BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY TACKLES MONUMENTAL TRANSITION
After decades of planning and details, college football's biggest-ever game is about to come together over a stretch of just 19 days.
On Saturday, Sept. 10, Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS), known around the world as the Last Great Colosseum, will host the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol, a throw down between border rivals the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech. Since news of the matchup first broke three years ago, the duel has captured headlines and intrigued audiences across the globe. Ticketholders hail from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four foreign countries, and the expected crowd of more than 150,000 — more than double the attendance at this year's Super Bowl — is destined to smash the existing world record for the largest American football game. All those guests will journey to Northeast Tennessee/Southwest Virginia to watch Butch Jones' touted roster of Volunteers take on the Hokies, playing under Justin Fuente in his highly anticipated first year as head coach.
Adding to the fervor is a list of top sponsors joining in to help make history. Honda Ridgeline is sponsoring Bristol's Tailgate Party, starring Kenny Chesney, The Band Perry and Old Dominion. Anheuser-Busch is bringing in country music stars Sam Hunt and Jon Pardi, and has chosen the event to debut their brand-new Bud Light Down South Tailgate Tour, an ultimate college football tailgate experience. The attraction will appear along with the Budweiser Country Club, an open-air, three-level buildout to welcome fans.
The scale of this event is — in a word — spectacular.
Before anyone can enter the stadium or set foot on the Battle field, though, other armies must first descend. Bristol Motor Speedway is exactly that — a speedway, NASCAR's most iconic short track, and one that will host the signature Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race on Aug. 20. Between the race and game weekend, workers have just 19 days to complete a mind-boggling list of projects that includes tidying up the stadium and grounds, building out the playing surface, adding more than 5,000 seats to the infield, installing goal posts, clocks and cameras, and assembling massive concert stages and VIP fan zones.
Overseeing this monumental makeover is the job of Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager at BMS, who says his team is up to the task.
"Making the transition in just 19 days will be tight, but we're used to tackling big challenges," said Caldwell. "For many years, it's been our privilege to welcome more than a million guests annually and make them feel at home. In 2016, we built Colossus TV, one of the world's largest digital displays, in record time. We know what it's like to stretch and achieve these larger-than-life events, and I think when people see the field in September, it will look and feel very natural. Our first-time guests will never guess that the last time a football game was played here, JFK was president."
Proven professionals in working with NASCAR and welcoming its fans from around the globe, Caldwell's crew has spent the last few years studying multiple stadiums and sporting events, learning the needs, wants and flow of football and concert fans. The BMS staff will put their expertise to work, along with hundreds of contractors, engineers, traffic control professionals and fan relations personnel, all in a conversion effort that's scripted down to the minute.
Here's some major milestones of the build.
Week One — The Field
When asked what it was like to race at BMS in August, NASCAR legend and nine-time Bristol winner Rusty Wallace famously said, "When they turn the lights on at that place, all hell breaks loose."
On Saturday, Aug. 20, the lights will come on and stay on, long after the checkered flag falls on the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Following the Night Race, the last NASCAR hauler typically climbs the banks and exits the stadium around 2 a.m., leaving a skeleton crew behind to shut everything down. This year, however, there will be crews ready to storm the infield, including more than 30 vendors flowing in and out of the stadium in a tightly choreographed effort comprised of heavy equipment, cranes and hundreds of workers.
Scrubbing up after a crowd of 150,000 is no small feat. Stadium cleaning experts Can Do Enterprises, based in Gray, Tennessee, has enlisted a crew of more than 200 workers to hit the ground running. Once the infield is scoured, the crew will move on to the nearby buildings, then the grandstands themselves — all of which were power washed for the race, and will be scrubbed again.
The first step in building up the field body is a heavy-duty fabric barrier. BMS' infield is slightly concave and dotted with drains. To prevent tons of material from disappearing into the plumbing, the barrier must first be rolled over the infield.
