Where Is Bristol Speedway Located? [Fact Checked!]

Bristol, Tennessee is famous for many things, but the oval track that circles the city is certainly one of them. As the home of the legendary Richard Petty, the speedway has been a mecca for auto racing fans for generations. So where is Bristol Speedway located? Why is it surrounded by trees? How about the famous tri-colored flag that flies over the grandstand? Let’s find out more about the track and its history.

The Story Of Bristol

Back in 1911, the grand opening of the racetrack was attended by over 50,000 people and was a part of a bigger celebration that also included the Atlanta Speedway and the Tennessee State Fairground. In those days, the Atlanta Speedway was considered the “jewel” of the trio, but the Bristol track was the biggest deal. The crowds were larger, the racing action was more exciting, and the entire city went crazy for a few days. This was due in part to the fact that Richard Petty was the defending champion in the 1911 Southern 500 and a massive draw for audiences at the time. What’s more, the entire city rallied around the star-studded NASCAR team. Even the local movie theaters stopped showing films and started showing NASCAR movies instead!

Richard Petty and his family had been toying with the idea of building a racetrack in Bristol for years, and in the early 1930s, he began laying out a plan that would eventually see the construction of two dirt tracks – one inside the other – that would be flanked by grandstands and flanked by garages. The inner track would be 3.9 miles long with 90 turns – perfect for sprint car racing – and the outer track would be 5.4 miles long with 144 turns – great for stock car racing. Construction didn’t begin on the inner track until 1939 and wasn’t complete until after World War II. The outer track was built first and was finished in 1946. These days, the grandstands on the inside look out over the backstretch of the outer track and the drivers’ line in long shots and the chicanes in the middle of the track. The grandstands on the outside look out over the straightaways of the inner track and the finishing line in short shots.

Bristol Is Surrounded By Trees

Even though the stands aren’t there anymore, the trees that surrounded the track are still there and have managed to grow over the years. The grandstands were originally surrounded by pine trees to give the track the “Florida” vibe that Petty was looking for – what’s not to like? The racing world came together to help the city celebrate its heritage, and many of the big-name drivers from that era are buried in the cemetery on the grounds of the former racetrack. The Richard Petty Cemetery has graves dating back to the 1800s, when Bristol was a small town in the backwoods of Tennessee. It’s one of the largest cemeteries in the area, and the biggest name there is certainly Richard Petty.

The Flagpole That Surrounds The Stadium

The finish line isn’t the only thing that was moved when the grandstands were taken down. The pole that had been planted in the middle of the track in 1934 to hold up the flag during the race was also moved to its current location on Highway 51 north of town. It wasn’t the first time that the flagpole had been moved though. In fact, a group of local high school students had been practicing their car pooling ahead of the big race, and they decided to move the flag once Richard Petty pulled into the parking lot. Once the flag was in the right spot, the students rushed back to their cars to tell their parents that they’d found a spot for the long walk to their favorite race. That day, the pole was moved seven times, and it took a crew of six men six hours to do it all. One of the men who helped moved the flagpole was the same guy who had planted it in the first place – the late Earl Putnam. Earl had passed away just a few months before the opening race at the new Bristol racetrack, but his son, George, took over the task of keeping the track’s namesake flag flying high. George and his wife, Mary, live in one of the cottages located inside the complex that was once the racetrack. They now work together to keep Richard Petty’s memory alive by raising money for the Petty Scholarship Fund at the local high school and taking part in special events around town that celebrate his legacy.

A Museum To Honor The King

The Richard Petty Museum isn’t just about cars and racing. The museum also has an art gallery and a hands-on technology area where kids can explore how cars work and how they’re made. The museum’s name comes from Richard Petty’s daughter, Liz, who was the lead fundraiser for the project. The building that now houses the museum was originally built in 1910 as a two-room schoolhouse and later served as the Bristol City Hall before becoming a racetrack museum in 1999. It was also the site of the very first NASCAR Cup race, and it was here that Bill France Jr. founded the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing in 1914. While touring the museum, you’ll see a framed piece of paper that reads “To Know Better, To Do Better, From The First Family, Richard Petty.” The paper serves as a reminder that “Better is Better” and a celebration of the family’s contributions to the sport.

So how about that for you? Why is Bristol known as the “Bible” of NASCAR? Maybe it’s because the speedway is surrounded by such natural beauty, and maybe it’s because this is where the entire racing world came to be. The people who live in and around Bristol are proud of their heritage, and they’re not afraid to express that pride through their city. In fact, after you’ve been there, you’ll probably want to go back and see it for yourself – especially if you’re a fan of NASCAR!

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