The Bristol Insider Report: Hacks For The Ultimate Bristol Experience
A NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
It's called the ultimate motorsports in-person experience.
Multitudes will argue it's an awesome occasion for fans of any sport.
Truth be told, taking in one of the two big races at Bristol is an awe-inspiring event for anyone.
Quite simply, it's an experience in prime position on an infinite number of Bucket Lists, right up there with experiencing a ball game at Yankee Stadium, surviving a sub-freezing home football faceoff at Lambeau Field and witnessing the bestowing of a new green jacket upon the newest Masters champ at Augusta. In each of these cases, it doesn't matter if you're a sports die-hard or not.
For places like this, it's not just the address the iconic sports venue occupies. It's not just the historic sports moments that played out on the property. It's not even the names of the athletes who added new record book stats to their names there. For each of these places, it's the atmosphere, the aura, the event experience that surrounds them that makes them so special. And believe me, when you're talking about a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series showdown at Bristol Motor Speedway, there's no bigger truth-in-advertising statement than their latest - "It's not just a race, it's the place. It's Bristol, Baby!"
This Bristol Insider Report is for you if you're considering or readying for a trip to the racetrack known as the World's Fastest Half-Mile. And, whether you are visiting the iconic venue as a first-timer or have been part of Bristol's loyal fan base for years, this collection of tips and helpful hints is designed to give you the inside scoop on getting the most out of your experience. It's the equivalent of sitting on the front porch with an old-timer who's willing to share the precise location of the area's best fishing hole. It could take you years to figure out all these things on your own, so enjoy each nugget of insight that helps you zero-in on the best catch. You're fishing for an epic adventure and these 10 hacks are intended to help amp up your enjoyment of a pilgrimage to the mecca of motorsports that is Bristol Motor Speedway.
Insider Tip #1: It's Smarter and Cheaper To Go Through Them!
Buy your tickets directly from the track. What's available online through their own website shows you all the options, but if you don't see what you really want or aren't sure, their ticket office team is top notch when it comes to getting you the best option. Keep in mind, this race track is really set up differently than most - think of it as a huge college-football-style bowl stadium enclosed on all sides, then put that on steroids to place a half-mile oval in the center. That means there's truly not a bad seat in the house and you see all on-track action from every bit of the grandstands. That also means choosing a seat comes down to personal preference a lot of the time. Bristol's ticket agents really help fans figure out and narrow down the options, whether it's the lower-priced tickets or the top VIP exclusive seat available. Plus, if there's ever an issue with a ticket, you'll get help sorting it out. If you picked up a scalper deal you're pretty much out of luck. Don't risk the headache - take the Insider advice and go direct.
Here's another bit of insight: Bristol makes a promise to its ticketholders that the pricing you receive as a season ticketholder will never be undercut with a last-minute offer or discount deal. You'll want to go to all 4 big races during the 2 NASCAR weekends a year, so it's worth it. Their season ticket holder loyalty program is called "iBelong" and the purchase of the ticket package that earns you membership secures the best pricing on that bundle of tickets. It also means you get access to several other cool events the track hosts for its most loyal fans at race time. Save money, choose the best options and get invited to exclusive iBelong events? That's a big win for the race fans in the Insider's opinion.
Oh… and being an iBelong member gets you first dibs on tickets to another incredible event, the upcoming Battle at Bristol college football game to be played on September 10th, 2016. If you haven't heard about it, then you're obviously not a Tennessee Vols or Virginia Tech Hokies fan. This border battle between southern sports rivals has been years in the making, and is expected to set world records for attendance - more on that in a future Bristol Insider report, I'm sure.
Insider Tip #2: Free Parking
Parking can be a huge hassle when you attend any big event, so save yourself some time by avoiding the hunt-and-seek game for the best spot. All of the on-site spots at Bristol Motor Speedway require passes (even the handicapped spots, so check their website and plan ahead for that process). Just like everywhere else, folks who live around the property will sell you a spot in their yard or field for a few bucks, but then you're stuck walking and hoping no one blocks you in. Don't bother to try to find a spot along the side of the road to park. Much of the roadside around the Speedway is designated 'No Parking' for safety. The spots you will find guarantee you a back-and-forth walk of at least a few miles each way. One of the best kept secrets about Bristol Motor Speedway is its Free Parking area, so skip the race-day headache and plan on that option from the start. The Free Parking areas are located off Hwy 394 on the Dragway side of the track and are clearly marked. The bonus? The Speedway provides shuttle bus service from the Free Parking lots over to track property so you can save wear and tear on your feet - it's free too.
