The Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway, is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee.
Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961. Despite its short length, Bristol is among the most popular tracks on the NASCAR schedule because of its distinct features, which include extraordinarily steep banking, an all concrete surface, two pit roads, and stadium-like seating. It has also been named one of the loudest NASCAR tracks.
|Location||151 Speedway Boulevard
Bristol, Tennessee 37620
|Time zone||UTC−5 / −4 (DST)|
|Owner||Speedway Motorsports, Inc.|
|Operator||Speedway Motorsports, Inc.|
|Former names||Bristol International Raceway
Bristol Motor Speedway is the fourth largest sports venue in America and the eighth largest in the world, housing up to 162,000 people. The track is so short that speeds here are far lower than is typical on most NASCAR oval tracks, but they are very fast compared to other short tracks due to the high banking. These features make for a considerable amount of "paint swapping" at the NASCAR races where the initial starting grid of 40 vehicles in the Cup Series, 40 in the Xfinity Series, and 32 in the Truck Series, extends almost halfway around the track, meaning that slower qualifiers begin the race almost half a lap down. The congestion inherent in this facility and the power of the cars and trucks has been likened to "flying fighter jets in a gymnasium" (or a "washing machine" or a "toilet"). The track is one that tends to be either loved or hated by the fans and the drivers. Purists who grew up driving or attending races at older short tracks located at fairgrounds and similar places tend to love Bristol, while those raised on superspeedway racing tend to chafe at the lower speeds.
Bristol races are often the scene of the highest number of yellow-flag caution laps in the NASCAR season; with so many cars in such a small space, contact is almost inevitable. Until the Beneficiary Rule was instituted in 2004 (the rule was instituted after the races at Bristol in 2003), the short lap length and the unpredictable nature of the racing meant that this was one of the few remaining NASCAR tracks at which it was feasible for a driver to come back to win a race from several laps down; at most modern tracks, especially superspeedways, that was almost impossible. The short lap length also cuts the other way; any unscheduled pit stop for reasons such as a cut tire will result in the driver going two or more laps down as it is almost impossible to get anything done to a car during the time taken to complete one circuit, especially under green-flag conditions (approximately 15 seconds). Thus, the disadvantage of losing laps means the chances of earning a free pass under the Beneficiary Rule is harder, since a driver losing two laps under a green-flag pit stop would have to race their way past the leader before the caution waved to regain one of their laps back, unless there are no cars one lap behind.
Grandstand in 2007
The drag strip at this facility has long been nicknamed Thunder Valley. Both current Sprint Cup Series races held at Bristol are for 500 laps; the spring race (historically a day race; however, the 2006 race ended under nighttime conditions because of Standard Time and the late afternoon start) is sponsored by area grocery chain Food City, and considered one of NASCAR's top ten annual races. The late summer race (the popular night-time race, considered "the toughest ticket in NASCAR" to obtain) has rotated among several sponsors. From 2001 to 2015, Newell Rubbermaid sponsored this race, first under its Sharpie brand (2001–2009) and then its Irwin Tools brand (2010–2015). Starting in 2016, Bass Pro Shops will be primary sponsor of the summer race, with the National Rifle Association as a secondary sponsor.
Bristol is a very fertile ground for other levels and types of racing; Xfinity Series races here often draw over 100,000 spectators, making it one of the best-drawing Xfinity venues, and resulted in the Fox network televising the race nationally from 2004 to 2006 and ABC doing the same in 2007 and 2008.
In 2004, it was the first Xfinity Series race of the season televised on broadcast network television, and the race, which had been 150 laps in 1982, 200 laps in 1984, and 250 laps since 1990, was a 300-lap race in 2006.
Until 2012 it was also the home of the only midweek (Wednesday) night NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, held in conjunction with a NASCAR Whelen Modified Series/NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Series combination race.
