For fans, drivers, Bristol offers one-of-a-kind race experience
Many a race fan, upon stepping into the giant stadium-like seating area at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time, has marveled at seeing a NASCAR race track in the space typically occupied by a grassed football gridiron. On the other hand, drivers entering from the lower side of the grandstands see the place from a totally different perspective.
“The first time you go there and you’re in the infield and you see how steep the banking is and how high the grandstands are up above you, you just feel like you’re in the middle of a volcano,” 2001 Sharpie 500 winner Tony Stewart told reporters during a recent appearance at Bristol, which hosts this weekend’s Food City 500. “It’s pretty intimidating.”
Despite the differences in perspectives, drivers and fans tend to agree that Bristol’s high-banked half-mile oval track, with its 165,000-seat grandstand, is a unique and special place.
“Watching a race at Bristol is like putting 43 cars in a blender; it’s just nonstop action,” Stewart said. “There’s no track on the circuit that fans are as close to action as they are at Bristol.
“They are literally sitting right at the edge of the track, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Every seat is a great seat. And it’s a fun place, whether you’re in the track watching the action or over at the campgrounds, everybody just has so much fun.”
But for the drivers, it’s also a serious racing place, as 2008 Food City 500 winner Jeff Burton pointed out.
“Bristol, in my eyes, is one of the three or four race tracks on the circuit where you don’t have a fluke winner,” he said. “Guys who don’t run well anywhere else can win at Daytona, [but] an average race car driver just doesn’t win at Bristol.
“Everybody has to be on it at Bristol, and the winners there are typically hard racers. And if you can win there, you feel like you can win anywhere. I look at Bristol as the ultimate test of where you are as a driver.”
It also can be the ultimate test of a race car, since many of them wind up battered and bruised after 500 laps. Tony Stewart, who is a part owner of his own and Ryan Newman’s Chevrolet, doesn’t seem to mind the repair bills – if he can prevail at the finish.
“I don’t care if my car is upside down, on fire, or in a hundred pieces as long as we’re the first to cross the finish line there,” he said.