Once that's in place, Baker's Construction Services, Inc. of Bluff City, Tennessee, will bring in 450 truckloads of rock and manufactured sand for the field base, which will weigh in at more than 10,600 tons. Utilizing an array of earth moving equipment, in combination with Universal Total Station (UTS) site-measurement technology provided by SITECH Mid-South, crews will place and compact the field base to millimeter-level accuracy. When complete, the base will rise to a height of more than three feet and will be measured in 10 different locations, three times each, before being approved for use.
At the same time, T&B Equipment of Ashland, Virginia which specializes in event seating — will set to work building the first series of risers. Overall, multiple seating companies will add more than 5,000 seats to the infield.
Builder J.A. Street of Blountville, Tennessee, will also be on site, clearing out the Goodyear Tire Building, the lower level of the Infield Media Center, and Victory Lane areas for transformation into team and referee locker rooms and meeting space. Advent, a sports branding specialist from Nashville, Tennessee will then step in to spiff up the spaces for the teams.
Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol branding will also start to appear around the infield as Express Signs of Kingsport, Tennessee, and Foster Signs of Jonesborough, Tennessee, begin their work.
By Thursday, Aug. 25, tons of rock and sand will be in place for inspection and ready for AstroTurf to begin installation of the field body green. The company will employ their 3D3 playing surface, which boasts a shorter, denser turf carpet that provides more fiber and requires less infill. The field also features the RootZone infill stabilization system, a texturized layer of fiber that curls down into the surface, creating a net-like matrix that encapsulates and stabilizes infill. This reduces "splash" during play and provides grass-like traction for players.
In all, 15 AstroTurf staff will install more than 100,200 square feet of surface to a height of 1.5 inches, using more than 180,000 pounds each of silica and rubber infill. The process is scheduled to be complete by Sunday, Aug. 28.
Week Two — The Big Build
By Monday, Aug. 29, many of the central elements of the infield will be in place, but genius is always in the details. This is the time when critical facets like lockers and sideline greens will slide into place, and work expands outside the stadium to encompass the surrounding properties.
Many pre-produced field components, including the sidelines, hashes and yard markers, will be installed over a two-day period, readying the field for the final touches from university artists and World Class Paints of Leland, Mississippi.
On Thursday, Sept. 1, BMS staff will move beyond the bowl to prep the track's three adjacent campgrounds, which are being centrally managed for this event.
This requires laying fresh gravel, adding around 130 light towers and generators, striping spaces, and mowing more than 220 acres, in addition to the track's own 500-acre grounds.
By Friday, the buildout of locker rooms, along with the grooming of the field and infield, will be complete.
Battle Week — Final Touches and Heavy Lifting
This is when it all comes together. On Sunday, Sept. 4, Virginia Tech's Casey Underwood and Darren Seybold from the University of Tennessee will be on hand to stencil and paint end zones and team logos. World Class Paint will supply the materials for crews to christen the 50-yard line with the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol logo.
Work on the finishing touches will literally be overshadowed by heavy steel trucks, arriving the same day to begin construction of the massive stage for Bristol's Tailgate Party, presented by Honda Ridgeline and starring Kenny Chesney. The roofed structure is mega-star sized coming in at 140 feet wide, 100 feet deep and over 40 feet tall. It will require the help of three cranes to build. Once complete, it will extend from the infield, out over the backstretch pit wall, and onto the apron.
Campgrounds will open on Tuesday for those who can't wait to be part of the weekend. By Thursday evening, all structures will be complete and all supplies loaded in for the start of Friday's celebrations. Festivities will include multiple concerts on several stages, fan zones packed with rides, tailgate games, and more than 55 vendors. The grandstand gates will open Friday at 5 p.m. for Bristol's Tailgate Party, and once the final note is played sometime after midnight, crews will scramble to strike the stage. The structure that took several days to complete will now be dismantled and shipped out in just 12 hours.
