There's nothing like a NASCAR race at Bristol
The all-concrete high-banked half-mile oval that sits inside one of the most impressive and versatile sports stadiums on the planet, nestled between the rolling hills and mountains of Northeast Tennessee, really is a one-of-a-kind place.
Many have come to call it The Last Great Colosseum. And that's for good reason.
NASCAR's gladiators of speed have been battling it out at iconic Bristol Motor Speedway two times a year since 1961. Many of stock car racing's biggest legends have been created there. Some of the most fabled finishes in the sport's history have occurred inside that arena. Some drivers say they get chills just walking into the place, knowing its star-studded backstory.
Fans, the traveling press corps and thousands of social media pundits all proclaimed the recent Food City 500 one of the best races in recent memory. It had it all: plenty of side-by-side action in the lower groove, drivers speeding around the high groove, lots of passing and drivers mixing it up, some bumping and grinding and even a bit of beating and banging.
As Dale Earnhardt, Jr. summed it up so eloquently after sweeping both races here in August 2004, "It's Bristol, baby!"
Fans can expect to be entertained even more at the upcoming Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Aug. 16-19. It's become a hard-core Bucket List destination for many. Unofficially, it's been referred to as one of NASCAR's majors. Certainly, fans can expect to enjoy an amazing weekend of racing, and who knows what else might happen when the lights are turned on.
And that's not just because Earnhardt Jr., who days after the Food City 500 stunned the motorsports world by announcing this season will be his last, will be making his final runs around The World's Fastest Half-Mile at the controls of his famed No. 88 Axalta Chevy.
No doubt, celebrating Dale Jr.'s Bristol legacy will be a huge part of the race weekend, and something that no devoted fan will want to miss, but there will be so much more. The tight racing that fans crave and have come to expect will also be in the spotlight, led by a hungry batch of drivers longing to acquire one of the much sought-after BMS winner's Gladius swords.
Five-time Bristol winner Kurt Busch says for a novice fan, Bristol provides the most complete NASCAR 101 experience around. And for educated fans, they already know Bristol is the best place to watch a race.
"There's no other track this size, that has this much banking, that holds this many people," Busch said. "I always tell people if you've never been to a NASCAR race, you don't start at the Daytona 500. You don't start at Indianapolis. Charlotte is a great place to come see the heritage of our sport, but if you really want to see the true short track of how our sport found its way up, watching guys like Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Terry Labonte grind it out for wins and guys like Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough, they all came to Bristol, because if you conquered Bristol it was something special."
The thing that makes Bristol so enjoyable for the drivers is the challenge of taming the high banks at a tremendous rate of speed. Enduring 500 laps around the Colosseum, both from a stamina standpoint as well as the ability to keep a racecar intact, has proven over the years to be the ultimate NASCAR survival test.
"Bristol is a physical place," said 7-time Monster Energy Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson, who won the Food City 500. "You don't have a lot of time down the straightaways to think about things. You very much get into a rhythm of just running. I feel like you're just wide open all the time, whereas I feel like at Talladega there are certain portions in the race where things might calm down for a little while. Here at Bristol, I feel like you don't really have much of a break and it's just all the time wide open. I think that keeps everybody on their toes and keeps the intensity up. I think that just makes the racing that much more entertaining."
Clint Bowyer, who finished second in April's Food City 500, said he was completely exhausted post-race, yet utterly thrilled with what he had just experienced at the same time.
"I know that everybody wants to see the Bristol of old and us beating and banging and moving cars," Bowyer said in the media center after following Johnson across the finish line. "I'm telling you, the effort that you put into driving the car, you can't drive them any harder than that. Literally it's a qualifying lap almost every single time. I think (Bristol) has done a great job of creating that environment. It really is an ever-changing racetrack.
"You'll start on the bottom, get up there and find something on the outside, and hell, by the end of the run you might be right back on the bottom and finding better grip and better speed down there. It's a ton of fun to be able to race like that, and it's extremely challenging. I've been doing this a long time and that's about as hard as I've ever drove in my life."
Johnson says the track takes no prisoners and it simply doesn't allow for drivers to be able to tip-toe around the place. That is what keeps the fans at the edge of their seats for 500 laps.
"You're on the razor's edge around this track," Johnson said. "It's really an interesting track. If you lay off and don't drive the car as hard as you need to, the vertical and lateral forces aren't in the car to make it turn, so your handling completely changes if you try to soft foot it around here or soft pedal it. You've got to stay committed and run the heck out of the car."
And the fun at Bristol Motor Speedway isn't contained simply to the action taking place on the track. It's everywhere. There's so many fun options for the entire family, including some state-of-the-art Kids Zones, great video entertainment provided by Colossus, the world's largest center-hung video screen, and lots of Party Zones, premium VIP experiences, tailgating, on-site camping, concerts, great food and beverages in the concession stands throughout the property, and so much more.
"I always look forward to coming to Bristol with the atmosphere, the way the track is designed, the way the intimate setting is so cool for the fans, the fact that there's no garage area here; we work out on pit road," Busch said. "There are so many little small things that are fun and unique about Bristol."
The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week kicks off with the Bush's Beans 150 NASCAR Whelen Modified Series Race and the UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday, Aug. 16. The racing action continues on Friday night, Aug. 18 with the Food City 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race and Pinty's Qualifying. The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race 500 lap event concludes the weekend of racing on Saturday evening, Aug. 19.
Affordable tickets are available for the Camping World Truck Series race, the XFINITY Series race and Pinty's Qualifying. Kids (12 and under) are free with a paid adult for those two days of racing. Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race tickets for adults start at $69, while kids' tickets for Saturday night are only $10. To purchase tickets to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, please call 423-BRISTOL or buy them online at www.BRISTOLTIX.com. Tickets can also be purchased directly from any neighborhood Food City store.