Thursday, August 26, 2010

A little trip to Bristol



As many of you may know, one of the sports I have enjoyed following over the last 28 yrs is NASCAR. As some of you may know, I drove short track dirt stock cars and short track asphalt stock cars 8 years. Over the last 9 years, while no longer racing stock cars, I have stayed involved by writing editorial articles and covering NASCAR racing.

Every since the first year I began following NASCAR racing, I have always wanted to go to the night race at Bristol. For years, there was a two year waiting list for tickets to the night race at Bristol, Tennessee. People handed down their seats at the legendary track in their wills and the track sold out year after year. So as time went by, I had all but given of hope of ever attending what I consider the best race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.

Earlier this year, my editor asked me if I wanted to cover the night race at Bristol of InsiderRacingNews.com. I think I answered him so fast that it stunned him. I immediately went to work to locate a hotel room, because I had heard they went fast and the hotels closest to the track jacked their prices up for the weekend. They were not kidding when the budget hotel chain that advertises $19.99 a night rooms is getting $350 a night and is booked, something is rotten in Denmark.

After working my way down the list of area hotels, I found one with a vacancy "conveniently" 78 miles away in Virginia and it was not $350.

When the weekend came, I loaded up "Rosie" with everything I needed and headed out that Thursday morning for ride to the hotel in Virginia. The ride was a mixture of beautiful roads through North Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee - perfect for a motorcycle ride. The day was unseasonably cool and enjoyable while overcast. Four and a half hours into the ride, I was enjoying the scenery around me as the road curved its way through the Great Smokey Mountains. With about an hour of riding left before reaching my hotel, I encountered a slow drizzle which did not cause me to want to pull over and don my rain gear. 10 minutes later the bottom fell out, so I located a convenient overpass and pulled on the rain gear.

Back rolling and the rain picked up its pace, and I increased my following distance even more. At this point I was very thankful that my cellphone has a navigation system that I was utilizing for the trip with an earbud under my helmet. Concentrating on traffic and rain was taking all of my attention, so not having to worry about trying to keep up with a map or notes was a definite gain.

Within 30 minutes of checking in my home away from home for the weekend, the rain stopped. Go figure. I got a good night's rest knowing the day's events on Friday would start early at Bristol Motor Speedway and I was 78 miles away, so I would need to be up early.



Arriving at Bristol Friday morning, the track was busy with cars, trucks, golf carts, race haulers, and a couple motorcycles. The track staff made picking up my credentials and making my way to the infield media center painless. Coffee was brewed and waiting and the media center was alive with activity.



Friday on a race weekend is filled with practice sessions on the track for both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, qualifying for both series, as well as scheduled media events with drivers from both series. I spent the day bouncing between what was happening trackside and being in the media center for the scheduled drivers appearances for announcements and interviews.







The day goes by pretty fast and soon qualifying is underway and before you know it, the grandstands are filling and the NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 250 is preparing for a start.



I was amazed at the crowd that turned out for the Nationwide Series event - estimated at 100,000. The race lived up to my expectations with side by side racing all night long and the lead in the closing laps ended up with two guys leaning on each other, bouncing each other off the wall, and finally one guy spinning into the fence and the other winning.

By the time the parking lots emptied, and I made my 78 mile trip to the hotel, it was late and I did not require being rocked to sleep.

Saturday the track events were not scheduled to begin as early as Friday. With qualifying and all the practice sessions for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series completed on Friday, the infield was not scheduled to open until noon. I was there waiting when they opened access.

At 1pm, I caught up with a NASCAR PR representative that had contacted me prior to the weekend to schedule a few laps riding in the pace car to give the media a feel for the track. Former racer and NASCAR Research and Development Engineer, Brett Bodine serves as the pace car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.



Brett shoe-horned three of us into the Ford Mustang pace car and blistered off three laps utilizing all the racing grooves in the turns of Bristol Motor Speedway. It was probably good that the ride was over as quickly as it was - any longer and I would have started wanting to get back in racing again.

The prior to the green flag,the stands were packed. The economy has had a severe impact on attendance over the last two years at a lot of race tracks. Bristol did not sell out this year, but it was within 8,000 seats of pulling it off. There are a lot of tracks on the NASCAR circuit that wish they only had 8,000 empty seats. From pit road, it was hard for me to locate the 8,000 seats considering there were 155,000 seats filled.

Driver introductions were scheduled to have driver selected theme music much like pro-wrestling has utilized for years. The introductions started and it began to get a little monotonous about ten drivers into it. But remember the two drivers that got into it in the closing laps the night before? Well, they were both Cup drivers and apparently everything did not get settled at the nights end.

The driver on the losing end of the crash into the fence on Friday night still had a bone to pick with the driver that won last night's race. When he came out for his driver introduction, he rattled off his name, car number, team name, and car manufacturer like the prior ten drivers. But then he had one item to add, he named the driver that crashed him Friday night and called him a donkey. Up until that point the crowd in the grandstands had been somewhat subdued. Instantly the entire grandstands surrounding the half-mile speedway was standing on their feet and roaring their approval. Inside the media center, reporters clamored to write something while others questioned the NASCAR spokesman if a fine would result for the comment.

The NASCAR Spokesman quickly responded that he did not see a fine or punishment fitting since the Bible has several references to donkeys. Truth be told, the television network did not air the driver introductions to avoid having to pay rights for broadcast purposes on all the music used.

Driver introductions followed with one driver saying he hoped he would not be behind these two when the wreck happens, another saying he would like to be behind them to watch a big wreck.

Finally they dropped the green flag and 43 cars went barreling two-wide around the 23-degree banked concrete of Bristol. I spent time standing in the infield watching the cars flash by and feeling the earth tremble, and I spent time watching the monitors inside the media center while listening to race teams radio communication on my scanner.

By the time 500 laps had been completed, Kyle Busch had won all the events of the week at Bristol - something that had never been done in the history of the track. The team waved brooms in Victory Circle as the celebrated their driver sweeping the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event on Wednesday, the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Friday, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Saturday night.

While that was going on, 155,000 people were trying to drive out of the parking lots, drivers were running over to a helicopter pad outside the track that had a helicopter shuttling them from the track to the nearby airport. With traffic what it was, the helicopter was the quickest ticket out.

I wrote a couple articles while the crowds were funneling out on any road or path leaving the track and finally put on my leathers and set out for my 78 mile ride to the hotel.

About 25 miles from the hotel, on a winding four-lane divided highway in what seemed like the darkest night on the year, it started raining again. The visual field was reduced by the darkness and by the rain, so I slowed my speed to compensate for riding on a road that I was not very familiar and trusted the voice in my ear that provided directions. Several cars flew by in the left hand lane providing a nice spray to add to what I was already receiving. Even an semi passed me moving at a pretty good clip and a heavy wall of water.

By the time I reached the hotel, it had stopped raining and the clock in the lobby showed 2am. I grabbed a quick shower, hung up all my wet clothes and fell face first into the bed. I must of fell asleep within seconds because the next thing I remember was hearing a couple of kids in the hall playing paddy-cake and talking loudly at 8:30am.

The ride home was quite enjoyable. I discovered the four days in the mountains had made be more confident in leaning the bike into the curves of the road and rolling out of the throttle less.

A short stop for some southern fried chicken and a glass of sweet tea, and I soon found myself rolling into the driveway of our home. The odometer showed I was 41 miles short of logging 1,000 miles total on the trip. Despite the two rains, I enjoyed the entire weekend and was glad I rode the bike.