Thursday, March 23, 2006

A little bit of Bristol

I’ll let you in on a little secret. A lot of NASCAR drivers secretly hate Bristol Motor Speedway, the .533-mile track that so many fans love.

Bristol’s concrete surface is very rough – there are plans to redo it after this year’s two races, in fact – and it really is a one-groove track when you get right down to it. Drivers prefer nice, wide tracks where they have plenty or room to race and plenty of room for error. There is no room for a mistake at Bristol.

You seldom hear drivers utter discouraging words about Bristol, though, because they know the fans really enjoy watching them run it. Heck, most of the drivers will even tell you that if they could watch the race instead of run in it, they’d love it, too.

You really can’t blame a driver for having trepidations. He can have the best car in the field by two-tenths of a second per lap and be running away from everybody and still get caught up in somebody else’s mess in the blink of an eye. There’s a randomness to it, and drivers by and large enjoy at least having the illusion of control.

At the same time, I promise you that if they’d let me run NASCAR my schedule would come here about every six weeks. I’d give the teams just enough time to get the cars rebuilt and we’d line up and go again.

I am an unabashed Bristol fan.

The city of Bristol straddles the state line – the actual border is State Street downtown, with one side in Virginia and the other in Tennessee. The track is several miles on the Tennessee side, but when they completed the upper deck in Turn 1 I joked that some of those seats were so high they were in Virginia airspace.

The stands are right on top of the track and it feels like if you stumbled forward walking down the steps you might land in the racing groove. Out behind the grandstands, beyond either end of the track, large campgrounds are stacked with campers and motor homes that give shelter to thousands of fans.

As cold as it’s supposed to be this weekend, it’s going to be essential for those folks to have plenty of gas for their generators or firewood for their campfires. It’s also going to be tough on the drivers, who’ll be trying to get enough heat in their tires to make laps in around 15 seconds around the track in practice and qualifying on Friday. It won’t be easy, and that’s a big reason it’s so much fun to watch.

The common question is "Why doesn’t somebody build another Bristol?" The actually is a fairly simple answer. You really can’t do anything else on this track but race. I know that may sound a little silly, but other tracks get revenue from driving schools and corporate outings and a lot of other things that Bristol just isn’t all that good for.

If you’re going to invest $150 million or more in building a new track, you have to have more than just two or three weekends a year where you generate revenue to make it make sense. Bristol has a great drag strip on the grounds and wrings out what it can from things like a holiday lights display in December, but the oval’s general use is limited.

Still, I completely agree with the marketing slogan this track uses.

Bristol is, indeed, "racing the way it oughta be."


Anonymous said...

Bristol is by far one of the most exciting races to watch. If you leave the TV for one minute you can miss a lot. It is even greater to actually be at the race. I have been there many times since I only live about 3 hours away. I have even been to some of the drag racing there. Nothing better than Bristol. Well except maybe seeing Dale Jr. win there!!!:)

Monkeesfan said...

Why do people consider Bristol as anything but the worst track the sport goes to? There is little passing, lots of wrecks, no room to race, a useless surface - the place was actually good when it was asphalt - and that's it.

Anonymous said...

The Bristol races are exciting, but they were better when the track was asphalt and the cars had bias-ply tires. They could run two wide all the way around the track then and it was still very fast for a half mile track. Now its faster but one groove and you can't pass without using the bumper. Of course everyone comes to see the wreck anyway.

Angela said...

It's so exciting, but it's also the most blood-boiling when your driver gets wrecked and it was not his own doing. That's why I root for enough drivers that if one gets knocked out, I still have someone to cheer for!