Is Bristol Now Six Degrees From Good Racing?

Dale Wilkerson                                                 March 2011

Six degrees of separation: Name an actor or actress and I will connect that person to Kevin Bacon in just six names. Some race fans say that the absence of six degrees of banking at the Bristol Motor Speedway equals the absence of good racing.

A lot of fans have voiced their displeasure with the racing at the Bristol Motor Speedway the past few years. The old concrete was removed for a smooth coating of fresh cement, and while crews worked to accomplish this daunting task, they followed their instructions closely which included removing six degrees of banking from the foundation.

Long known for its 36 degrees of banking in the corners, Bristol Motor Speedway was the number one track on the list of tracks in NASCAR with the steepest banked corners. The new layout has progressive banking that gets steeper the closer a driver moves his car toward the safer barriers. Now Talladega ranks first with 33 degrees of banking and Daytona second with 31 degrees of banking.

Fans could not get enough of the quick lap times and fierce racing; a long line was formed as folks hoped to get the call or letter informing them that now they could purchase tickets to an upcoming race. Ticket prices soared higher than the mountains surrounding the track and folks paid around $30 to park their cars in the yards of private landowners within walking distance.

Race fans spoke with a loud voice as they made Bristol, especially the night race held each August, the hardest ticket to get in motorsports. The Daytona 500 is always a tough catch as well but, Daytona can accommodate around 40,000 more fans. Bristol is listed at 160,000 with fans having the chance to view the racing here from anywhere around the entire track.

It has been compared to the Big House (home of the Michigan) of Neyland Stadium (home of the Tennessee Volunteers) and there was once talk of an artificial turf football field being installed with a possible match-up of border rivals Virginia Tech and Tennessee squaring off. Those rumors have silenced and it now seems the days of Bristol being the hardest ticket to grab have now faded away, as a host of empty seats were scattered around the half-mile speedway.

It’s hard to believe you could have left home this past Sunday morning, drove up Interstate 26, walked up to the ticket window and could have purchased tickets but it is true.

Many factors are being called the reason for the empty seats in Thunder Valley. Some say is because the Kentucky Motor Speedway now has a Sprint Cup Date. Others say it is because the NCAA ‘Big Dance’ men’s basketball tournament rounds two and three were taking place and folks wanted to watch basketball instead of racing at Bristol. Hey look back at the Atlanta Motor Speedway that was up against the tournament for years with its spring that date. Yes that date now belongs to Kentucky. Others blame the never ending and constantly rising price of gasoline and the highly over priced hotel rooms.

Fans miss the old Bristol races that looked more like the Pittsburgh Steelers going toe-to-toe with the Baltimore Ravens; very tough, overly aggressive, and very, very physical. Many fans so that Bristol has become a finesse race.

Will Speedway Motorsports re-do the racing surface? Probably not anytime soon, as they will hope the track will improve with age. Will they make the track a true 36 degrees of banking again and forgot the notion of progressive banking? We can only hope.