Drive a Toyota? Here's an Insider hint you'll appreciate. That manufacturer sets up fun stuff to do in Earhart Campground, adjacent to the Speedway's north entrance off Highway 11-E. If you drive a Toyota, you can park there for free and you're literally right next door to the stadium. Fair warning, however, with this option. It fills up fast and getting back out after the event is guaranteed to take you some time. While the Free Parking areas are physically a bit farther away, getting in and out is definitely much easier.
Insider Tip #3: You Can Bring Food In With You!
Paying for snacks, drinks and food for the whole gang can take quite a toll on your wallet. Bristol gets it and offers fans a great solution - you're allowed to bring a cooler in with you! Personally, the Insider looks forward to chowing down on select items from my concession stand of choice while I'm there, but packs ice, snacks and water at home and appreciates the option to take it inside. Coolers must be smaller than 14" wide and no glass containers are allowed inside, but having a personal cooler on-hand can be a life saver if you're concerned about costs and are willing to plan ahead.
Enjoying the Atmosphere:
Insider Tip #4: There Are 2 Sides To The Track To Explore
Depending on whether you're camping for a long race weekend or just taking in the Bristol experience for one day, you may think you've explored everything available outside the gates after a few hours on-site. Don't be fooled, there are 2 distinct sides to the property at Bristol and each one offers something different for fans.
Traditionally, souvenir haulers and booths offering merchandise supporting every driver and team imaginable were spread out for every fan's enjoyment just inside the Speedway's North Entrance, along with a Kids Zone an information-packed Guest Welcome Village and even a Ferris Wheel. Many fans would spend hours taking in the sights and sounds there before heading inside the stadium for the start of each race. At the same time, those heading in from the on-property Bristol campgrounds or Free Parking on the Highway 394 side of the facility would spend their time enjoying VIP experiences in Hospitality Village, checking out the massive setups by corporate sponsors or watching live music or television broadcasts from one of several fan stages.
It never failed to surprise the Insider to hear someone answer they'd not seen a particular souvenir setup or auto manufacturer area when asked if they'd been there when such-and-such was going on. It seems more than just a few fans - those who were new to Bristol as well as those attending for years - were unaware there were 2 completely different fan experience areas set up on opposite sides of the Speedway. The switch from souvenir haulers to the massive all-in-one NASCAR Superstore souvenir tent will change the landscape dramatically in August 2015 for fans, but it's worth the trip to BOTH sides to take in everything offered up for fan enjoyment.
Which leads us to…
Insider Tip #5: You Don't Have To Walk The Hills!
Undoubtedly, the setting for Bristol Motor Speedway is among the most beautiful any sports venue could ask for. The description 'nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, surrounded by picturesque hills, mountains and valleys…' is more than just a write-up on some tourism brochure - it truly describes the landscape of this Speedway. And that means the property is full of hills that those from the plains states shudder to think of climbing and inclines that can put the hurt on a pair of unchallenged calf muscles in a New York minute.
Amateur mountain climbers rejoice - Bristol's shuttle and tram service around property virtually ensures you won't have to trek any hills unless that's your choice. Continuously running a handful of routes throughout race days, tram service takes fans up the steepest inclines, including the curving incline that brings you to the main ticket office, largest year-round souvenir store and office building on the grounds. Take a minute to study the route maps that mark each of the stops. Your feet - and those calf muscles we talked about earlier - will thank you at the end of the race day.
Insider Tip #6: Guest Welcome Village Has The Scoop
This is a 2-parter: First, put a "Guest Welcome Village" on your 'must-visit' list (there are two on the Speedway's property). Second, visit it early and often.
Got a question about where to catch a glimpse of a driver? Want to know the preferred place to go in if you're sitting in Wallace Tower to watch the race? Or, just want a place to kick back in a country-style rocking chair for a few or a turn sitting on the ice-cold chiller bench in the middle of a steamy summer race day? The two huge Guest Welcome Village tents at the front and back main fan areas of the speedway are staffed with people who know all the answers. Pretty much, these are big fan comfort and information areas that are worth your time to check out.
Bonus Insider Tip: Get Your Picture With The Trophy Inside Guest Services At The Bruton Smith Building
Where do you think the race track keeps the trophies before they're presented in Victory Lane? The Insider is about to blow your mind with this tidbit: each one of them is on display prior to the start of the race in the main Guest Services area, just inside the Bruton Smith Office Building.