Many of the fans come from the East Tennessee area, but thousands more come from all parts of the country to experience Bristol's unique brand of racing. Even in the off-season, the complex attracts fans during the Christmas season by facilitating a miles-long holiday lights display that culminates with a lap on the actual speedway track itself.
Degree of banking
The track long advertised its banking as 36 degrees, which at one time made it the most steeply banked track used by NASCAR. However, BMS now lists its banking at 24 to 30 degrees, reflecting the results of the track's most recent resurfacing in 2007.
Even before the resurfacing, there was some dispute as to the accuracy of the measurement. In the 1980s, ESPN often claimed the turns were banked at 35 degrees during television telecast of events at the track. In an interview with Stock Car Racing's Larry Cothren, driver Ryan Newman openly disputed the measurement of the banking of Bristol Motor Speedway's turns. Newman's crew measured the banking during a test session to aid with setups, and found that the turns were banked 26 degrees, rather than the advertised 36 degrees. A Camping World Truck Series open test noted the banking had dropped following resurfacing, to 22–27 degrees, in a variable banking configuration.
Another anomaly is that the short overall length means that there are two sets of pits, which also prevents a garage from being built due to limited space. Until 2002, slower starters were relegated to those on the backstretch. That year, the rules were changed to form essentially one long pit road. Thus, Bristol has unique rules about pit road — during caution, drivers who are wanting to pit must enter pit road in turn 2, drive all the way down the back stretch through the apron of turns 3 and 4 and down the front stretch, exiting pit road in turn 1. This rule eliminated the inherent disadvantage of pitting on the back stretch. During green flag pit stops, cars with pit stalls on the back stretch enter the pits in turn 2 and exit in turn 3; those with pits on the front stretch enter in turn 4 and exit in turn 1. Since the new pit rules were instituted, several drivers (most notably Jeff Gordon) have made major mistakes during green flag pit stops by driving through both pit roads when only one is necessary for green flag pit stops.
Bristol Motor Speedway could very easily have opened in 1961 under a different name. The first proposed site for the speedway was in Piney Flats, Tennessee, but, according to Carl Moore, who built the track along with Larry Carrier and R. G. Pope, the idea met local opposition. So the track that could have been called Piney Flats International Speedway was built 5 miles (8.0 km) up the road on U.S. Highway 11-E in Bristol. The land upon which Bristol Motor Speedway is built was formerly part of Gray's Dairy, at one point one of the largest dairies in the eastern half of the United States. Larry Carrier and Carl Moore traveled to Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960 to watch a race and it was then that they decided to build a speedway in northeast Tennessee. However, they wanted a smaller model of CMS, something with a more intimate setting and opted to erect a .5-mile (0.80 km) facility instead of mirroring the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) track in Charlotte.
Work began on what was then called Bristol International Speedway in 1960 and it took approximately one year to finish. Carrier, Moore and Pope scratched many ideas for the track on envelopes and brown paper bags.
Purchase of the land on which BMS now sits, as well as initial construction of the track, cost approximately $600,000. The entire layout for BMS covered 100 acres (0.40 km2) and provided parking for more than 12,000 cars. The track itself was a perfect .5 miles (0.80 km), measuring 60 feet (18 m) wide on the straightaways, 75 feet (23 m) wide in the turns, and the turns were banked at 22 degrees. Seating capacity for the very first NASCAR race at BMS – held on July 30, 1961 – was 18,000. Prior to this race the speedway hosted weekly races. The first driver on the track for practice on July 27, 1961 was Tiny Lund in his Pontiac. The second driver out was David Pearson. Fred Lorenzen won the pole for the first race at BMS with a speed of 79.225 mph (127.500 km/h). Atlanta's Jack Smith won the inaugural event – the Volunteer 500 – at BMS. However, Smith was not in the driver's seat of the Pontiac when the race ended. Smith drove the first 290 laps then had to have Johnny Allen, also of Atlanta, take over as his relief driver. The two shared the $3,225 purse. The total purse for the race was $16,625. Country music star Brenda Lee, who was 17 at the time, sang the national anthem for the first race at BMS. A total of 42 cars started the first race at BMS but only 19 finished.
