December 23rd, 2014

by JEFF BIRCHFIELD - Johnson City Press


What difference does one month make? Apparently, it's a world of difference in the race promotion business.

According to Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Caldwell, the announced date change of the Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from March to April 19 is paying off in a big way at the ticket window.

"It's a tremendous difference when you look at it from a year ago," Caldwell said. "I'm encouraged and cautiously optimistic, and we continue to hear great positives with that move. I'm just excited for the race fans who love this place. They wanted us to host that event in a more comfortable climate and environment. You hopefully take that one factor out and they can enjoy the experience more."

Tweet: "I'm just excited for the race fans who love this place." - BMS GM @jcaldwellbms on Bristol's Spring Race move to April #NASCAR

While ticket sales have been a struggle in the spring, the IRWIN Tools Night Race in August continues to be one of the most-attended events on the NASCAR calendar.

Although not a sell-out since 2008, it has come close to selling out the past couple of years with crowds over 150,000 people.

"It is probably the largest crowd in the sport," Caldwell said. "When you talk bucket-list events, you have certain events you want to check off that list. If you're a golfer or not, you want to see the Masters at Augusta. If you're a football fan, you want to go to Lambeau Field and there are baseball stadiums you want to try out. Bristol is that in the NASCAR world. Whether you're a huge race fan or not, people want to see that event. They've heard so much about Bristol and especially the night race."

He added while the crowds have been down for the Food City 500, they would still be large enough to fill up the seating capacities at most race tracks and other sports stadiums across the country

"We look at the empty seats instead of the filled seats, and that's the nature of the beast," Caldwell said. "But, both events if you look at it, have drawn really amazing crowds."

While the facility is currently decorated for Speedway in Lights, there are conversations about bringing in more events for the 2015 season. With the "Battle at Bristol" football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech still over a year away, Caldwell would like to see the speedway host another short-track series race over the summer as it has in years past.

Across the lot, the 2015 schedule has already been released for Bristol Dragway with the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals headlining the action. Held on Father's Day weekend, the race has consistently drawn some of the biggest crowds of the year for a NHRA national event.

"Through these challenging times of the past few years, that event has continued to grow," Caldwell said. "We're really excited about the NHRA partnership. It's a great sport. It doesn't get all the attention that NASCAR does, but it's a lot of fun to come out and experience it. It's one of those sports and, NASCAR is the same way, that you have to come out and experience to appreciate what the guys are doing."