This area is set up with all the information a race fan could ever want, and no other track I've found lets you snap a pic with the exact trophy the winner will later take home. If you're not familiar, Bristol's Sprint Cup Series race trophy is HUGE. Stand it up next to a 7 year old and he'll have to look up to see the top. Take it from me, visit Guest Services, snap a pic and sent it out tagged #ItsBristolBaby. You'll be the envy of all your friends stuck watching this epic race from home.
Experiencing the Night Races:
Insider Tip #7: It Really IS Different To See It In Person (And Take Insider Advice: Get Earplugs Or A Scanner)
The Insider mentioned in Tip 1 that Bristol's setup is different from most, that it's a huge college football-style bowl stadium enclosed on all sides. That place isn't known as Thunder Valley for nothing.
Put it this way - you don't just watch a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway. You feel it. You smell it. True sensory overload. The first time I took in a race there from my seat on Row 3? Yeah, I had tiny bits of rubber all over me after the final lap. And no plastic surgeon worth his weight in Hollywood could have gotten that smile off my face that night. Television coverage can't do this place justice. You have to plan Bristol as an in-person experience. Then, plan to be absolutely blown away.
The sound? Intense is all I can say. Don't try to be a big man and sit through a Bristol race without earplugs. You can do it at other places, but not here. With tall grandstands and luxury boxes surrounding the race surface on all sides, the massive and powerful engines rumble and roar to create a thundering noise that rattles your chest and truly shakes the floor. Forget about talking to your buddy one-seat-over when 43 cars are racing at full speed. You NEED earplugs. Even better? Treat yourself to a scanner rental and listen in on the teams talking about their next move or to hear what the driver who just hit the wall has to say. Or take the more tame audio feed from the broadcast booth for a true play-by-play. You can even rent ones that allow you to talk back-and-forth. You won't regret the choice, or even wonder again where they got that Thunder Valley name.
Insider Tip #8: You Can Write On and Walk On The Track
Bristol offers something really cool to fans on Sprint Cup race day - a Track Walk that's part of several of the pre-race ticket packages. The track opens the gates at the Start/ Finish Line flag stand and fans are allowed to walk down on the track's famed racing surface. It's self-paced, so you have over an hour to make your way from one side of the pit wall to the other side. The race teams are often doing last minute adjustments to the cars and the Track Walk gets you close enough to get a good view of the action. Call them to find out what options include it.
Bonus Insider Tip: Take a silver Sharpie with you for the Track Walk. When you first get on to the track you'll want to see the Start/ Finish line. You HAVE to get on your knees and sign the checkered stripe. Space on the white squares is sometimes at a premium, full of scribbled messages and the signatures of your fellow race fans. By following this bonus tip you'll be among the lucky few able sign in bright silver anywhere you want on the black squares.
Insider Tip #9: Get In Your Seat Early - You Won't Want To Miss It
Like just about every sports event you attend, the start time listed on your ticket is when the action actually gets underway. At Bristol, if you wait until that moment to get settled in, you'll miss some of the most impressive moments. Roughly an hour and a half before the Sprint Cup Series race begins, the pre-race musical act will take the stage. That happens inside the colosseum and as far back as The Insider can recall the featured artist or group has always been big name who hasn't been featured by everyone else.
Insider Tip #10: They Make It Easy For You To Come Back
By the time it's all over, you'll be a believer. Just like the Insider promised at the start, you'll absolutely understand the track's catch phrases, "It's not just a race, it's the place. It's Bristol, baby!". One of the best customer service scores that this Speedway makes is the way they set you up to experience it all over again.
Bristol tickets automatically renew for the next NASCAR season, meaning if you buy 2 Season Tickets for 2016, before the end of the year the track sends you a renewal to lock in the same seats for next time. That's when you can sign up for the payment plan that breaks the cost down into several smaller payments. There's no extra charge to do it and it makes 'saving the date' a breeze.
Bonus Insider Tip: If you know you'll be coming back next time for the races, it pays off to set your plans in stone while you're there this time. Bristol hosts a post-race party on the track - exclusively for fans who renew their tickets on-site. The winner of the big night race is always on an adrenaline rush for hours after their leading run, so they're pumped by the time they talk to the crowd at this bonus party. Take advantage of the opportunity and help them celebrate in style. Usually you get rewarded with something else, too, so look out for the signs telling you where to get a renewal set up while you're there.
The Insider isn't one to go ga-ga over big stuff. I've got a lot of check marks deep into my Bucket List. But experiencing NASCAR races at Bristol Motor Speedway leave me in awe every time, and it's a 100% guarantee I'll choose to go there at every opportunity. My hope is that these Insider Tips help set you up for maximum enjoyment when you take on a Bristol trip. Hold on and have fun - you're in for an amazing ride!