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Woody: Can Bristol Regain Its Belligerence?

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 20 2010

Bristol Motor Speedway is one special venue. Or it least is has been in the past. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

For 40 years I’ve told my non-racing buddies that if they ever decide to go see what all the commotion is about, they should catch a race at Bristol.

If a visitor from Mars dropped by and had time to catch just one earth-craft race before galloping back off into the galaxy, I’d recommend he buzz Bristol.

If someone wanted to put a picture beside Webster’s definition of “race track” I’d nominate Bristol.

If the Bristol track was a person it would have moonshine on its breath.

I’ve always considered Bristol the epitome of what stock car racing is all about – close-quarter, side-by-side, beat-and-bang action. Sparks flying, tires squalling, sheet metal crunching. Rough and rowdy. Old-fashioned and ornery. That’s Bristol.

Or at least it used to be.

For the past couple of years, Bristol has been missing some of its belligerence.

It’s not just me, not just my imagination. Fans have noticed too. Bristol tickets, once the hottest commodity in all of sports, are now being hawked on TV. Gaps are appearing in once-packed grandstands.

Forget all those statistics about passes and lead changes and how close the racing is; you can’t fool the fans. They know bad – or at least mediocre – racing when they see it, and for two or three seasons they’ve been seeing it at Bristol.

Hopefully that tame trend will end Saturday night, especially after last Sunday’s snoozer at Michigan.

NASCAR rolls into Thunder Valley with just three races remaining to set the field for the championship Chase, and if that doesn’t light a fire under some fannies then my racing buddy Road Hog says he’s going to give up and start watching bowling.

Speaking of the Chase, when NASCAR decided to shuffle the deck for next season its too bad it didn’t see fit to make Bristol’s second race part of the 10-race playoff.

I’ve read that some drivers didn’t like that idea because they think racing at Bristol might be too rough and tough and unpredictable for a Chase race – you know, drivers bumping into each other and other impolite acts. They’re worried that something wild and crazy might happen.

That’s exactly why it should be a Chase race.

But even if its not part of the playoffs, Bristol can still go a long way in deciding who gets in. There are five or six drivers batting for the final two or three spots in the 12-man chase, and what happens under the lights Saturday night could clear the dust.

Understand, Bristol’s still not bad in comparison to the milk-toast racing we’ve been seeing at a lot of other places. But it’s certainly not as wild and wooly as it used to be on a track where things used to go bump in the night and drivers started hitting each other on the pace lap.

That’s what is so troubling: when racing becomes boring at Bristol, is there any hope?

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 20 2010
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • Terrell Davis says:

    Don’t know what the Cup race will be like, but the Nationwide race was excellent. Maybe that’s because Nationwide drivers weren’t racing for points. They were just racing. Of course, NASCAR will eventually put some sort of Chase format in Nationwide and screw it up.
    Woody, I can remember when you thought the Chase was a grand thing…and it probably actually could be with a bit of fine tuning, but, personally, I’ve never thought much of points racing and that’s about all the Chase promotes. And, just a personal opinion, but I thought Michigan was at best an OK race. Maybe not a snoozer, but certainly a “napper”.

  • sal says:

    I’m one of those people who didn’t renew my season tickets to Bristol this year. For me, things started getting too ‘polite’ at Bristol once the chase was foist on the fans. Those in it are very careful not to take themselves out of it. Those drivers not in the chase don’t want to be blamed for taking another driver out of it. Thus, we started getting the ‘After You Alphonse 500′. Bristol used to be the most unique track on the circuit. Now it’s a lot like watching races at Fontana, only with traffic.

  • Big Ed says:

    Woody: A couple things.
    First, there is no life on Mars.
    Second, Michigan was far from being a snoozer. It is a mistake to say lots of wrecks and close finishes are one and the same with good racing.
    Third, I’ll think of something.

  • Chas says:

    Bristol hasn’t been a good racetrack since they put concrete down. Concrete is not a good surface for side-by-side racing. SMI could have fixed Bristol very easily: tear up that concrete and lay down asphalt. No need to make progressive banking or flatten down the banking. They could have run side-by-side and still have that belligerence that made Bristol famous. As it is, Bristol doesn’t come close to comparing to the other high-banked short tracks in the Midwest, Salem and Winchester.