Blog Entry

Battle over Bristol rages on

Posted on: March 23, 2011 3:02 pm
Edited on: March 23, 2011 3:18 pm

By Pete Pistone

Forget Old Coke vs. New Coke, “Tastes Great” vs. “Less Filling” or the age-old battle between boxers and briefs.

The NASCAR argument that matters most today is “old” Bristol Motor Speedway vs. “new” Bristol Motor Speedway.

When track management decided to tear up the Tennessee half-mile track and reconfigure in 2007, little did they know just what a monumental can of worms was being opened.

After the construction work was finished gone was the narrow-grooved track layout that only allowed for single file racing and in its place a progressively banked configuration which created opportunities for side-by-side racing.

Almost instantly drivers began to praise Bristol 2.0 and the virtues of being able to actually pass another car for position without having to ram it out of the way as was the only option in the track’s previous incarnation.

But not so fast. Although the competitors have embraced the track’s change with many members of the media also echoing the praise all is not well with the most important voice in NASCAR – the fans.

There were early rumblings from some long-time fans of the sport when Bristol was reconfigured but a lot of those complaints were chalked up to the simple fact that most fans simply don’t like change at all.

But the vocal group has gained more and more followers in subsequent years and that discontent may have reached a pinnacle last Sunday when the cavernous coliseum of a race track was maybe half full.

The startling sight of a half empty Bristol was jarring to say the least especially in light of the track’s recent streak of 55 consecutive sellouts when 160,000 fans would jam into the second smallest track on the Sprint Cup schedule.

When that streak ended there were rightfully many theories as to why, many of which still hold true.

The economy hasn’t gotten any better for a number of fans and the cost of attending any NASCAR race just isn’t possible with dollars so tight. The rising cost of gas has hit all fans with the hearty souls who camp and drive RVs really taking it on the chin. The sea of motor homes that usually surround Bristol was non-existent last weekend and the prospect of spending maybe $1000 on fuel alone certainly had to be part of the equation.

Lodging of the hotel variety isn’t plentiful in the Tri-Cities area by any means and those who are lucky enough to procure a room are forced to pay double or triple the establishment’s regular rate as the unfortunate law of supply and demand is put to its most extreme use.

Bristol’s parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc. probably didn’t do itself any favors by purchasing  Kentucky Speedway, which this summer will host its first Sprint Cup race. Less than 400 miles away, Bristol’s new sister track is most likely responsible for many fans staying closer to home in early July for their NASCAR fix and not incur the time, travel and expense to come to “Thunder Valley,” which certainly accentuates the original point NASCAR had about Cup racing at Kentucky and the fear of over saturating the area.

Some have also pointed to the downward trend in corporate ticket sales as taking a huge chunk out of Bristol’s ticket sales. Companies that have had to cut back sponsorships and marketing initiatives also don’t buy luxury suites or blocks of tickets for employees or customers any longer. That revenue has been lost and its impact on the number of people in the grandstands is significant.

And finally there’s the theory that NASCAR’s aging audience simply doesn’t have it in them any longer to go through the sometimes-arduous task of attending a race. Those who didn’t think twice about piling into a car or van with a group of pals for a NASCAR weekend in their care free younger days now find themselves with families, responsibilities and other duties as well as interests that make sitting on the sofa rather than in the grandstand Sunday afternoons a much more viable option.

That’s a pretty impressive laundry list of reasons why the bloom is currently off what was once considered the toughest ticket not just in NASCAR but also in the entire sports world.

But let’s go back to the discussion of the Bristol of old and today’s BMS. In recent days I’ve heard from hundreds of fans who swear that the racing just is not the same as it used to be and until it’s restored Bristol will never return to its glory.

The conveyor belt racing that created 500 wreck-filled laps, resulted in an average of 20 caution flags a race and a garage full of destroyed racecars is what these fans seem to want back. Drivers fighting with one another and high emotions on display is what “Boys Have at It” was all about and I can understand fans wanting to see that kind of passion. And apparently when it comes to Bristol, they want it done in demolition derby style.

Which still confuses me.

Whenever most people who don’t know anything about NASCAR or auto racing for that matter discuss the sport with me, they contend fans only watch because of the crashes. I’ve fought diligently over the years to argue there’s much more to racing and its speed, strategy and excitement are just some of the sport’s virtues that have helped it become popular.

While crashes and accidents are certainly a recognized by product of racing and there is no doubt a quotient of the audience attracted by that aspect, I would argue true race fans aren’t as interested in the carnage as they are of all the other interesting elements to the sport.

In Bristol’s case, I guess I was absolutely wrong.

More NASCAR coverage

Since: Feb 5, 2008
Posted on: March 24, 2011 7:27 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

NASCAR is nowhere near the second highest rated sport in the country.  They have one event every week and it doesn't draw near as baseball and basketball do with their dozens of games per week.
That it is the second highest rated sport is a fallacy.

Since: Mar 10, 2008
Posted on: March 24, 2011 3:57 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

What's wrong with NASCAR?  When TV coverage takes commercial breaks during the racing but never during the pit stops, pretty well sums up what wrong with NASCAR.  So many of the races are decided not on the track, but by pit stops and pit strategy.

Since: Apr 10, 2010
Posted on: March 24, 2011 11:59 am

Battle over Bristol rages on

And after the race we will all drink jucie boxes and sing cum-by-ya. No thank you I want beating and banging ,helmet throwing fist fights in the pits.drink a beer in the winners circle racing

Since: Dec 7, 2007
Posted on: March 24, 2011 1:22 am

Battle over Bristol rages on

Um, people, if you all haven't noticed, almost all cars look alike these days.  By 2013 the cup series will have the Mustangs and Challengers.  GM is screwing up by not running the Camaro but that's hardly NASCAR's fault.  One factor on attendance no one has noticed Bristol and Martinsville, not a long distance from each other, both short tracks although very different, are only 2 weeks apart on the schedule.  I have to think that in a region of the country that has struggled a bit if somehow people had to pick and choose between the two instead of going to both.  

