BMS 60th Anniversary: 60 key milestones that have made the versatile multi-use venue a fan-favorite destination
As Bristol Motor Speedway celebrates its 60th Anniversary, there are so many significant milestones that have happened throughout the years that have turned this once vast Eastern Tennessee dairy farm into a mega showplace for auto racing, sports and entertainment.
In three weeks, NASCAR will return to the iconic all-concrete high-banked oval nestled in the mountains of the Appalachian Highlands Region where it will challenge its drivers during all-important Playoff races for the Cup Series and Camping World Truck Series as well as set the Playoff field during the regular season finale for its Xfinity Series.
It’s been called The Last Great Colosseum, The World’s Fastest Half-Mile, Thunder Valley, The Holy Grail of Short Tracks and most recently, The Home to Big Events, but no matter what you call it, revered Bristol Motor Speedway has always found a way to deliver drama, excitement, thrilling finishes and “Wow” moments to its legion of fans in NASCAR Nation.
As we prepare for the upcoming racing, and in honor of Bristol Motor Speedway’s 60th Anniversary, below are 60 significant moments that have put the versatile multi-purpose venue on the map.
1961: After attending a NASCAR race in Charlotte and wanting to bring that type of entertainment to their region, partners Carl Moore, Larry Carrier and R.G. Pope built what was then called Bristol International Raceway. The current location, a former dairy farm sitting on 100 acres, was selected after their first pick, in nearby Piney Flats, was politely rejected by local residents.
1961: Jack Smith with help from relief driver Johnny Allen scored the first BMS Cup Series victory, held on July 30. Popular singer Brenda Lee performed the first National Anthem at BMS.
1961: The first of three football games hosted by BMS took place in September during an NFL exhibition game where the Washington Redskins played the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles won, 17-10.
1965: Track owners installed a state-of-the-art dragstrip and it opened under National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) sanction. Bristol Dragway sits adjacent to Bristol Motor Speedway on the facility campus. The facility was the first in drag racing to house offices, luxury suites, race control room and a press box in a four-story tower built directly behind the quarter-mile track.
1969: After resurfacing the oval track multiple times the track banking changed from 22 to 36 degrees.
1973: Cale Yarborough led all 500 laps of the BMS spring race to earn the victory; it is one of only three times that the feat has been accomplished in NASCAR history.
1976: Lanny Hester and Gary Baker purchase the Speedway.
1978: Large stadium lights are installed around the oval track and the first BMS Night Race is held in August. Cale Yarborough scored the victory.
1979: Cup Series rookie Dale Earnhardt earned his first career victory in April at BMS. He remains the only rookie driver to ever win a Cup race at Bristol.
1982: Phil Parsons won the first NASCAR Xfinity Series race to be held at BMS.
1983: California businessman Warner Hodgdon purchases the Speedway.
1983: The large signature BMS Cup Series Trophy is debuted during the August Night Race and first presented to race winner Darrell Waltrip.
1984: Darrell Waltrip earned his seventh consecutive BMS Cup Series victory in April, a streak that started back in 1981. The track record for consecutive victories still stands today. Waltrip also holds the record for most BMS Cup Series victories at 12.
1985: Larry Carrier once again becomes the Speedway’s owner.
1985: Dale Earnhardt outduels Tim Richmond in an historic Night Race, the first NASCAR race to be televised live to a primetime audience, which aired on ESPN.
1992: BMS holds the first NASCAR Cup Series race on a concrete surface.
1992: Food City, a regional grocery store based in nearby Abingdon, Virginia, becomes the entitlement sponsor for the NASCAR Cup Series spring race and the NASCAR Xfinity Series fall race.
1995: Joe Ruttman won the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race to be held at BMS.
1995: One of the most talked about finishes in NASCAR history took place in the August Night Race when Dale Earnhardt bumped Terry Labonte in turn four on the final lap of the race, sending Labonte’s Chevy sliding across the finish line. Labonte won the race but tempers were still flaring in the pits when Rusty Wallace confronted Earnhardt for an early race altercation. Words were exchanged and Wallace famously threw a water bottle at The Intimidator to show his frustration. The two drivers ultimately had to be separated by teammates and race officials.
1996: O. Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports purchased BMS from Larry Carrier.
1997: BMS introduces the innovative Pinnacle Speedway in Lights holiday light spectacular which invites visitors to tour a five-mile route through the facility campus that is decked with amazing holiday lights and displays that runs from November through January. The tour takes guests onto the actual BMS track and the oval’s infield serves as a festive Christmas Village. Proceeds from the event go to the track’s chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities.
1998: BMS renovates its grandstands and doubles its seating capacity to more than 135,000 seats.