In the fall of 1969, BMS was reshaped and re-measured. The turns were banked at 36 degrees and it became a 0.533-mile (858 m) oval.
The speedway was sold after the 1976 season to Lanny Hester and Gary Baker. In the spring of 1978, the track name was changed to Bristol International Raceway. In August that year, the first night race was held on the oval, one that would become one of the most popular and highly anticipated events on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar.
On April 1, 1982, Lanny Hester sold his half of the speedway to Warner Hodgdon. On July 6, 1983, Hodgdon completed a 100 percent purchase of Bristol Motor Speedway, as well as Nashville Speedway, in a buy-sell agreement with Baker. Hodgdon named Larry Carrier as the track's general manager. On January 11, 1985, Hodgdon filed for bankruptcy. Afterwards, Larry Carrier formally took possession of the speedway and covered all outstanding debts.
For many years, teams were unable to park their transporters inside the infield, nor did the track have any significant garage area. Team transporters were parked in a lot outside of the track. During racing periods, crews and participants were landlocked by the track, and thus, unable to return to the transporters for spare parts, repairs, or rest. In the early 1990s, the infield was reconfigured and completely paved. Teams began parking the transporters in an orchestrated, extremely tight arrangement that takes several hours, and highly skilled drivers, to accomplish. Teams are now able to work out of their transporters in the same fashion as other facilities.
In 1992, the speedway abandoned the asphalt surface that it had used since its inception, switching to the concrete surface it is now famous for.
On January 22, 1996, Larry Carrier sold the speedway to Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), at a purchase price of $26 million. At the time of the sale, the facility seated 71,000. On May 28 of the same year, the track's name was officially changed to Bristol Motor Speedway. By August, 15,000 seats had been added bringing the seating capacity to 86,000.
BMS continued to grow and by April 1997, it was the largest sports arena in Tennessee and one of the largest in the country, seating 118,000. The speedway also boasted 22 new skyboxes. For the 1998 Goody's 500, the speedway featured more than 131,000 grandstand seats and 100 skyboxes. Improvements to the speedway since Smith took possession are in excess of $50 million. Under Smith's ownership, all seating sections have been renamed for past race winners and NASCAR champions.
The capacity for the 2000 Food City 500 was 147,000 as the Kulwicki Terrace and Kulwicki Tower were completed. Both were named after NASCAR star Alan Kulwicki, who was the reigning Cup Series champion when he died in a plane crash in 1993 while on his way to the spring race at Bristol, which he won the previous year. As a tribute to retiring star Darrell Waltrip, the entire Turn 3 and 4 sections were renamed in his honor in 2000, including a section of seats in Turn 4 near the start-finish line marked as alcohol free. (Waltrip refused to drive for a team in 1987 because its sponsor was associated with alcoholic beverages.) Sections were also named in honor of the Allison family and David Pearson as part of the renaming of grandstands.
In both 2000 and 2001, the track was temporarily converted to a dirt track to host the World of Outlaws' Channellock Challenge. The conversion involved moving 8,000 cubic feet (230 m3) of red clay onto the track's surface. 700 cubic yards (540 m3) of sawdust were laid down first to cover the paved surface. The track was widened by 12 feet (3.7 m) to 14 feet (4.3 m) and the banking was reduced from 36° to somewhere between 22° to 24°. While the races proved to be very popular, the process of installing and removing a temporary surface required 14,000 truckloads of material to be shipped in and out of the track which wore heavily on the roads around the track.
