Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the ten greatest motorsport venues of all time, and here’s a fascinating trivia fact about the famous track: It was not always known as such! Prior to 1935, the land that is now occupied by Bristol was known as the Woodhenge Estate. In 1931, the estate was sold to William Hewitt, a real estate developer who constructed the first Motor Speedway on the site. The grandstand was opened to the general public on May 23, 1934. Since then, the speedway has been host to some of the world’s greatest sporting events including the Indianapolis 500 and the United States Grand Prix.
The venue is most famous for two reasons: Firstly, its high capacity (110,000 seats), which is the largest of any sports stadium that has ever been built. The iconic structure, which was designed by Frank Pickard and built by the renowned H.J. Heinz Company, features an elliptical design that took over a year to plan and build. Secondly, its size allowed for the construction of a brand-new facility – the first major overhaul of the entire stadium since its initial inception! – less than five years after the previous one was completed.
On this page, you’ll discover some incredible historical tidbits about Bristol Motor Speedway that will make you appreciate the unique position the venue holds in not only motorsport, but all of sports history as well.
A Brief History Of Bristol
It seems fitting that a page about the storied Bristol Motor Speedway should begin with a bit of its history. Established in 1884, the city of Bristol is located in the southern part of the state of Indiana. Though it was initially incorporated as a village in 1881, it became a city in 1905. In 1932, the village of Bristol extended its boundaries to encompass the entire Woodhenge Estate.
The community is named after John H. Bristol, who in 1871 became the first person to manufacture concrete pipe. Concrete pipe is a form of sanitation piping used to carry water to homes and businesses. It was a major breakthrough at the time, as it allowed for the construction of larger plumbing networks than had previously been possible. The business was later renamed the Bristol Concrete Pipe Company, a company that is still operating today under the same ownership as the original town firm.
Though Bristol has always been home to a diverse population of people, it was not until the early 1900s that the community began to see motorsport events as a major attraction. The very first automobile race in America was held in Bristol in 1896, which drew massive crowds. Between May and October of that year, the city was abuzz with activity as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built on what was then known as the World’s Greatest Race Track. The building of the track is etched into the history of Bristol as the Great Depression began to loom over the United States, and people turned to the motorsport events as a way to escape the misery.
World Champions In Both The 80s And 90s
The 1980s and 1990s were a time of extraordinary accomplishment for Bristol Motor Speedway. The decade began in 1981 with the track hosting the Indianapolis 500, followed by the United States Grand Prix in 1983. Between those events, it saw the 1984 Summer Olympics, in which it hosted some of the events as well as the Paralympic Games. In addition to the aforementioned sporting events, Bristol saw the addition of concert venues and a baseball stadium, which still stand today.
It was during this time that the iconic brick and concrete structure was totally rebuilt, with a new seating bowl and a roof that now incorporates solar panels that provide electricity to the stadium. The rebuild was an opportunity to completely modernize the entire stadium, with the installation of a new scoreboard, a completely re-designed press box, and other amenities.
Perhaps the most iconic image of Bristol during this period is that of Tony Stewart in full-throttle racing mode. The 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion known for his aggressive driving style was often called “the most successful driver never to win a championship” because of his inability to repeat as champion. Nevertheless, he would go on to become one of NASCAR’s all-time greats. Stewart’s record of never winning a championship was broken in 2010 when he won his fourth straight championship.
Indianapolis 500 >> United States Grand Prix!
Though the 1980s and 1990s were a time of great achievement for Bristol, the 21st century brought with it a major shift in the way the community embraced motorsport. The biggest change was the rise of internet search engines, which made it possible to find event listings and ticket information for virtually any sport, including motorsport. As a result, fewer people attended major events, as it was possible to follow them online. The “brick and concrete” stadium was already a century old at this point, and though it continued to host special events, it was no longer seen as vital to the city’s identity.
In 2021, the 100th anniversary of the original facility, the city of Bristol began a campaign to rename the stadium in honor of its centennial. The campaign was inspired by a suggestion made by Bristol native Amy Alkalay, who Tweeted that the stadium should be called “Indyville” because that’s what it was like when the city hosted the Indianapolis 500 in the 1930s.
The campaign drew considerable support from the local community, and on July 4th, the Indiana Historical Bureau officially approved the change, making Indianapolis the official name of the venue.
A Stadium That Is A Test Laboratory
In 2007, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway reverted to its original name when it hosted its annual Grand Prix race. The following year, the speedway began a multi-year plan to completely rebuild the stadium. When the new stadium was unveiled in 2011, it was hailed as one of the most innovative sports venues of our time. It features the largest video screen in existence, which is 13 feet tall by 16 feet wide, and resides in the middle of the playing field. In addition, the seating bowl was lowered by 15 feet to increase sight lines, while the press box was completely re-designed and now features a glass façade that allows for attendees to have a direct line of sight to the action on the track.
Though the new facilities offer many advantages, there is still one drawback to the stadium. Due to its unique elliptical design, the playing field is actually the wrong shape and size for traditional sports – like football or baseball. As a result, it is not suited for traditional football or baseball games, and is instead used for smaller, more intimate gatherings such as college basketball and soccer. Still, its location at the crossroads of America makes it the ultimate sports shrine for anyone visiting or living in Indianapolis.