As far as the other compaints, I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion.  The trouble is the past is past and all sports evolve.  I guess no sport will make everyone happy all the time.  In the end though, being so picky and prickly, and past thinking only hurts ourselves.  I basically did not pay for a baseball ticket from 1981 to 1989, I was so mad at the strike.  Only hurt myself in the long run.  Just something to think about.  It isn't deathly serious stuff here.  It's racing and should be fun.  In the end all the cars still race and pass and wreck themselves or each other.  Just keep it fun everyone.

Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: March 23, 2011 11:29 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

to Nighttrain38
well said...and Funny!  and right on, consistancy.... toeing the Corporate Line... and rules changed everytime King Brian has a bad hair!!!

Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: March 23, 2011 11:25 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

ha, well said, brother!!!

Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: March 23, 2011 11:20 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

to whiner86:

It's NOT the Economy Period.  That's the same moronic thinking that's going on at Nascar HQ.  And you couldn't be MORE WRONG!
Me, I'm a demographic.  Almost 50, been watching Nascar WINSTON CUP since the 70's when Ford vs Chevy vs Dodge vs Buick vs Pontiac WAS Nascar.  I used to LOVE going to races. I'd record every race on VCR to watch later!  I've STILL got a bunch of race tapes from the 80's and 90's that I watch once in awhile....and I'd never record a race from the current version of IROC, er, Nascar...  Gee, we had Engine Wars, Body wars, TIRE wars (anybody remember HOOSIER vs Goodyear, what a great time).  If a mfg started losing, they went to the drawing board and came up with a better body style for next year!  They developed new intakes, heads, headers, anything Nascar would LET them, to get an advantage.  The drivers were colorful, outspoken, and what took place ON the track, USUALLY stayed on the track....

I went to a lot of races on the East Coast, most usually Richmond and Dover....and had a

NOW, Nascar REEKS of SAMENESS.... uni body style, with freaking 'STICKERS' to look like headlights and grills....geez, how cheesy is THAT?!  And everything is just so darned CORPORATE, even to the crap they make the guys wear in the winners circle, the fake party atmosphere, the same comments by the same drivers week after week after week.... the confetti, hats, mics, it's just not REAL anymore....:(

And don't get me started on the Japanese import motors and nameplates on the Joe Gibbs teams and others..... I used to have a lot of respect for Joe, but I will never, I mean NEVER go to an IROC common body race to watch IMPORT cars racing boring races on boring (mostly 1.5 mile triovals, yawn!!!!!!!!!) look alike race tracks where the 3 wide gaggles of lookalike cars HOPE for a freaking crash caution so the race doesn't turn into yet another 'splash and go' fuel mileage episode.... sorry, for me and my demographic, that is not racing!!!

I MISS the days of upsidedown cars and real sheet metal and someone getting caught cheating every other week and fistfights in the pits and real competition between car manufacturers and the Ford Factory Rep crying every other weekend 'cause his guys got beat by a Chevy SS again.... and the shouting and name calling and helmet throwing and tobacco ads that reflected the Real World and even older guys with real mustaches racing and not just a bunch of young punks who barely shave yet....

Yeah. I'm a demographic. And there's a LOT of me out there....and we're NOT going to races anymore...and it's got NOTHING to do with the price of GAS!!!


Since: Nov 16, 2007
Posted on: March 23, 2011 10:58 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

1. Economy--no question about it. People are working longer hours to keep their jobs. Raises have been non-existent for several years, yet the cost of living just keeps going up, up, up. People need a break in the worst way. 
2. NASCAR in 2011--I think the first races have been thrilling. . .except for Bristol, surprisingly! Maybe widening the track was a mistake. The close quarters of the old track created tension from the drop of the flag. That was missing in the Spring race. 
3. Cars getting closer to spec: Yeah, that's a concern. Take off the brand mark, and most people wouldn't be able to differentiate between makes. If they go to fuel injection, isn't that just closer to spec? 
4. Bad production--The TV coverage seems tired and formulaic. . .it just strips the race of its energy. I could go for much less pre-race build up and in-race commentary, and a lot more coverage of the effort these teams are expending, the difficult decisions they have to make on a dime. Enough with the interviews with the drivers while they're in the cars. . .drivers are too sponsor conscious to say what they really feel. Maybe I really should get's Track Pass and find a new way to follow the race.

Since: Jan 20, 2010
Posted on: March 23, 2011 10:50 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

And just as a point of fact - even though the ratings for Sunday's race were down 7 percent from last year, the 3.9 for Bristol was the highest rated sports telecast of the weekend behind the NCAA tournament which drew record ratings and was up 17 percent from 2010.
Pete Pistone

Since: Aug 22, 2006
Posted on: March 23, 2011 10:35 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

Listen... it has nothing to do with crashes. Fan's like to see rivalries and we have none. Fan's like to see tradition, the only ones are the Brickyard 400 and Daytona 500. Even with the 500 this year it was ridiculous with the two cars drafts. People want to see something steady. We watch a Bristol track everyone loves to see fighting for every square inch of the track get demolished and rebuilt to be a miny 1.5 mile track. Same goes with Miami, and New Hampshire. Take Rockingham away and take one race away from Darlington to add what? More 1.5 mile race tracks. I love nascar but I'm tired of 1.5 tracks. Give me some more short tracks please!!!!

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