more people interested than was thought. He told me, ‘I need to take this seriously. There’s something here.’

“When he saw what we were doing and saw the response, it just triggered something in him.”

Earnhardt hopes that this is the first of many races at North Wilkesboro and that NASCAR and other racing bodies consider incorporating it into their schedules once more.

“I think people should really appreciate all the effort that’s going into having the races there because nobody is making any money,” Earnhardt said. “It’s all for the fans and the love of the track. Everybody needs to go into it with the idea that it’s all about the experience.”

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.