As has been the case since the SMI purchase of BMS, improvements continued in and around the Speedway in 2002. The season saw the addition of a long-awaited infield pedestrian tunnel, allowing access into and out of the infield during on-track activity. Also in 2002, a new building was constructed in the infield to house driver meetings. That same year also witnessed the christening of a new BMS Victory Lane atop the newly constructed building. Kurt Busch won the 2002 Food City 500 on March 24 and became the first Cup winner in the new BMS winner's circle. Additional improvements in 2002 included new scoreboards located on the facing of the suites in Turns 2 and 3. On Monday, August 26, 2002, work began on the most ambitious construction project since SMI's purchase of BMS in 1996. The entire backstretch, including the Speedway's last remaining concrete seats, was demolished. The new backstretch increased the venue’s seating capacity to more than 160,000. The new backstretch includes three levels of seating and is topped with 52 luxury skybox suites. These seats are also named for leading NASCAR figures, with Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Junior Johnson each having a section of the new seats named for them; Dale Earnhardt was given a section on top in his memory.
A 5,000 seat section of the turn 1 and 2 grandstand, on top of the Alan Kulwicki Grandstand, is now named the Rusty Wallace Tower. Additional improvements included a scoring pylon with a four-sided video screen akin to those in sports arenas hanging from their ceilings; after the 2007 Food City 500, a resurfacing of the entire concrete track along with widening the track 3 feet (0.91 m) and reshaping the turns with variable banking, which was completed for the 2007 Sharpie 500 in August and their support events in the Busch (now Xfinity Series) and Craftsman Truck Series (now Camping World Truck series).
The 2006 Pixar film Cars used Bristol Motor Speedway as the inspiration for the fictional Motor Speedway of the South, featured in the film's opening scene. Cars director and NASCAR fan John Lasseter made it a 1-mile track, compared with Bristol's half-mile, to make the straightaways little longer for some of the scenes and allow for fans in the infield.
A Guinness World Record was set in August 2008 when the sell-out crowd completed the largest crowd-wave in history.
Another world record was set in August 2009 for the largest karaoke with a sold out crowd. Later, when the race was red flagged, the crowd performed the wave again, apparently tying the world record.
On Saturday, March 20, 2010, during the NASCAR "Saturday Night Showdown", where retired NASCAR drivers drove in a 35-lap race for charity, a terrifying crash involving Larry Pearson and Charlie Glotzbach ended up in what was feared to be a tragedy. The race was put under immediate red flag. Pearson spun out in turn 2, and as his car was sliding down the track, Glotzbach exited turn 2 and rammed into the driver's door of Pearson's car. As Glotzbach climbed out of his car and went to the infield care center, Pearson was unconscious in his car while rescue workers sawed off the roof of the car to get him out. After they got Pearson out, he regained consciousness, as reported by his brothers who talked to him. They also reported that Larry was able to move his arms around. Pearson was air lifted to a nearby hospital. Later, Glotzbach was driven to the same hospital. Before the race started back up, NASCAR legend David Pearson (Larry's father), who was also racing that day, withdrew from the race and went down to the hospital to see his son.
On the week ending August 21, 2010, Kyle Busch became the first driver ever to win races in all three NASCAR national series during a single race meeting. He began the historic week by winning the Truck race on Wednesday. Two days later, he won the Nationwide race following an incident with Brad Keselowski. Late in the race, the two raced for the lead side-by-side before Keselowski bumped Busch during a pass. Busch responded with a harder bump to Keselowski, spinning the latter out. After the race, the two took verbal potshots at one another. Then, during driver introductions immediately before the Cup series race, Keselowski introduced himself and then shouted "Kyle Busch is an ass!" Ultimately, there were no on-track incidents between the two in the Cup race. Busch also exchanged words with David Reutimann after the Cup race.
Bristol Dragway hosts all 3 nationally-touring NHRA series, plus the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Racing Series, NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League, AHDRA, and the Super Chevy Show.In addition to the speedway, there is a .25-mile (0.40 km) dragstrip that hosts an annual NHRA event each year. Prior to its status as an NHRA national event track, the Bristol Dragway was the flagship strip of the rival IHRA organization; the strip's owner Larry Carrier formed the IHRA at the Bristol Dragway in November 1970. The relationship ended when Bruton Smith took over its ownership. The dragstrip has long been nicknamed Thunder Valley due to its location and surrounding scenery.
