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Racing at Bristol isn’t worse than it used to be, it’s just different

By admin | August 23, 2009

By Richard Allen

Those who live in east Tennessee, if not the country as a whole, were recently exposed to the blitz of advertising in the form of radio and television spots as well as other electronic media as the staff of the Bristol Motor Speedway scrambled to sell out the NASCAR Sprint Cup Sharpie 500.

One of the things to be repeated by those involved in the blitz was that, “The racing in Bristol isn’t worse than it used to be, it’s just different.”

That statement is definitely true. This is not the same track it once was.

In the middle of 2007 BMS was resurfaced and at the same time progressive banking was installed. The need to replace the old concrete surface was apparent. The track had become very rough and there were cracks that were beginning to appear. There is no doubt something had to be done in regard to the racing surface.

Where the real debate lies is in the addition of the progressive banking. In order to encourage more side by side racing the famous 36 degree banking was changed slightly. Now, rather than having the same degree of banking at both the top and bottom of the turns, the degree of banking gradually increases from bottom to top.

In the past, all drivers sought the bottom groove when racing at BMS. With everyone running the same line, the only way to get around another driver was to move him out of the way. Thus, the ‘Bristol Bump’ was born.

Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and others mastered the bump as a way to move up the leader board and get through traffic. At the same time, the bump came with a price. Tempers flared and sparks flew as sheet metal was bent. Along with that, water bottles were thrown into noses, helmets were thrown at cars, obscene gestures were made and insults were exchanged. These things were all part of the Bristol experience.

One drawback of that Bristol experience were the cautions, the many cautions. From 2002 to 2007 there were six races that had over 100 caution laps. Those caution laps, to some, were boring and more than offset the drama that created them.

The new track surface, which has allowed for side by side racing instead of ‘bottom feeding’, has meant fewer cautions. This past Saturday’s race had 76 caution laps, which is the most since 2007. Some of those laps were the result of cars riding around keeping the track dry during a light rain shower.

Aside from the new track surface, other factors have played a role in the new style of racing at BMS. The Car of Tomorrow as well as points racing as the series nears the Chase for the Championship cutoff have had an impact on this track.

I can see why at least some might prefer the ‘new’ Bristol. There is something to be said for the reduction of caution laps.

However, I preferred the ‘old’ Bristol. Other tracks might offer side by side racing(at least we hope) and long stretches of green flag runs. The sheet metal grinding action and the accompanying drama is what made BMS unique. Earnhardt twice hitting Labonte on the last lap and Gordon twice moving Wallace aside for the win are a part of my most vivid racing memories.

I’m afraid that type of racing is nothing more than a memory now.

With the price of a ticket coming in at a robust $109, and considering BMS(and the whole SMI organization) are quite stingy when it comes to issuing media credentials, a show with plenty of drama and entertainment is essential for me. In my opinion, this track has been turned into just another track. Its uniqueness is gone.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some good racing Saturday night, but the drama and entertainment were missing.

‘Racing the way it oughta be’ has been replaced by ‘Racing at Bristol isn’t worse than it used to be, it’s just different’, and by different they mean it’s the same as most other tracks.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

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2 Responses to “Racing at Bristol isn’t worse than it used to be, it’s just different”

  1. midasmicah Says:
    August 24th, 2009 at 11:19 am

    I have a couple of things to say. One, I’m trying to figure out why some commentators say this was a sellout. There were a tone of empty seats. Two, I agree with you. Due to all the circumstances you mentioned, Bristol has become boring. I changed the channel and watched something else in the middle part of the race. Switched back at the end knowing there would be some excitement. The chase has made the drivers on the bubble drive solely for points. The old Bristol had excitement and drama.

  2. SB Says:
    August 24th, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    You’re right, it’s definitely different. Now it’s more like MIS with traffic. The things that used to make Bristol unique are gone. That’s why, after 9 year of attending the night race, I’m not renewing my season tickets for next year. I never thought the day would come when I would give up season tickets to Bristol.