Start Your Engines at Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol is the real deal. No gimmicks. No sideshows. Just good old-fashioned stock car racing.

For two weeks a year Bristol Motor Speedway becomes the focal point of the NASCAR Nation, and one of those weeks is coming up Aug. 22-25. The Irwin Tools Night Race on Aug. 25 is the big one in which NASCAR’s best battle for victory and Sprint Cup series points. Before that, there are the Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 and UNOH Perfect Storm 150 on the Aug. 22, and the Nationwide Series Food City 250 on Aug. 24.

The track celebrated its 50th year on the circuit in 2011, and it’s hardly showing its age. Drivers will tell you the Bristol stop is like none other. The half-mile oval is one of NASCAR’s smallest venues, earning it the nicknames “The Bullring” and “The World’s Fastest Half Mile.” Everything is tight with little margin for error. Cars rub and race, and sometimes just haul off and hit each other. The surface was adjusted a few years ago to allow for more passing, and guess what? The crowd didn’t like it. So, after the 2012 spring race the track was adjusted again to get back to the old way. This will be the first race after the readjustment.

The fans love Bristol. Even after a slight drop-off in spectators in the last few years all around the NASCAR circuit, the masses still come here. Filling these stands is not easy. Bristol lovers will set you straight if you think Neyland Stadium is the biggest sports venue in Tennessee. BMS’s 160,000 capacity dwarfs the 102,000 for a full house at the home of the Tennessee Vols.

The fans at Bristol make a week of it, staying in one of the five campgrounds on the BMS property or in one of the dozen or so just beyond its borders. There’s an RV park across the street, and the many hotels in the Tri-Cities area fill up quickly. They bring picnics and coolers, tailgate and visit the various booths and shops opened for race week. Bristol sponsors set up in the display lot and give away free gifts. Drivers have merchandise trailers on another lot, and several other store villages open up elsewhere on site.

The city of Bristol rolls out the red carpet with a Race Night downtown on Thursday, Aug. 23. Top drivers are on hand to sign autographs and race cars are on the display. That night ends with the Transporter Parade when the big 18-wheelers that cart in the race cars and race teams make their way from downtown to BMS. Fans even get a kick out of watching the parking of those transporters as drivers show off their skills at backing those monsters side-by-side into their tight parking spaces.

Then there is the racing. The adage is once you’ve seen a NASCAR race, you’re hooked. This sound, speed and excitement you can find nowhere else.

A couple things to know: Although coolers and bags are allowed in the raceway, they must be less than 14 inches in length. No glass items. Folding chairs and umbrellas are also prohibited. And, those hotels and motels charge a good bit during race week. Don’t think you’ll get a room at the last minute. Most are booked months ahead of time.

Hi! I’m Linda Lange. As a travel writer living in Knoxville, I fully appreciate barbecue, bluegrass and Dollywood. My story...Read on

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