If you have been reading this column for any length of time then you know this weekend’s stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is at my favorite track.
For years I used to refer to it as our “home” track, but I guess with Kentucky Speedway now hosting Sprint Cup events that has become the state’s official home track. But for this ol’ race fan, it’s still Bristol!
The first time I ever walked into, or I guess I should say climbed up the hill to get into, the track the seating capacity was just more than 50,000. The only suites were a couple located on the hill just outside of turn one and the vast majority of the seats were still all concrete. Even then, the one thing that always stood out was the action that took place when the green flag waved to start another 500-lap event at the world’s fastest half-mile track.
Over the years I told much of the history of Bristol Motor Speedway and all of the changes that have taken place since Bruton Smith bought it in 1996. Even though the track is considered a short track by NASCAR standards, there is nothing about the venue that makes it take a backseat to any other track on the schedule. Last season the track celebrated its 50th anniversary, but just one trip to the east Tennessee track will have you saying that it has every convenience a fan would need or want — plus you are guaranteed a great weekend of racing.
This Sunday’s race will be another milestone for the track as it will be hosting the 20th anniversary of the Food City 500. It’s the longest sponsor relationship of the track and the second longest in all of NASCAR. The grocery chain will also be celebrating its sponsorship of the 25th annual Food City Race Night that gives fans a chance to get up close to the drivers while being treated to free food and giveaways.
Anytime the schedule stops at Bristol, it’s not just for a Cup race. Instead, it is a three-day celebration of the sport beginning with Ford Fan Friday, which includes qualifying and is followed by Food City’s Race Night located directly next to the track. Qualifying is only $10 and all of the Race Night activities are free, which makes for a great day at the track for a very small price.
Saturday, the track goes out of its way to make sure that its Nationwide event is one of the best on that schedule. Cup drivers love racing on the all-concrete half-mile and that is why you will see the starting grid filled with Cup regulars there to race for the win with no regards for the points. New this year will be the Widow Wax K&N East Series 125 race that will start immediately following the Nationwide race.
When the checkered flag waves at the end of the second race, that doesn’t mean the fun is over. The track is throwing a huge St. Patrick’s Day party in the hospitality village. There will be bands and food for purchase with admission being a March ticket or your iBelong card (season ticket holders).
Bristol recognizes that a race weekend for many fans is much more than just the race itself, and on Sunday it continues to give the fans more opportunities to enrich their visit. Sunday morning, the track will throw its first iBelong Family Reunion, featuring live entertainment, NASCAR celebrity appearances, games, displays and discounted food and beverages.
If all of that isn’t enough, the track will also sponsor a concert before the start of the Food City 500 with Kellie Pickler. This is included with your ticket and will actually take place inside the track, giving those fans in the stands a great view of the former American Idol contestant.
If all of that still isn’t enough to get you excited about going to Bristol I have saved the best for last, and that is the 500 laps of racing on a track that likes to think of itself as a superspeedway even though it is only a half-mile in length. It’s the perfect recipe for side-by-side bumping and grinding with tempers usually running hotter than the water gauge on the driver’s dashboard.
There are still plenty of good seats left for all three days and it’s the one stop on the schedule that will make sure you will get more entertainment for your dollar than any at any other track that will host a Sprint Cup event!
Event: Food City 500
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway (.5-mile oval, variable banking of 24-30 degrees in the turns)
Date: March 18, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Kyle Busch