Located in Tennessee, Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the legendary hallmarks of the American motorsport landscape. The half-mile track is steeped in history and teems with action from May through October. During the rest of the year, the track lays dormant, its asphalt awaiting the return of the racing enthusiasts in the spring.
Despite its location in the country, Bristol Motor Speedway is actually operated as a not-for-profit corporation and is open to the public. Anyone can attend a race and watch the action unfold on the track (weather permitting).
To find out the top speed of the various motor vehicles at Bristol Motor Speedway, we plotted a course around the track and recorded the time it took for a given car to reach various points around the perimeter. From there, we were able to determine the vehicle’s average speed over the arc of the circuit. The results of our investigation are tabulated below.
The 2018-19 Season
During the winter of 2018-19, Bristol Motor Speedway laid down a quarter-mile asphalt course for the first time in a decade. The track was designed to comply with USAC Safety and Racing Technology Regulations and the asphalt was graded to ensure even foot traffic all around the track.
The new layout for Bristol effectively doubled the amount of racing action during the season and the speedway hosted several nights of action a month, with the biggest event being the All American 500 Festival in mid-June.
The track saw a 500 percent increase in attendances over the winter of 2018-19 and the action continues to be popular, with over 100,000 people descending on the historic track. Season passes for 2019 are now on sale via the speedway‘s website. (1)
We’ll begin our overview of the top speed of various vehicles at Bristol Motor Speedway with an investigation of the 2018-19 season. During that time, Bristol Motor Speedway switched to a new digital scoring system, which recorded lap times on a real-time basis. This provides a much more accurate reflection of a vehicle’s true speed than previous lap counting methods, which were susceptible to human error and, at times, manipulated results.
Our data mining also revealed a few interesting trends. First, vehicles with higher weight ratings generally travel faster; the Goliath truck in particular turned out to be the king of the hill, hitting speeds in excess of 165 mph. Second, newer models of the exact same vehicle class generally outpace older models. Third, faster vehicles tend to be heavier, a formula that certainly seems to hold true at Bristol Motor Speedway. Finally, the average top speed of vehicles decreases as the track temperature increases. This means that hot asphalt makes for quicker, more exciting races because the vehicles can sustain higher speeds.
Below, we’ll discuss the general top speed stats for a few popular vehicle classes at Bristol Motor Speedway. For the most part, we’ll use the 500 Festival and the All American 500 Festival to evaluate the classes below. These races combined feature the best drivers from all over the country and the world, showcasing their talents in competitive one-on-one duels. These types of contests attract a large audience and provide a good benchmark for measuring the overall interest in a given class at Bristol.
At the 500 Festival, we saw some very impressive speeds from trucks and semi-trucks, with big rigs often reaching 160-plus mph. In fact, the big rig category was responsible for the highest overall average speeds, followed by the SUV and sports car categories. The camper truck also saw a lot of action and proved to be quite the force to be reckoned with, hitting speeds of up to 165 mph. Finally, the midget car class set the all-time top speed record at Bristol with an eye-opening 188.5 mph.
The 2018-19 season also marked the return of the sprint car series to the half-mile track. The King of the Sprint Cars, Tony Stewart, dominated the series, winning nine of the twelve races in which he participated. Stewart also set a new all-time record for the fastest lap at Bristol, clocking in at 149.3 mph. The season turned out to be a redemption year for the 38-year-old driver, who had previously been barred from the sport because of his alleged role in the 2004 death of spectator Timothy Tibbets. Although he was not directly involved in the incident, the death was attributed to Stewart’s poor judgment when he was driving too fast and tried to pass another car on the inside. Since his return to the sport, Stewart has gone on to set a new record for the mile-and-a-half track in Bakersfield, California, as well as win two more championships. (2)
The Lightweight Classification
While the heavy weights above set the pace for the 2018-19 season at Bristol Motor Speedway, it was the lightsweights that stole the show. The Indy Lights and the Camping World Truck Series combined to form an entire night of racing that was won by British driver Jack Harvey in the Indy Lights. The 21-year-old rookie set a new track record during the All American 500 Festival with a speed of 170.971 mph. He would go on to finish second in the championship, behind Felix Rosenqvist.
Harvey was not the only driver to set a new record during the evening’s action. The Camping World Truck Series also saw several one-offs, with the big rig category contributing six of the event’s seven new track records. The seven-time champion, Mike Kelley, set them all, including an all-time record of 177.532 mph, during the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Three of the seven new track records have been set by drivers in their first year at the wheel of the big rigs. (3)
With more people interested in motorsport than ever before, the popularity of the big rigs at the track continues to grow. The 2019 season promises to be yet another exciting one for drivers and spectators alike.