1998: Smith purchases Bristol Dragway from brothers Duane and Rick Ruth and totally renovated the property and constructed a brand-new tower with an awning-covered observation deck on its roof and installed a new track surface with new retaining walls alongside it. More than 15,000 cubic yards of dirt was moved in the transformation.
1999: Bristol Dragway hosts a unique NHRA race called the Winston Showdown that pits Top Fuel dragsters vs. Funny Cars. NHRA legend John Force won the first Showdown race. The format was also held the next year before the NHRA national event returned to Bristol Dragway in 2001. This October the track will host the 20th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals as part of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
1999: One of the most iconic Cup Series races in NASCAR history took place at BMS in August when Dale Earnhardt bumped Terry Labonte out of the way on the final lap en route to his ninth track victory. With some fans booing Earnhardt while he celebrated in Victory Lane he famously said, “I didn’t mean to wreck him, I just meant to rattle his cage.”
2000: BMS transformed its concrete racing surface to dirt to hold a special World of Outlaws race in the summer. The event was such a hit that BMS did it again in 2001 and brought the Outlaws back along with Super Late Models. Sammy Swindell won the main Sprint Car features both years.
2002: BMS completed its first pedestrian tunnel into the infield in Turn 3. The second tunnel in Turn 4 was added in 2007.
2002: BMS Victory Lane was relocated to the roof top of the Ballad Health Infield Care Center.
2004: The three-story Bristol Motor Speedway administration building, known as The Bruton Smith Building, opened its doors to employees and guests.
2004: Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored his first BMS victory during the August Night Race and in his Victory Lane interview shouted “It’s Bristol, Baby!” which ignited a frenzy among fans and gave the speedway a brand-new slogan that carries on to this day. Today that phrase remains as meaningful and powerful as it was that night. It has become synonymous with Bristol Motor Speedway and the experience it offers.
2007: BMS installs a new concrete race surface with variable banking of 24 to 28 degrees, and a new state-of-the-art Media Center was constructed.
2010: At BMS in August, Kyle Busch becomes the first driver in NASCAR history to win all three major NASCAR Series races in a single weekend.
2012: BMS has been known to make drivers’ tempers flare on more than one occasion and one of the most talked about incidents in BMS history took place at the Night Race when Tony Stewart threw his helmet at rival Matt Kenseth’s car on pit road after the two had tangled in an earlier on-track incident.
2013: Country music legend Charlie Daniels performed at BMS during the Food City 500 pre-race show. Honoring its location in Bristol, Tennessee, the Birthplace of Country Music, several country artists in addition to Daniels have performed during BMS pre-race ceremonies over the years including Joe Nichols, Randy Houser, Cody Jinx, Pryor & Lee, Kellie Pickler, A Thousand Horses, Clare Dunn, Dierks Bentley, Travis Denning, Old Crow Medicine Show, Colt Ford and the Doobie Brothers to name a few.
2014: BMS officially christens the stadium as The Last Great Colosseum and awards its first BMS Gladiator Sword to Carl Edwards at the Food City 500.
2015: Survey data reveals that BMS ticket holders come from all 50 states and 20 different countries.
2016: In April, an engineering team installed Colossus TV, the world’s largest outdoor permanent center-hung television. The four-sided screen requires 117 tons of thick steel cabling to hoist the massive 700-ton structure.
2016: In September, the track hosted the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol college football game between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech. The Volunteers defeated the Hokies 45-24 and the game, which was televised on ESPN, set an NCAA-record for attendance at 156,990.
2016: ESPN’s popular show College Gameday went live from the BMS campus prior to kick-off for the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol. Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined hosts Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso on the set for an interview, where Corso predicted a Tennessee Volunteers victory by donning an oversize white UT racing helmet.
2016: BMS is known for its patriotic themes and red, white and blue displays, but perhaps its most moving performance of the Star-Spangled Banner took place before the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol when country artist Jennifer Nettles unleashed a goosebump-inducing, critically-acclaimed rendition of the National Anthem to officially kick off the historic game.
2016: The Friday night before the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol, BMS featured country music superstar Kenny Chesney, an East Tennessee native, in the Honda Ridgeline Presents: Bristol’s Tailgate Party, with opening acts The Band Perry and Old Dominion. The concert drew an estimated crowd of more than 40,000.
2016: A week after the Battle at Bristol, BMS hosted another college football game, the Bucs at Bristol presented by Food City. The game featured nearby East Tennessee State University taking on Western Carolina University. The home-team favorite Buccaneers pulled off a late rally to win the game 34-31. The game also set an ETSU home game attendance record at more than 14,000.