Game Day — One Big Bristol Family
BMS is renowned for making enormous crowds feel right at home, and for being able to efficiently transition traffic in and out of the stadium. On game day, more than 1,000 workers will be onsite to park, guide and shuttle the crowd around the grounds. Seventy personnel will help coordinate park-and-ride locations among three different cities, and multiple third-party vendors are bringing in more than 240 tour buses to keep the crowd flowing. Unlike the races, the game will have a security perimeter that roughly follows the paths of Beaver Creek and Volunteer Parkway. Any guests seeking entry to the grounds must display their tickets or credentials to get in. It's part of an increased security effort that requires the collaboration of 19 different law enforcement agencies and contractors in order to help keep the crowds safe. Measures include sweeps with canine units, inspection of all vehicles entering the grounds, and metal detectors to enhance fan safety.
Once fans are onsite, they'll have the option of connecting with 21 different BMS Guest Service locations, including three large Guest Welcome Villages, located throughout the grounds. Those needing details or directions can also chat with six different sets of roaming personnel, known as walking kiosks, who will be circulating along the perimeter.
Thirsty fans looking for a cold one will be in luck: Anheuser-Busch's presence at the game includes two sizeable on-site fan attractions. The Bud Light Down South Tailgate Tour will debut the ultimate college football tailgate experience, featuring a climate-controlled bar with ice-cold Bud Light, luxury tour bus with roof deck, food trucks, and traditional tailgate games. The Budweiser Country Club, an open-air, three-level buildout featuring elevated views, two 20-foot bars and Budweiser Signature Draught towers, will also be on grounds. And that's just outside the stadium. Inside, Levy Restaurants has ordered in 455,000 16-oz. beers to serve the stands and suites.
Television coverage of the game, which will be broadcast as part of ABC's Saturday Night Football, starts at 8 p.m.
Once the Battle is done, the victor of college football's biggest-ever game will be awarded a one-of-a kind, custom-designed trophy that stands just over two feet tall and is nearly as wide. Manufactured by MTM Recognition, it was constructed using multiple sculpting techniques, including the lost wax method, an art that dates back more than 5,000 years. Overall, the prize took more than 300 hours of production to create, including 20 hours of polishing on the football alone.
TROPHY PRESS CONFERENCE:
"It's been a decades-long offensive drive to make this game a reality," said Caldwell. "After so much time it's exciting to see everything coming together, and there's no other crew in the world I'd want to tackle these challenges with than the team at Bristol Motor Speedway. We can't wait to welcome our guests on game day."
About Bristol Motor Speedway
Nestled in the mountains of northeast Tennessee near the Virginia state line, Bristol Motor Speedway is a 0.533-mile concrete oval race track with 28-degree corner banking, 650-feet straightaways and a 40-foot wide racing surface. Renowned as The World's Fastest Half-Mile, the short track features two races each year from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series, one Monster Truck event and one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR K&N Pro Series-East race.
With a crowd capacity in excess of 150,000, the facility is expected to set a new NCAA college football attendance record on Sept. 10, 2016, when the racetrack transforms into a football stadium for the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol, playing host to border rivals, the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech. The speedway property is also home to Bristol Dragway.
The historic drag strip celebrates its 51st anniversary this year, headlines with the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals and operates more than 70 event days each season. In 2015, the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, awarded a record-breaking $805,900 to regional children's charities bringing their 18-year total to nearly $10 million in grants.
In existence since 1961, Bristol Motor Speedway was purchased in 1996 by Speedway Motorsports, Inc. a publicly traded company that is a leading marketer and promoter of motorsports entertainment in the United States. For more information, visit the company's website at bristolmotorspeedway.com.
ABOUT MTM RECOGNITION
For over 45 years, MTM has led the industry in symbolic recognition products for both sports and corporate markets. MTM employs over 500 people spanning two facilities including headquarters in Oklahoma City, OK and a premiere jewelry facility in Princeton, IL. In the sports arena, MTM manufactures some of the most notable awards in the industry including NCAA Championship awards, Bowl and Conference awards as well as NASCAR. MTM specializes in one-of-a-kind sports treasures. For more information, visit the Company's website at www.mtmrecognition.com.