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Minter: Ah, Bristol – What A Place

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 19 2010

Bristol is the favorite stop on the NASCAR schedule for a lot of people. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Bristol, Tenn. – In spite of its reputation as a place where tempers get out of hand and wrecks just seem to happen, Bristol Motor Speedway also has the feel of a down-home friendly place.

For those of us on the print and Internet side of the media, it’s one of the most welcoming places on the circuit. The track’s PR boss, Lori Worley, and her staff really know how to roll out the welcome mat, which is especially refreshing considering she really doesn’t need a whole lot of help selling tickets. It’s the closest thing left to the good ‘ol days of covering NASCAR racing, except the behavior today on the part of the media is no doubt much better than it was in days gone by.

Since NASCAR racing is the biggest thing that happens in this part of the world, hotel desk clerks and the folks behind the counter at fast food joints all seem to have racing fever – far more than people in places like Atlanta, where major sporting events are a pretty common occurrence.

It was even refreshing to read the headlines in Kingsport Times News, where Sullivan County Commissioner Moe Brotherton called on the city of Kingsport to turn off the revenue-generating red-light cameras during race week to keep fans from having bad experiences while in town for the races. He also called on the mayor to ask the folks in Bluff City to cut off their speed cameras and to see if the city of Bristol would think again about “fees for parking permits for campers and stuff.”

Of course he didn’t get much support from his fellow lawmakers, but he did get a friendly (for race fans anyway) headline in the paper, and the article served as a public service to motorists not familiar with the local traffic enforcement trends.

At the track, the atmosphere feels different from the superspeedways that have made up the schedule so far this season. The confines are tight, so there’s really nowhere for the superstars to hide – if they wanted to.

The garage and the pit area are one in the same, and it’s mostly racing folks inside. Even the people most in demand let their guard down a little.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked in Friday morning, he ran across his old hero Jimmy Means, the journeyman Cup driver who is now a Nationwide Series team owner. The two visited in the pit area of a few minutes, and other than a few photographers snapping shots, folks left them alone to visit.

Afterward, Means pointed out that a chat with Junior, who as a child once cheered for Means as much as he did for the Intimidator, never misses a chance to chat.

“He never sees me that he doesn’t stop to speak,” Means said.

With space limited, and both Cup and Nationwide series teams parked inside, there are no covered garage areas, no fan zones. There aren’t even very many restrooms.

The  atmosphere in the Bristol pits, coupled with sight of some of auto racing’s best mechanics working in similar conditions to a shade-tree mechanic, takes the sport back to it roots far better than any marketing schemes or instructions to the boys to “Have at it.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 19 2010