By: Jason Schultz
The smell of race fumes. The roar of the cars going around the track. The fans cheering, booing and getting excited for a night race at Bristol. All of those things are what you can expect at Bristol on race weekend. The Bristol Motor Speedway is unlike any track on the NASCAR circuit. The atmosphere at the track is indescribable; the feeling of being at the Bristol Motor Speedway at night is amazing. Just looking around the track and seeing the cars beat and bang is breathtaking. I looked at the words “Bristol Motor Speedway” painted on the backstretch wall and that sent chills down my back. Just seeing the Bristol Motor Speedway was amazing, every day driving to the track I would always get excited when I saw the track. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was flying in to Charlotte Wednesday and I looked up, out the plane’s window I saw it. The Bristol Motor Speedway from high above. That was an amazing start to an even more amazing weekend. On the Wednesday when I arrived at the Bristol Motor Speedway, I was amazed. This little thing holds so much power and excitement. I saw and heard the fans talking about how cool it was to be here in Bristol and then I heard the crazier fans screaming “Jr” when he wasn’t even racing.
After climbing the hill up to Bristol, I ran to the grandstand entrance to see the Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time through my own eyes. It was incredible. The sight of the trucks going around the track, the packed infield and then there was the track itself. The track surface is amazing, it looks so good and it looked ready to be raced on. Even though the truck race wasn’t too exciting with Timothy Peters leading every lap, I still was amazed to see the trucks circle around the track and run side by side. My favorite part of that night was looking a few rows down in the grandstands and seeing Nationwide Series Driver Cole Whitt. Whitt was just sitting in the stands among race fans with his friends and a few Jr Motorsports employees. I probably was the only one who noticed him for awhile before word got out he was there. I think Cole knew I had noticed him because he gave me a few looks and told me without speaking he didn’t want to be bothered. Whitt and all other drivers racing at Bristol this past weekend haven’t raced on the revamped surface and were trying to learn the new surface.
As the race winded down, I began to look in the stands at another driver that looked familiar. It was Brian Vickers. Vickers was trying to learn the new surface just like Whitt. I believe there were a few more drivers in the stands as well; I just couldn’t match a name to a face. Peters won the race and started off a great weekend for Toyota. Thursday was the Food City Fan Night where the Bristol Motor Speedway closed down State Street (Street that separates Tennessee from Virginia) for different vendors and events. Over 50 drivers came out to sign autographs as well. Many were local racers in the Bristol area that many people didn’t recognize. I got to meet at least twelve drivers including Elliot Sadler, David Ragan, John King, Johanna Long, Scott Speed and many more! That night the Sprint Cup haulers made their way to the Bristol Motor Speedway and the fans lined the street to watch them.
Then came the busiest day of the weekend for Bristol Motor Speedway, Friday. Friday included a day packed with Sprint Cup practice and qualifying along with Nationwide Series practices, qualifying and a race. I arrived at the track just before ten in the morning and thousands of fans were already at the vendors outside of the track and when I walked up into the grandstands to watch Nationwide practice, many fans were already in their seats watching. It was incredible to see that many people watching a practice, especially knowing it only was the Nationwide Series. Friday went by very quick and just when I was about to go up and watch Sprint Cup Qualifying, the 20% chance of rain rolled in. This was very disappointing. It was all my luck that it would rain because I haven’t gone to a race since 2006 where it hasn’t rained. After this very long thunder storm rolled through, the jet dryers rolled out on the track to begin drying the track so we could witness a great Nationwide Series race. The Nationwide Race started out exciting when drivers were running side by side trying to gain that extra position and when their patience ran out, we saw cars go into the wall.
All night long we saw beating and banging and what it looked like was the “old Bristol.” The revamped surface isn’t all like the “old Bristol” but it sure is similar. The one lane racing returned even though it wasn’t the bottom lane but they only could run one lane and that was the top lane. The racing was exciting and that’s what I wanted out of the race. The day I had been anticipating for eight months had finally arrived. It was the Irwin Tools Night Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway. I arrived at the track just before one o’clock and I had a lot I wanted to do. I was able to walk on the track and walk along the pits and got to experience Bristol’s surface, first hand. The banking at Bristol is huge. It seems way bigger in person than on TV. It is incredibly steep. Even the frontstrecth banking is steep. The Bristol Motor Speedway is surely one tough beast and only the best survive the 500 miles.
Next on my pre-race agenda was the tweetup. If you are unfamiliar with a tweetup, it was when a bunch of race fans who are on twitter meet up before the race and chat. It is usually run by Jeff Gluck of SB Nation and Bob Pockrass of the Sporting News. I finally got to meet-up with some of my favorite twitter friends including: @TheCatchFence, @88NASCARNurse, @GirlLovesRacing, @Chris48Gibbs and @Liz2_Beth5. Guests at the tweetup included Ryan Blaney and Clint Bowyer. As Bowyer cracked jokes, Blaney just stood in the back essentially un-noticed. After the tweetup, it was time for the pre-race concert and driver intros. Bristol Motor Speedway does everything all out. Their driver introductions include a red carpet, drivers selecting their own songs to walk out to and drivers getting to introduce themselves. My favorite songs included Kurt Busch selecting “Red Solo Cup” and Danica Patrick selecting “Fastest Girl in Town.” The fans were able to pick their favorite driver introduction and they selected Denny Hamlin who danced out to “The Wobble.”
It’s race time. The drivers are in their cars, the fans are on their feet and it is time to go racing. Drivers started out racing side by side until they strung out into the single line racing. One of the main reasons Bristol underwent track changes was because of the lack of fans attending the race. I can assure you this race was packed. Yeah there were a few open seats here and there but there were way more fans at this race than in the spring. The race featured a ton of excitement. From Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth racing for the lead then they both wreck each other and helmets were thrown to Danica Patrick having a great run only to be taped from behind and wreck and then she showed her displeasure to Regan Smith. The race had all the great pieces I expect Bristol to have. After the race tempers flared, excitement was felt throughout the stands and there were a bunch of wrecked cars being put back in their haulers. After this race, fans want more Bristol racing. I do too. Bristol is back and better than ever.
This concluded my visit to the Bristol Motor Speedway and I can walk away and say this was my favorite weekend at a track ever. The experience at the Bristol Motor Speedway is by far the best in NASCAR and it will only get better.Please join us on our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter @DailyShootout