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  • Writer's pictureLloyd Brown

Bristol Motor Speedway

Photos by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Bristol Motor Speedway 151 Speedway Boulevard Bristol, TN 37620

Year Opened: 1961

Capacity: 162,000


It's Bristol Baby!

Bristol Motor Speedway has been one of the favorite short tracks in the NASCAR circuit for both drivers and racing fans. The .533-mile oval means a slower pace, but it ramps up the strategy used by the drivers due to its 4-degree banked turns, narrow straightaways and two pit rows. The speedway opened in 1960, but it bears little resemblance to the original facility. Today the speedway is the 4th largest sports venue in America and the 8th largest sports venue in the world, with a seating capacity of 162,000 fans. This includes more than 150 luxury suites. The speedway has also expanded its complex to include drag racing, truck racing and several levels of stock car racing. This keeps the facility busy throughout the year.

Bristol holds two major NASCAR events each year. The Food City 500 is held in the spring and the Bass Pro Shops NRA Nighttime Race is held in August. Bristol is one of the few tracks that hold a nighttime race, which is held at night to avoid the extremely high daytime temperatures in the South.

Food & Beverage 4

Concessions at Bristol Motor Speedway are grouped by seating area. The same offerings are offered in each of the seating areas throughout the track. Many of the vendors are the same franchises you would find along the highway. These vendors include Pinty’s (chicken products), Arby’s (roast beef), Maxdog (hamburgers, hot dogs and nachos), Zeny (cheese steaks, polish sausages, chicken tenders) and Bush’s Beans (BBQ). The Speedway Specialty Stand offers the Triple Bacon Colossus Burger, the Sloppy B Burger and Chicken Fried Steak with gravy on fries.

Beverages at the vendors stalls include bottle water, iced tea, Powerade and sodas (brands differ by vendor, as they have national contracts with Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Due to a national sponsorship with NASCAR, only Budweiser brand beers are sold at the Speedway.

Atmosphere 5

The owners of Bristol Motor Speedway have created a very fan-friendly environment. The short track nature of the facility offers a much better viewing atmospheres than some of the super-speedways. First of all, fans are seated in stadium style seating, rather than the typical bench style seating found at most tracks. This is a major plus when you are watching an event that lasts more than four hours. Bristol also employs two pit rows, rather than just one. This aids the flow of the race, but it also allows fans on each side of the track to watch the action in the pits.

Another innovation is the removal of the scoring pylons from the infield. This is actually a necessity due the tight space of the infield. The pylons and video boards in the grandstands have been replaced by the Colossus center hung video board. It weighs more than 700 tons and has four video panels measuring 30 feet by 63 feet each. No matter where you are sitting in the facility, you will have a clear view of the standings and be able to see replays of any major occurrences on the track.

Even the end of the race is well thought out. Rather than have Victory Lane at track level in the infield like most tracks, Bristol has built their Victory Lane atop a building in the infield, which is much more visible to the fans.

Neighborhood 3

Bristol Motor Speedway is in the Tri Cities area of Tennessee and Virginia. It is seven miles south of the Virginia – Tennessee Line. On race weekends surrounding the Food City 500 and the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, the Speedway becomes a city of 150,000 plus residents. These residents live in areas set aside for RV’s, campgrounds and area hotels. Most of the businesses in the area service the needs of the race fans.

In a larger sense, the Tri Cities area forms the neighborhood with more permanent attractions, restaurant choices and lodging. To the south of the Speedway are Johnson City and Greeneville, Tennessee. To the north of the Speedway are the adjoining cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia. Two attractions to check out in the area are Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia and the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, Tennessee. For those racing fans that want to eat in a restaurant away from the speedway, but want to stick with the mood, the Quaker Steak and Lube Restaurant in Bristol, Virginia is a great choice. It offers great food and a wide selection of craft beers. The closest lodging to the speedway is found along Volunteer Parkway (Hwy 11), which runs right in front of the track. Many lodging centers offer shuttle buses to and from the speedway.

Fans 4

NASCAR fans are tribal in their allegiance to a particular driver. Realizing this, Bristol names its seating sections for past race winners and NASCAR champions. This allows fans to pick tickets in an area with fellow fans of that particular driver. In addition, the FanFest held the week leading up to the race offers fans the opportunity to meet their favorite driver or to purchase merchandise bearing the number or team colors of that driver.

Fans also enjoy the variety of options available for parking within the Bristol Motor Speedway complex. Bristol does not offer infield camping or RV’s due to limited space, which creates a much more inviting atmosphere for people to walk around and meetup with friends prior to the race.

Access 3

As you can imagine, creating a temporary city of 150,000 people over a weekend will present some access problems. First some of the basics: 1) the best interstate access to the Speedway from the south is to take exit 69 off Interstate 81 in Tennessee, then take Highway 394 to the track. From the north, take exit #3 of Interstate 81 in Tennessee and head south on Volunteer Parkway (Highway 11) If you are flying in, the Tri Cities Airport handles both scheduled traffic and private planes and is located just five miles from the track.

Unless you have a Speedway, Parking Pass or have reserved a spot to camp out or park your RV, you are more than likely going to be staying at least 10-15 miles away. The speedway has an extensive shuttle bus system that will shuttle you back and forth to the track. For specific pick up and drop off points for the shuttle bus system, go to

Return on Investment 4

Tickets to the two premiere races at Bristol range from $60 – $185, depending on the location of the seats. This is on par with the other tracks in the NASCAR circuit.

Concessions are set to the non-track prices of items sold in the franchise year-round locations.

Hotels in the area do apply their special event pricing which can exceed $200 a night, well over their average nightly rates. Many of the campgrounds surrounding the track are privately owned and have their own pricing structure. Parking is $10 at the Bristol Motor Speedway North lot, with a free shuttle to the speedway. Other satellite locations offer free parking with $20 round trip shuttle rides to the speedway.

Extras 5

Darrell Waltrip is the undisputed racing champ at Bristol, taking the checkered flag 12 times at the track.

The “Battle of Bristol” football game set an NCAA record for attendance at a football game with 157,000 fans. The game pitted the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech in a facility equidistant from each team’s campus.

The animated film “Cars” used Bristol as its inspiration, with a cameo appearance at the beginning of the film. In the film Bristol “played” the Motor Speedway of the South.

The drag racing facility at Bristol is known as Thunder Valley. It literally is built into a valley with hills to each side of the racing surface. The seating for fans overlooks the strip from both sides. This provides an excellent view of the entire race and an earsplitting introduction to the noise created by these top fuel racing machines.

Every year Bristol Speedway hosts the Speedway in Lights Christmas Lights event. All proceeds from this event and other events throughout the year goes to Speedway Charities. The Bristol unit of Speedway Charities has contributed more than $13 million to non-profits in the Northeastern Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia region since 1996.

Final Thoughts

Bristol Motor Speedway shows that there is still a place for short track racing within the NASCAR schedule. What the races lose in speed, has been turned around to take advantage of the capability to see the entire track from your seat. The track management has done a great job of keeping Bristol relevant through constant improvement to the fan experience.

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