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Bristol Motor Speedway is a track made for first timers

By admin | August 20, 2014

 By Richard Allen

Some of the greatest memories of my life are intertwined with the Bristol Motor Speedway. Living in east Tennessee for all of my 46 years, I consider the high-banked facility to be my home NASCAR track. And as a result, I have sat in the grandstands that encircle the half-mile many times.

Of all of those visits, however, none compares with the first.

I had never been to a NASCAR race of any kind(that I remembered) until my dad took me there for the Southeastern 500 in the spring of 1978. Television didn’t cover very many races back then so the first time I ever laid eyes on the track was when I walked to my seat in the grandstands. To a 10-year-old child who had heard the names Petty, Allison, Yarborough and Pearson all his life, the sights of those cars lined up on pit road was awe inspiring.

Darrell Waltrip, who was not a favorite of mine at all, won that race, but the experience was great nonetheless.

And it isn’t just fans that have great first time experiences in the upper northeastern corner of Tennessee. Several drivers, including some of the biggest names in the history of the sport, have won their first Sprint Cup races at BMS. And I have been fortunate enough to witness several of those momentous occasions.

In 1979, I had never even heard of some guy named Dale Earnhardt. But as a an impressionable 11-year-old, I liked the look of his blue and yellow #2 car. And more importantly to me back then, I liked the fact that he was beating Darrell Waltrip. In only his 16th start at NASCAR’s top level, the soon-to-be “Intimidator” collected his first victory in a finish that included one of the greatest top-5s of all time(Earnhardt, Allison, Waltrip, Petty and Parsons).

Another driver I was lucky enough to see win his first race at Bristol was Earnhardt’s fellow Hall of Fame member Rusty Wallace. This driver would go on to make BMS his personal playground after scoring his first career NASCAR victory there in April of 1986. Ultimately, the Missouri native tallied nine of his 55 total Sprint Cup Series wins in Bristol.

A driver who went on to be one of my favorites for a short time also won his first race in Bristol. Ernie Irvan drove for the nearby Abingdon, VA based Morgan-McClure Racing team when he won his first race in 1990. Irvan made quite an impression in NASCAR for a brief time until his career was impacted by a severe crash in Michigan a few years later.

One of the most surprising first time winners that I was witnessed in Bristol was Elliott Sadler in 2001. The Virginian drove for the famed Wood Brothers as he beat out John Andretti, who was driving for Petty Enterprises, in a race that harkened back to an earlier time in NASCAR history when those two organizations used to run 1-2 on a regular basis.

And finally, one of the most fun first time wins I watched in Bristol was that of Kurt Busch in 2002. The brash young driver muscled his way around veteran Jimmy Spencer on his way to the first of several triumphs on the track’s high banks. That, in turn, sparked one of the more entertaining rivalries in the sport’s history as the two drivers would have several more run-ins over the next few years.

I have been extremely lucky as a fan of NASCAR in that I have been privileged to witness some of the sport’s greatest moments in person. Many of those moments have occurred at the Bristol Motor Speedway right here in my own home state. Those memories, whether it be my first ever race or a first time win by a driver that would go on to make history, will remain with me forever.

As has been pointed out above, this facility lends itself to great first time moments as several drivers have scored their first victories on this legendary track. Will there be another first time winner on Saturday night? There almost certainly will be at least one awe inspired first time fan in attendance.

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