Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Sometimes the Ticket Sales Aren’t All About the Racing, Even at Bristol

Yep, Bristol’s Night Race was awesome. Sitting in the exit of turn 4, I was immersed in watching the drivers think their way through a new track and ultimately was delighted with the old-new-mini-Darlington.

But you’ve heard all this. By Tuesday just about every NASCAR journalist out there has spun their own interpretation on the on-track extravaganza we all enjoyed on Saturday night. There’s another side to Bristol which the television really doesn’t adequately display – it’s the rest of the show. And let me tell you folks, the Cup race weekend is a really big show in these parts. Bigger than any other track I’ve been to.

For years and years I’ve been told that New Hampshire has the most campers of any track. I don’t think so. Perhaps on track property, but in Bristol, Tenn. you have to take into account Farmer Bob’s acres, the Earhart Campground and the myriad of other front lawns and church parking lots that fill up by Saturday morning. It’s stunning. Outside Gate 13 the closest terraced hills are adorned by a virtual high rise condominium built entirely out of RVs. Legions of fans were already in residence by Tuesday – when we finally parked our rig on the top of the Dragstrip.

Still, bringing in 100,000 tourists is old hat to NASCAR and to this small city in the hills of Tennessee. Nothing really new there, is there? Oh hold on. There’s track hospitality, and then there’s Bristol. At the Food City down Veterans Highway another patron – clearly a local – stopped us and welcomed us to town, complete with genuine smile and the soft southern drawl. Danny at Appalachian Tire helped us replace our spare tire after a blowout. Everywhere we went staff members sported NASCAR t-shirts, smiled and wished us a good race. OK, in a tough economy an area might want to roll out the red carpet to garner a few extra dollars. Totally makes sense. But all this welcome felt like a bit more.

Bristol, the track and the city, threw their hearts into making sure every fan attending had a great time. From the tram drivers to the ticket takers I piled up the, “Have a good time, now,” with each interaction.

Then there’s Fan Fest, a daylong festival in downtown Bristol that culminates with the Hauler Parade. Really, it doesn’t take an entire day to welcome NASCAR to town, but they did it anyway. Free food sampling, lots of great music, driver appearances, vendors… dazzling. Besides the aforementioned, Jerry Callwell opened the gates to the track so we could watch the haulers park in their tight spots in the infield. Fans new and old filled the section around us enjoying this slow motion spectacle.

We exchanged memories and knowledge, our northern accent always earning us a pleasant and interested, “So, where ya’ll from?” That was Thursday. The weekend barely started and already I had added the Bristol area as one of the more pleasant tracks I have visited in my life.

Everywhere I turned another small touch of hospitality appeared that said not only did Bruton Smith fix the track surface, effort was also made to draw back the ticket holders that had been leaving as quickly as the TV ratings dropped with the aborted 2007 track reconfiguration. I could decide the grandiose welcome mat was a direct result, but honestly it didn’t feel that way. Simply, SMI and Bristol tool a hard look at how things ought to be done and put those results into action.

I’m very thankful. Thankful for the fireworks on Thursday night (sorry for waking up your kids, drivers! Oh, wait! We’re having a great time at the track. Not sorry.) The free track walk Wednesday night after the truck race. Fireworks on Saturday. A ticker tape celebration – snow! It wasn’t snow, just confetti flying from the tip top of the grandstands, blanketing every smiling fan. The pre-race, starring Juan Pablo Montoya‘s “Great Balls of Fire” and Denny Hamlin‘s “Wobble”.

Really, each addition to the usual NASCAR circus was executed with style and energy. The giant flag, parajumpers, the entire crowd singing “God Bless the USA”…. Each time I think I’ve thought of every little extra I enjoyed, there’s another one that pops up.

Except for the 45-minute traffic back-up I suffered through Sunday morning, my visit to Bristol Motor Speedway is filled with positive memories; the way a racing week ought to be. In fact when I combine the entire experience, including the awesome racing, I don’t think it will long before the Bristol ticket will once again be an endangered species.

Author’s Note: If you’re wondering what else a Bostonian was thinking while she toured Bristol, Tenn., you can visit my blog.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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