In the fall of 2002, students from Sullivan East High School in Bluff City, Tennessee attended the skyboxes at the Speedway as temporary school facilities, due to an outbreak of black mold that closed the school for nearly 6 weeks.
In October 2010, Remote Area Medical held a health clinic on the infield of the track, providing free vision, dental and general-medical care to people who do not have medical insurance. The free clinic at Bristol Motor Speedway has become an annual event with Tri-Cities Remote Area Medical continuing the service on the speedway's infield in the Spring of 2012 and again in Spring 2013.
During the holiday season, Bristol Motor Speedway hosts Pinnacle Speedway in Lights, an event featuring christmas light displays along a 5-mile route around the Speedway and its grounds, as well as other activities. The event benefits various local charities.
In 1961, the track hosted a National Football League preseason game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins.
In 2005, track owner Bruton Smith made a public offer of $20 million apiece to the University of Tennessee (UT) and Virginia Tech to schedule a non-conference college football game between the Tennessee Volunteers and Virginia Tech Hokies. Smith suggested that grass could be grown in the infield section of the racetrack. Virginia Tech showed much interest and nearly agreed to the proposal, but UT, on the other hand, showed little or no interest and in fact avoided the offer which made this possibility ultimately fall by the wayside.
On October 14, 2013, after years of attempts to schedule a game, Virginia Tech, UT, and Bristol Motor Speedway announced plans for the game to be held on Saturday, September 10, 2016. Organizers envisioned attendance for the non-conference game, dubbed the Battle at Bristol, to draw 150,000 spectators, which would surpass the current NCAA record for highest single-game attendance of 115,109 then held by Michigan. Bristol Motor Speedway's location near the Virginia/Tennessee state line placed the game about 125 miles (201 km) from the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia and about 110 miles (180 km) from the UT campus in Knoxville. The game, won 45–24 by the Volunteers, drew an announced crowd of 156,990, breaking the previous record by more than 40,000.
The football field remained in place for one week after the Tennessee–Virginia Tech game. On September 17, the local East Tennessee State Buccaneers played their scheduled home game against the Western Carolina Catamounts at BMS, an event billed as Bucs at Bristol. This was ETSU's first Southern Conference home game since dropping football after the 2003 season, not reinstating the sport until 2015. The Buccaneers came back from a 21–3 second-quarter deficit to win 34–31.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
- Food City 500 (1961–present)
Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (1961–present)
NASCAR Xfinity Series
- Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 (1982–1983, 1985–present)
Food City 300 (1982–present)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
- UNOH 200 (1995–1999, 2003–present)
NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
- PittLite 125 (2012–present)
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour/Whelen Southern Modified Tour
- UNOH Perfect Storm 150 (2009–present)
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series
- NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals (1999–present)
ASA National Tour (1982–1983)
ARTGO Challenge Series (1987)
ASA Late Model Series (2007–2008)
ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards
- Tennessee 500 (1968–1969)
CARS Rev-Oil Pro Cup Series
- Food City 150 (2004–2008, 2010)
Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals (2008)
INEX raceCeiver Legends Car Series/Bandoleros
- Battle of Bristol (2007–2008)
Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Car Series (2011)
NASCAR All Pro Series (1982–1983, 1994–1997, 1999–2002)
NASCAR Goody's Dash Series (1975, 1978–1981, 1986–1987, 1994–2003)
NASCAR Grand Touring (1968)
NASCAR Late Model Sportsman National Championship (1972, 1977–1978)
Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship (2013)
Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship Lites (2013)
Rolling Thunder Modifieds (2011)
UARA-STARS Late Model Series (2004–2005, 2007–2009)
World of Outlaws Sprint Cars
- Channellock Challenge (2000–2001)