Tempers to Flare at Bristol Motor Speedway
March 2009 Dale Wilkerson
For those of us looking for something to talk about, the Bristol Motor Speedway normally fills the bill nicely. Over the years, this high banked, half-mile, football stadium looking speedway has provided many topics that have filled the water cooler conversation for days. Let's see, there was the time that Dale Earnhardt ran down Terry Labonte coming off turn four and sent him head-on into the wall. Labonte slid across the finish line to take the win. A few years later, Labonte rubbed he way past Earnhardt off turn four only to be spun into the turn two wall by Earnhardt. Earnhardt said after the race, "I just wanted to rattle his cage." He may have rattled his teeth.
Last fall Carl Edwards bulled his way past Kyle Busch to take the lead and the win. Busch let Edwards know his displeasure after the race, as he ran into the side of Edwards #99 Ford. Edwards responded by promptly spinning Busch out. Have many times did we see Jeff Gordon root Rusty Wallace out of the way on the last lap? More times than Rusty would like to recall. Speaking of Rusty, how about the time Earnhardt spun him out around lap 45 of the August race? The end result of that race was the first Labonte-Earnhardt late race run-in. Why Rusty was so mad, he threw a water bottle at Earnhardt after the race, and shouted, "I ain't forgot about Talladega!!" referring to the 1993 Talladega race where Earnhardt hooked Wallace coming to the line sending him on a wild flipping, rolling crash that resulted in Wallace breaking his left wrist. We have also seen heart-topping moments at Bristol.
Do you remember the car shattering crashes that Michael Waltrip and Mike Harmon had? Both of these incidents were in Nationwide Series cars. Waltrip's happened during a race. Both drivers hit the wall where the old cross over gates were located. The best way to describe the damage, to each of these cars, would be for you to build a model car, then throw it as hard as you can against a sidewalk. If you have performed that test, the end results is what those two cars looked like. Waltrip's car is on display at Bristol. Waltrip spent a night in the hospital, but he raced the Cup race the next day. Harmon walked away from his crash.
The design of this track leads to close racing. Because of the close racing, some drivers will let their tempers get the best of them, and they will start driving like they are in a demolition derby instead of a Nationwide or Sprint Cup race. Maybe that is why nearly 167,000 tickets are sold for each Sprint Cup race here. I much as I say I love to see side-by-side racing, when the announcers scream, "Trouble in Turn-1!!!" I am looking that way to see how bad the wreck is, who is in it, and is everybody okay. For many competitors, a win at Bristol ranks near the top of their list of tracks where they want to win. Normally drivers list Daytona, The Brickyard, Darlington, Talladega, The 600, and the Bristol night race when asked where they would most want to capture the checkered flag. For fans, Bristol ranks just behind the Daytona 500 for ticket demand, some folks would put the night race ahead of the Daytona 500.
This weekend, for folks attending the Nationwide race, there is a special race planned featuring many of your favorite NASCAR legends. All the money raised from this race will go to charity, but the bragging rites will go home with the one driver that can take his late-model stocker to the front of the pack. Rusty Wallace, Harry Gant, L.D. Ottinger, Phil Parsons, Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, and the Silver Fox David Pearson are listed as drivers planning to make the trip to Bristol this weekend. Back in 1991, there was a Legends Race during the All Star race weekend. Junior Johnson had a run in with Bill France Jr. Mr. France was driving the pace car!!! This 35-lap race could be the most entertaining race of the year. Maybe David Pearson can get his Purolator Mercury that the Woods Brothers restored last year. And they better check the fuel on Junior Johnson's car. Ole' Junior might just pull a Granny Clampett, and put some home-brew in the fuel cell.