McCarter: There's nothing like a night race at Bristol

McCarter: There's nothing like a night race at Bristol

August 17th, 2017 by Mark McCarter in Sports - Columns

In order, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Sam Hornish Jr. go through a turn at Bristol Motor Speedway during the 2015 night race at the track. Last August's night race was pushed to Sunday afternoon because of inclement weather. The Cup Series is set to compete at the East Tennessee track on Saturday night.

Photo by Wade Payne

One of the kid's first jobs was working in the concessions stands at Bristol Motor Speedway, cooking hamburgers and hot dogs at the East Tennessee track. Later, he was hired at WOPI radio to cover the races there.

But even before the speedway opened, the kid would beg his father, Orville, to drive him to see how the construction was coming.

"When it opened up and it had race cars on it, I thought that was the slickest thing since peanut butter," the kid told me years later.

That was after the kid named Mike Helton had gone from selling hot dogs to becoming the president of NASCAR.

Helton — now the vice chairman of NASCAR — and the rest of the racing sanctioning body's traveling carnival head to Bristol, Tenn., this weekend. It's set-your-DVR time.

Even if attendance at Bristol has waned, as it has everywhere on the NASCAR circuit, a night race at Bristol is a spectacle. Even us purists who detest the mindset of going to races to see wrecks will have to admit, when it comes to Bristol, we love the beating and banging.

"All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile race track with us 40 lunatics running around in a tight circle," Kyle Busch said in a news release this week.

Said Dale Earnhardt Jr. via Chevrolet public relations: "There's not another one like it. It has always been a surprise to me that nobody has ever tried to emulate it somewhere else, because it's such an incredible place."

It's funny that when NASCAR looked at the biggest market, it was thinking small. A proposed speedway near New York City was going to be a 3/4-mile track in the mode of Bristol.

Instead, in this "modern" NASCAR era, these tracks were added: Auto Club Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. All but the first track on that list are 1.5-mile circuits — Auto Club Speedway is two miles — but they are not, to use the popular phrase, cookie-cutter tracks. Each has some different twist, just as their cousins Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway do.

But nearly a third of the Cup Series races are on 1.5-mile tracks, including half of the 10-race playoffs.

Earnhardt is right. It's surprising nobody has tried to mimic Bristol.

But he's also right when he says, "Maybe it's best there's only one."

- Last race: Kyle Larson, in something of a mini slump since his June win at Michigan International Speedway, won the Pure Michigan 400, his third consecutive Cup Series victory at the track.

- Next race: Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Bristol Motor Speedway, 7:30 Saturday, NBC TV. This one is ready for prime time. The big boy network, not NBC Sports, is picking up this telecast.

- Pick to win: Joey Logano.

- Pit notes: The drivers' council has strongly recommended using PJ1, or any other "grip enhancer" compound on speedways. It has led to more competitive, side-by-side racing by creating more racing grooves. Saturday brings the 600th career start for Kurt Busch, whose first win came at Bristol. On the drawing board: Cup Series cars with built-in jacks to avoid that part of a pit stop. Indy and Formula One cars already have them. Seems like a way to continually even the playing field and eliminate the opportunity for the best teams to cash in on pit road. Your thoughts?

- Fast 5: 1. Martin Truex Jr, 2. Kyle Busch, 3. Kevin Harvick, 4. Denny Hamlin, 5. Brad Keselowski.

- What they're saying: "I want to continue racing if I have an opportunity to do well. I have no interest, as I've said for years now, to run 25th. It's not fun. So if I don't feel like I can have the opportunity to move on from there and have a better opportunity, then honestly I don't care." — Danica Patrick on her future, also saying she had no interest in dropping down to the Xfinity Series if she's not retained at Stewart-Haas.

Contact Mark McCarter at

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