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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Battle at Bristol is an annual college football game held at Bristol Motor Speedway between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech, which are equidistant from the track. The inaugural game was held on September 10, 2016 in front of a record crowd of 156,990, which is the biggest attendance ever for a football game. With a capacity of 160,000, Bristol Motor Speedway is now the largest football venue in existence, about 45,000 seats larger than Michigan Stadium, which previously held the football attendance record.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are plenty of concessions options available during the Battle at Bristol, including some located on the race track itself, which fans are actually allowed to walk on before and during the game. The selection is a little more limited than what you might find at other venues, but still decent. There are lots of additional options on the plaza outside, however, if you want to try and eat before the game.
Food options inside the speedway include Philly cheesesteak, burgers, hot dogs, Italian sausage, corn dogs, pizza, and Arby's roast beef sandwiches, as well as French fries, nachos, pretzels, chips, and funnel cake. Prices for these items ranges from $5 to $9, but certain options are only available in certain locations. For example, the cheesesteak, corn dogs, and funnel cake are only sold down on the track, while pizza, pretzels, and roast beef sandwiches are only sold in the grandstand. The cheesesteak and fries are actually quite good, but I would avoid the burgers down on the track - the ones sold in the grandstand are actually less expensive and much better tasting.
Drink options inside the speedway are limited to bottled water, bottled Pepsi products, and beer in aluminum bottles (Bud, Bud Light, Coors, and Coors Light), but the plaza outside has a much wider alcohol selection, with several bar areas set up. Lines are a bit long at the concessions stands, due to the huge crowd, but vendors do walk around and sell beverages in the seating areas, so you don't necessarily have to leave your seat.
The atmosphere at the Battle at Bristol is second to none. The atmosphere is festival-esque, and the staff does an amazing job to create an unforgettable experience.
Even hours before the game, you will see tailgating outside the stadium stretching for miles, with plenty of tents and RVs decked out in school colors. On the plaza outside the raceway there is a concert stage set up, where singers perform before and after the game, and there is even a Ferris wheel you can ride. There are plenty of trailers set up selling fan gear, as well as multiple places to get eats and drinks, including free pizza while supplies last. There are also all sorts of activities going on, including corn hole games, a bungee jumping set-up, giant helmets you can take pictures with, and even giant robotic mascots. See a video of the festivities outside the raceway here:
The excitement continues inside the speedway, and the hands down best part of the experience is that fans are allowed to go down onto the race track itself - a real NASCAR track. There are about a dozen actual stock cars parked down there you can take pictures of, and you can walk around the track and even pick up pieces of rubber left over from the last race. And when the game is about to start, fans are asked to participate in two different card stunts, the first honoring veterans and the second showing school spirit. For the first card stunt, fans create giant, waving American flags on each side, with the word "USA" on the end, while for the second stunt, they show the word "Vols" in orange and white on one side, and the work "Hokies" in maroon and white on the other side. Both of these stunts look absolutely amazing, and will give you plenty of fodder for great pics to post online. Take a look at the view from the track here:
While the card stunts are going on, there will be a bomber flyover, which is pretty awesome to see, and there are also lots of great fireworks. The fireworks continue throughout the game, for example after each score, and there are even more of them at the end of the game, and after. You will also see jets of flame shoot up when the teams enter the field, and there are plenty of post-game festivities as well, including loads of confetti and a trophy presentation for the winning team. There are also numerous celebrity appearances, such as Peyton Manning and Bruce Smith - it may only be a regular season football game, but it feels very much like a major bowl.
Like most NASCAR tracks, there is not a lot in the immediate vicinity of Bristol Motor Speedway, due to the large acreage needed for the track and all its accompaniments. In fact, the area actually feels pretty rural, with hills, trees, and fields all around, the latter which are used for tailgating, camping, and parking. There is a large church nearby and a few houses, but no restaurants or hotels within sight of the track.
North of the track along Highway 11E you will find a few fast food and Chinese restaurants, as well as The Mad Greek Restaurant, which actually has a ridiculously wide selection including traditional Greek favorites, as well as pizza, pasta, subs, burgers, and even wings, plus a good range of wine and beer. Probably the only thing it doesn't have is Mexican, which can be found at La Corona, west of the raceway.
