Anyone who visited North Wilkesboro Speedway from the year it was first shut down until I first returned to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule this past May surely met Paul Call, who first started working at the track in 1963 as a teenager, and one who guarded it until it returned to life in 2022.
Call died on Sunday at the age 88 following a bout with cancer.
When the track was first closed in 1996, sold to Speedway Motorsports and its two dates sent to New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, a provision was included in that contract that Call would be employed by the facility as long as he lived.
For most of the next 24 years, the track sat largely dormant beyond two Super Late Model revival attempts in 2010 and 2011 with a young Chase Elliott even winning one of those races, and Call was the gatekeeper and groundskeeper throughout that time.
In fact, anyone who wanted to legally pay their respects to the facility would need to find Call, who was frequently found on his Ferris lawn mower tending to the grounds around the track. His duties were to keep the facility from falling into complete disrepair and he could not have done a better job. Call was a gentle giant of a man, who sometimes had little to say but would occasionally open up and tell the absolute best stories about his time living at the track.
The little house behind the frontstretch is the one he resided in all this time.
At one point, there was a concern that Paul Call would pass and the track would disappear with him, but instead a grassroots revival effort in 2022 led to the return of NASCAR in 2023. Call was healthy enough to experience both the revival and the facility revitalization.
His work was done and the oldest track on the NASCAR schedule will continue forward for decades more. That’s the sentiment shared by Steven Wilson and the Save the Speedway group that worked dutifully for years to reopen the track.
A statement from the organization can be found below.
“For more than 60 years North Wilkesboro Speedway has been cared for by one man, Paul Call who began working for Enoch Staley when he was just 16 years old watching the track flourish with the best NASCAR drivers in the world and the biggest of events.
When the track closed in 1996, Paul continued his work as the only employee of the speedway caring for the track he lived next to, telling stories and keeping the facility safe. Paul never lost faith NASCAR would return and the speedway would reopen and it did with the 2023 NASCAR All Star Race right outside his front door as he watched the speedway reborn.
Paul was a friend and his stories will be missed.”
Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.