Every race fan has his or her favorite track and I guarantee you most will say that they have a “home” track even though they live several hundred miles from it.
That is the relationship that my wife and I have with Bristol Motor Speedway. Now this isn’t a recent courtship as the ol’ half-mile bullring of a track with its high banks first caught our attention when it was known as Bristol International Raceway.
It was 1990 when we made our first pilgrimage for the night race at the East Tennessee track and at that time the seating capacity was only a little over 50,000.
The only real amenity that the track had to offer in those days was the setting of the sun against the hill that was at that time behind the track. Once the sun went down and the brake rotors began to glow red and the tempers of every driver was just as hot, we became hooked on what we were seeing. On the drive home, the decision was made to pursue the hardest ticket in the sport at that time and it was not just tickets for the night race, we were going all in on our pursuit of season tickets.
It took a couple of years to get them and I did get a lot of help from a Food City employee that had a great relationship with the track as that sponsorship between the two was just getting off the ground.
By that time Bruton Smith had his hand firmly over the future of Bristol and little did I know that other than the track itself, we were going to be treated to a “new” Bristol.
The makeover of Bristol from what it was the first time I climbed the hill to get into the track to how it stands today is hard to put into words. Those amenities that may have been lacking on our first trip, even though we thought it had it all, they are now the standard just like the rest of Smith’s Speedway Motorsports’ tracks.
Bristol didn’t just stop there, they started offering so much more than just two NASCAR weekends a year.
Over the years we have watched a college football game at the track, we enjoy a drive through the track each year to see the Christmas lights and will never forget the race day when they turned the creek just outside of the track green for St. Patrick’s Day.
One last memory and the track didn’t “officially” put this one on but we were there when Kurt Busch was making snow angels on the track during a red flag of an Xfinity race.
All of that is extra. I could go on and on about what we have seen on the track throughout the years. We saw Dale Sr. rattle a cage, Dale Jarrett throw his helmet, Mark Martin try to drive to victory lane one lap before the finish of an Xfinity race and more pit road fights after a race than you can count.
We also saw Alan Kulwicki’s hauler leave after his death in a plane crash and was lucky enough to be in victory lane when Rusty Wallace celebrated his 50th Cup Series win in the Food City 500.
We were also there when Bristol decided to cover up its concrete with dirt in 2001 to host the World of Outlaws.
Once again the track has decided to write its next chapter in its history book by bringing the dirt back but this time it will be for NASCAR as it hosts both the Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Cup Series during the March 27-28 weekend. According to senior vice president of operations and development for Speedway Motorsports Steve Swift, the track’s transformation from an all-concrete racing surface to dirt is on schedule.
One unique aspect of the building of the new surface is that the dirt that is already on the track as a base layer is actually the dirt that was used back in 2001.
It’s still Bristol but it’s going to be a “dirty” Bristol this time around and it has already caught the eyes of race fans. The track announced last week that the grandstand capacity has already been reached for the Cup race. It’s just good to know that once again my home track may be the toughest ticket to get your hands on for the upcoming season.