2017: Longtime BMS partner Food City, which has been the title sponsor for the Food City 500 since 1992, celebrated its 25th anniversary as sponsor of the NASCAR Cup Series event. Their entitlement sponsorship is the second-longest for a race in NASCAR history behind the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
2017: BMS creates the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Scholarship in honor of the legendary second-generation driver who retired from full-time Cup Series racing at the end of the season. The annual award of $2,088 is presented to a student who is pursuing an education in automotive technology or hospitality and tourism.
2017: In April, Kyle Larson set the BMS Xfinity Series track performance record at 127.988 mph (14.992 seconds) in a Chevy.
2017: Kyle Busch duplicates his amazing feat of winning all three major NASCAR Series races in a single weekend for a second time at BMS. He remains the only driver to ever accomplish the impressive feat.
2017: In May BMS hosts the U.S. Short Track Nationals for Super Late Model and Pro Late Model racers from across the country. Bubba Wallace is among the winners of the inaugural event.
2017: Bristol Dragway hosted the popular Street Outlaws series from the Discovery Channel for their first event on a major drag racing facility. Fans from nearly every state on the East Coast came in droves to attend the event that offered $100,000 to win that was ultimately claimed by Justin “Big Chief” Shearer.
2019: Ryan Blaney set the NASCAR Cup Series track record at BMS in April with a fast lap of 132.075 mph (14.528 seconds) in a Ford.
2020: In April, William Bryon raced to victory in the first iRacing Pro Invitational event called the Food City Showdown at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway.
2020: BMS hosts the prestigious NASCAR All-Star Race on July 15. At the time, BMS is only the third track in NASCAR history to host the event that pays the winner $1 million. Chase Elliott took the checkered flag in the BMS All-Star Race, his first victory in the marquee special event.
2020: BMS hosts a round of the NASCAR Playoffs for the first time in history, during the September running of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Veteran driver Kevin Harvick raced to the victory and secures his spot in the Round of 12. It was Harvick’s third career BMS victory.
2020: In December, BMS and the city of Nashville announce they are exploring a potential agreement for a long-term lease for the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
2021: For the second time in its history, BMS transformed its racing surface to dirt to host a variety of races, including the inaugural Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals, which featured eight different classes and more than 1,200 racers.
2021: In March, BMS and Speedway Motorsports officials and the Mayor of Nashville entered into a letter of intent to allow BMS to operate the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway with the potential return of NASCAR to the facility.
2021: BMS hosts the Food City Dirt Race in March, the first NASCAR Cup Series race to be held on a dirt surface in more than 50 years; The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series also competed during the weekend.
2021: In April, BMS closed out its dirt racing activities for the year by hosting the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars and Super Late Models in two weekends of high-horsepower action. David Gravel won both WoO Sprint Car feature races in the Bristol Throwdown and the Super Late Model races in the Bristol Bash were won by Josh Richards and Devin Moran.
2021: BMS welcomed YouTube sensation Dude Perfect in June and hosted their Chaos at the Colosseum “bucket list” event which culminated with the Dudes competing in a demolition derby event on the dirt-covered BMS backstretch.
2021: In August NASCAR officials conducted an official test at BMS with its Next Gen car, driven by Christopher Bell. The Next Gen is scheduled to debut in official Cup Series competition in the 2022 season.
2021: The Thunder Valley Amphitheatre, a new music venue constructed on Bristol Dragway property, hosted its first major event in August with country music powerhouse Alabama and famed 1970s rock band America performing for a large contingent of fans.
As the air fills with anticipation for the green flag to drop for the 2021 Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN and PRN Radio), with so much at stake in the Cup Series Playoffs, fans can expect more milestones to unfold as NASCAR’s best drivers compete in pursuit of a coveted victory on the storied short track. You’ll get to see all of your favorite drivers racing hard to advance in the Playoffs, including Bristol dominator Kyle Busch, Food City Dirt Race winner Joey Logano, three-time Bristol winner Brad Keselowski, defending Night Race winner Kevin Harvick, Bristol All-Star Race winner and defending series champ Chase Elliott, and five-time season winner Kyle Larson, who is still looking for his first BMS Cup victory.
In the Food City 300, NASCAR Xfinity Series favorites Austin Cindric, A.J. Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier will be trying to lock in their Playoff positions in the season’s final regular season race (Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN, PRN Radio). Meanwhile, headliners John Hunter Nemechek, Ben Rhodes and defending champ Sheldon Creed will battle for an elimination Playoff race victory Thursday night in the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics Camping World Truck Series race (Sept. 16, 9 p.m., FS1, MRN Radio). The rising stars in the ARCA Menards Series also will take on the challenging half-mile oval in the Bush’s Beans 200 as part of a Thursday night doubleheader (Sept. 16, 6:30 p.m., FS1, MRN Radio).