Bristol Motor Speedway is a very well-known road racing strip in Tennessee. If you’ve never been there, then you might not know what it is. It’s a one-of-a-kind racetrack that features an extremely wide turnarounds. The corners are very sharp and there is a lot of elevation change. If you’ve ever been there, then you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever driven there, then you know that it’s very demanding.
It first opened its doors in 1927 and has been host to some of the greatest racers in the past. Unfortunately, it was damaged in a significant way during the 2016 race season. Fortunately, the track soon reopened and it now looks better than ever.
Bristol Is One Of The Oldest NASCAR Tracks
Even though it was only recently damaged, Bristol Motor Speedway is already considered to be one of NASCAR’s iconic tracks. It first opened its doors in 1927 and was originally known as Bristol Speedway. The speedway was built off of a design by legendary race car driver Ralph Mulford who was also the track’s first promoter. He was a big believer in the oval shape being better than a circle as it gives the driver more room to maneuver. The track’s popularity grew rapidly and by 1935 they were holding 400-500+ races per year. At some point during the Great Depression, the track was converted into a more traditional road race course. In 1948 they completed another phase of construction that included a bridge that spanned over Beaver Creek. The bridge, which sits astride the tracks, is still used today.
During the 1950s, Bristol Motor Speedway continued to grow in popularity and by the 1960s they were holding over 200 races per year. In the early 1970s, the track was re-configured again. This time it became a tri-oval and was used as such for several years. Since then, it has held on to its oval design and currently hosts NASCAR‘s premier race, the Bank of America 500. The track was also the site of Floyd Patterson’s retirement party in 1975 after he had passed away from a heart attack.
Bristol In The ’70s
In the early 1970s, Bristol Motor Speedway underwent a radical makeover. The stands were reconstructed, new lighting systems were installed and a new track surface was laid down. During the same time period, the track also installed a new entrance gate and a new marquee. One of the more interesting changes was the installation of a fully-functional jumbotron above the entrance gate. It was a huge hit and continues to be used today.
The track also held the first Talladega 500 in 1970 and the last of the three annual Spring races in 1973. The spring races, now referred to as the Southern 500, attracted top drivers and crowds from all over the country. That same year they also held one of their biggest races, the Busch Grand Prix. They were also the site of the country’s first and only 24-hour-overnight-enclosed-circuit-racing and held several such events throughout the decade. It also became home to one of NASCAR‘s most popular tony-brand-sponsored-races, the Firecracker 400.
The track still held a regular full schedule of racing in the very early 2000s and it even extended their hours to keep up with demand. They also hosted a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in 2003 and multiple Camping World Truck Series races throughout the decade. In 2012, Bristol Motor Speedway celebrated their 70th anniversary and they continued that celebration in a big way by hosting NASCAR’s biggest race of the year, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Around the same time that was happening, the track underwent another period of renovations that included the installation of an amazing new high-definition video board and a complete overhaul of their restaurant.
Bristol In The ’90s
The early 1990s were a bit of a dark time for Bristol Motor Speedway. They were facing major competition from a brand-new track in Ohio called the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The attendance dropped significantly and many of the drivers began leaving the state. This caused a pretty good uproar in the community. The state of Tennessee did whatever they could to keep the track open but without the top-flight drivers, it was hard to justify the high costs of keeping it open.
Bristol’s Future Looks Bright
Even though it was a rough decade for Bristol Motor Speedway, things looked fairly bright by the end of the ’90s. They had begun seeing a steady rise in attendance and the economy in general was improving. The attendance at the spring races especially jumped by 60-70% in the final years of the decade. This trend continued through the next decade and it still continues today. It is now well-known that drivers and teams travel there specifically to race. The track is also working hard to rekindle the magic of the 1970s and 1980s by installing a new sound stage for live music and hosting various local events.
In addition, the city of Bristol is looking to make the most of their newfound popularity by expanding the track’s amenities. They have already installed a new playground outside of the racetrack’s main entrance. They have also discussed plans to add a batting cage and a ski slope. If all of that wasn’t enough, the city is also looking to rename the track and officially change its address to reflect its location in Bristol. It’s an amazing place and it’s definitely on my list of must-see-racing-stops.