Bristol Motor Speedway was once one of the most famous racing venues in the world. Since its opening in 1922, the racetrack has held numerous motor sports events, including the British Empire Championship, the World Championship, and the Grand National. The speedway was also known for its annual Easter Meet, which is now considered to be the world’s largest dog show. Sadly, these days Bristol is more famous for its crime rate than its sporting events.
The Track Hasn’t Changed Much Since The 1940s
Although the surroundings and facilities at the speedway have undergone some minor upgrades, the essential structure of the venue has remained the same. The three-quarter-mile concrete oval still hosts the World Championship every other year and regularly hosts international motor sports events. The grandstands are also still there, as are most of the other buildings and infrastructure needed to stage a sporting event.
The one thing that has changed is the make-up of the regular attendee base at the track. Back in the 1940s, the majority of the audience at Bristol were middle Englanders. However, today the average age of a race-goer is much higher. The town still has a close-knit motor sports community, but the audience at the racetrack has become more broad-based.
Bristol’s Popularity With The British Elite
Bristol is most famous for hosting the annual Great British Speedway Championship, which is an annual test event for the Formula One teams. The town also played a crucial role in the careers of many elite British race drivers, and many of these drivers went on to compete at the highest levels around the world. This included veterans such as Freddie Hunt, who was the inaugural World Champion, and Mike Chapman, who was the first to win the triple crown of motor racing competitions (Formula One, IndyCar, and NASCAR).
The relationship between Formula One and NASCAR came to an end in 1994, when Chapman’s son Steve took over the running of the speedway. Since then, the popularity of Bristol with the British elite has declined sharply. The town is still considered to be the Mecca of English motorsport, but these days it is more common for racing drivers to come from overseas than from England.
The Rise Of The American NASCAR
The United States now has its own version of the Great British Speedway Championship, which is held at New Hampshire’s Seacoast Motorsports Park. This series, which is also known as the Sportsman Championship, was established in 2014 and replaced the historic World Championship. The first season of the new series was won by Australia’s Greg Murphy. Murphy became the first driver to defend his title successfully, winning again in 2015 and 2016. Last season, the American NASCAR circuit held its season-opener at the Daytona International Speedway and its annual Fan Festival at Bristol.
While the World Championship was held at the venerable and historic Wembley Stadium, the Daytona and Bristol events were staged at sports venues in the suburbs of those cities. This is significant because it shows how the American NASCAR circuit is embracing a more suburban approach to motorsport.
One of the main reasons why the Great British Speedway Championship has been replaced by the Sportsman Championship is that the IRL (Indy Racing League) has tied up with the Nascar (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) circuit. This effectively makes the Sportman Championship a stepping stone to the big time. The tie-up means that the teams and drivers who win the Sportsman Championship will get an opportunity to race at one of the biggest venues in the United States. Naturally, this drives up the price of tickets to Bristol and other IRL / Nascar events—which is ultimately bad for the home fans who want to see their favorite British race drivers competing in front of a domestic audience.
Bristol’s Future Is Uncertain
With the changing nature of motorsport, it is uncertain what the future of Bristol’s premier sporting venue will be. The town still celebrates its relationship with Formula One, but the sport has changed so much in recent years that it is no longer certain what role the track will play in future. The one thing that is for sure is that Bristol will always be closely associated with racing.