If you are planning to stay in town for a little while, Steele Creek Park is a great place to visit. This 2,200+ acre park has disc golf, a large multi-use field with soccer goals, a playground, horseshoes, multiple picnic areas, a lake with paddleboats for rent, multiple walking and hiking trails, and even a 24 gauge replica of a real steam engine you can take a ride on.
The fans at the Battle of Bristol rival any you have ever seen elsewhere. While there is a definite skew toward Orange (even though it is technically a neutral site game), the atmosphere is much more like a big bowl game, where almost everyone shows up in their team's colors. The crowd is loud the entire time, and it is really cool to see the color splits in the grandstand; on the sides you can see alternating columns of maroon and orange, and on the ends you can see a clear line demarking the two, much like at the Red River Rivalry.
I will also say that the fans are very polite to each other, with only good-natured ribbing. I didn't observe any hostilities between the two sets of attendees, and the winning team's fans were very gracious to their opponents' supporters. Plenty of goodwill was held by all, and fans on either side were only too happy to shoot each other's pictures, or help with directions, etc.
First off, remember that this is probably THE biggest football game you will ever attend - Bristol Motor Speedway is almost as big as Neyland Stadium and Lane Stadium combined. That said, there will be heavy traffic, and it may take some time to get out after the game.
You can find parking for $10 starting a mile or two from the track, and $20 closer in; Toyota, Lexus, and Scion owners can even park for free in the Earnhardt lots. Be aware that most of the space right outside the track is reserved for camping, tailgating, trailers, and RVs, but you can easily find something within a quarter of a mile if you come early. I would recommend, however, that you park as far away as you can possibly stand to walk, preferably to the north on the right-hand side, so you can get out faster. The local police do a great job re-routing traffic to all go in the same direction after the game to help expedite things, but every little bit helps.
Once you are inside the stadium, it is pretty easy to move around, as the concourse is built to handle a crowd this large. There are plenty of bathrooms, but concessions lines will be a bit long - you are actually better off going down on the track, as those concessions lines are much shorter. I would also recommend eating before the game begins, and maybe buying an extra bottle or two of water, soda, or beer so you don't have to go back down later.
Going to the Battle at Bristol is definitely worthwhile in every sense of the word. In fact, I would gladly have paid more for tickets if I had to. Tickets start around $80 for nosebleed seats, and they may be a little hard to get - many of the seats are reserved for alums and other affiliates of each school, who are allowed to buy in advance of the general public. Also, the public tickets are put into a seating lottery system, so even though you are guaranteed a seat, you won't know where it is until months after you buy.
Tickets are available from scalpers the day of the game for around $125 each depending on the section, which isn't bad considering the face value. But, if you purchase well in advance (think months) you can save a little green. Regardless of how much tickets cost, though, the chance to see the biggest college football game ever should not be missed.
Being able to go out onto a real NASCAR track is a major plus, and the pre-game and in-game experience are impossible to beat. Also, the staff does a great job enhancing the experience with things like the card stunts, bomber flyover, and amazing fireworks. Check out the video below to see the card stunt and flyover:
One of the most impressive things you will see at the Battle at Bristol is Colossus, the 700-ton four-sided video board that hangs over midfield. This video complex was specially built for the Battle at Bristol, and is suspended by cables larger than the ones used in the Golden Gate Bridge. Colossus is roughly the size of a three-story house, and each of the four video screens measures almost 30 feet tall by over 60 feet wide, and have better pixilation than the screens at Times Square.
You may also be amazed as how quickly the staff was able to transform Bristol Motor Speedway into a first-class football venue. The speedway is an active NASCAR track, and will have been used for a Sprint Cup race only a couple of weeks before the football game. In that short time, 450 truckloads of material will be brought in to raise the infield three and a half feet, which the Astroturf football field will then be built on top of. The staff will also erect temporary grandstands on the front stretch, back stretch, and in the end zones, and the buildings in the infield will be converted into locker rooms and other facilities.
The Battle at Bristol is an absolutely amazing experience in almost every way. If you missed it the first time around, or just want to be part of history again, don't miss your chance to attend next year, and be part of the biggest football crowd, and the most spectacular football experience, you will ever see.
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2419 Volunteer Pkwy
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