by Brody Jones
In the state of Tennessee, people treat their sports as if it’s an organized religion. Case in point; there seems to be a pre-requisite that to live in Tennessee, you must be a Tennessee Vols fan and a Tennessee Titans fan and both teams are followed with a religious fervor that a Pentecostal preacher would be highly envious of. In terms of motorsports in the state, the altar of speed where race fans praise the name of their favorite drivers and buy their merchandise en masse is Bristol Motor Speedway. Some like to argue that the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” has lost some of it’s luster, almost like seeing a pretty girl without make-up, ever since the track went to progressive banking. In this edition of the “Shakedown Session,” I will debunk the myth that the progressive banking has been the sole reason for the decline in attendance and why, even without a sellout, Bristol is still a must-see race that you have to experience once in your life to truly appreciate.
First, let me give the uninitiated readers some background on what progressive banking is. The best way to explain it is that the angle of the banking at the bottom of the turn is lower than the upper part of the turn at the wall. If you stand at the bottom of the turn and walk straight up to the wall, it will slowly start to get steeper and steeper. Along with Bristol, Homestead, Las Vegas, and Lucas Oil Raceway Park at Indianapolis all have progressive banking. While the banking has made the racing better at Homestead and Las Vegas, the jury is still out on Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and Bristol. Some like the fact that there is more passing at Bristol, but those fans of the hell-bent for metal carnage that Bristol brought before loathe the new surface.
But, one cannot entirely lay the blame for Bristol not selling out last year (and likely this year as well) solely on the banking. A lot of it has to do with the economy forcing hardcore race fans to curb some of their race attendance to tracks closer to home. Bristol was aware of these potential problems late in 2008 and started a payment plan for season ticket holders after the revenue from that field of expenditures stopped coming in, and it was well received. Thanks to a great deal of local publicity in 2009, both races managed to sell out at the 11th hour. But in 2010, the economy finally took its toll and neither Bristol Sprint Cup race sold out. Of course, it didn’t help that the local campground sites and hotels were still charging sky high rates those weekends, choosing to basically tell race fans to shove it in terms of a break on their wallets. Thankfully, some local Bristol hotels have decided to give race fans a discounted rate, so hopefully this will help gain back some of the lost fans.
However, even with the issues of not selling out the races, the weekend festivities at Bristol each year are something that any racing purist must put on their “bucket list” before they die. In the spring, the track hosts a “Family Race Night” festival, complete with such fun activities as drivers partaking in Wii Boxing (for the record, A.J. Allmendinger is the king of Wii Boxing there), autographs from some of their favorite local drivers and NASCAR stars, free food (which will attract many a hungry Southerner), and an atmosphere that has enough electricity to light up the skies like a Roman candle. Then there is the venue, in of itself. With the constant high rate of speeds, compared to most short tracks, there is still plenty of contact. And being inside the great coliseum that has been described by some as “F-18 fighter jets inside a gymnasium.” Or, in this reporter’s words, much like being inside the world’s largest blender.
I have been fortunate enough to attend the spring Nationwide race at Bristol the last three years (including this one), but this year will be my first as a member of the media and going to Bristol each year, for me, is like a big tent revival. Much like other Tennesseeans, I worship at the altar of speed known as Bristol and am truly in anticipation to see what this year’s Nationwide and Cup races will bring. In closing, if you have never been to Bristol, I implore you to come visit this “Mecca of motorsports” at least one time in your life. Trust me, ladies and gentlemen, you will not go away disappointed!
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