On to Bristol – Will Progressive Banking Continue to Sideline NASCAR’s Best Race?

On Friday, I head to Bristol for the umpteenth time to watch short track racing at its best. I have attended every race at Bristol since 1996, and it is one of the greatest shows on the NASCAR circuit, second only to Martinsville, but it has changed over the years. The biggest change was when the changed the track in 2007 to progressive banking. This made the track, in many fans’ view, less exciting.

[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”264″][/media-credit]The fact was that the “old” track has just one lane around it and that resulted in what many longtime fans called “banging and beating” throughout the race. With passing being much easier, there are less racing accidents and less excitement for the fans. Those of us who are racing purists (or think we are, anyway), the extra passing was welcomed, but many fans were very upset. In fact one fan told me that prior to the reconfiguration of the track, he had no trouble getting rid of his two extra tickets. It seems that he had subscribed for four tickets in the 1980’s. Over time, his two children grew up and left home, but the two extra tickets could be sold easily because everyone wanted to go to Bristol. Not anymore. For the last eight races, he has not been able to sell his two extra tickets and has notified the track he only needs two from now on. Many blame the poor economy for this, but the evidence show maybe this is not the case.

No doubt, the economy is a factor, but the racing is part of the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Bristol and all it is to the NASCAR nation, but it is obviously not the same. The question that needs to be asked is why to the powers that be feel a need to change something that is working so well? We’ve seen it at other places, and sometimes it’s successful. It’s not been successful at Bristol. As I write, tickets are still available at BMS. Stubhub.com is still filled with tickets for sale just 4 days before the race. Is it the economy or the racing? You fans have to answer that question.

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I see the campgrounds with the empty spaces. I see the empty seats and I wonder. Maybe it’s the drivers. Where once Dale Earnhardt “rattled the cage” of Terry Labonte, we’ve seen races that are more like the other races at other venues. No longer does anyone dominate like a Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip or Caleb Yarborough, but is the racing worse? That’s up to you, the fan, to decide. So what is you’re your reason for not attending?

No matter what happens, progressive banking or not, I would not miss a race at Bristol. The sleepy little town is one of the friendliest places to watch a NASCAR race. Regardless of what happens, this place is one of the jewels of the circuit. It would be a shame for maybe the greatest place to watch a race to be less than capacity on Sunday, I have faith that folks will fill that stadium. And, if not, the conversation will continue. My hope is fans will fill that bowl for Sunday’s race because regardless of the changes, it still is one of the two places to watch a race. I’ll be there, will you?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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Ron Fleshman has followed NASCAR racing since attending his first race at Martinsville Speedway in 1964. He joined the Motor Sports Forum on the CompuServe network in the 1980s and became a reporter for Racing Information Systems in 1994. In 2002, he was named NASCAR Editor for RIS when it appeared on the World Wide Web as www.motorsportsforum.com. He can now be found at www.ris-news.com. Ron is a member of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association. You can find Ron following and reporting on the top three NASCAR divisions each week. As a lifer in his support of racing, he attends and reports on nearly 30 events a year and as a member of the motor sports media, his passion has been racing for 47 years. He lives with his family in rural West Virginia and works in the insurance industry when not on the road to another track.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Double File Restarts with the old Bristol would not have been a good thing anyway. Just gotta accept its no longer the crash fest it once was, and real RACE fans like racing, not the old Freight-training anyone unfortunate enough to end up in the high line.

    Don’t get me wrong, it was fair, everyone had the same deal. That was the nature of the beast, and it WAS very exciting, and although I shall miss that beast, I have to believe the new banking is still really good racing. Side by side, not inside or die.

  2. I see we have some smart people posting on this board. I have been saying all along that the poor racing and the Chase happened at about the same time. The August race has turned into a snoozer since its so close to the Chase cutoff.

    I personally like the side by side racing instead of bumper cars. Its not racing when you knock someone out of the way for position, but I guess people like carnage. If they ever smarten up and make winning more important than points, the racing will improve. That’s my feeling anyway.

  3. The racing at Bristol changes when the ‘chase’ started. That was when drivers in the top 10 started being very careful not to get wrecked, and those out of the top 10 would pull over to allow top 10 drivers to pass wo hey wouldn’t be held responsible for knocking someone out of ‘the chase’. This year I didn’t renew my season tickets. When I have trouble staying awake for the final 100 laps, something is definitely wrong. Say what you will, there’s no denying that the races at Bristol these days, for whatever reason, just aren’t the same.

  4. I went to my first NASCAR race last year @ The Night race. What an amazing experience. It was just my Dad and I and the first trip we had ever taken just two of us. It is an experience I will never forget. I still struggle to find the words to accurately describe the atmosphere at the track with the smell of the fumes and burning rubber and the sounds of the motors and squealing tires.
    As for the race itself, I found the Nationwide racing to be better than the cup racing. Especially the last part of the race. I can’t help thinking that if there had of been a late race caution to bunch the field up again that my opinion of the cup race might have been different.
    That being said, the races at Bristol are the races that I always circle on my calander.

  5. Saying Old bristol is like saying Old Greek, there were two versions of each. The real old Bristol (when it was asphalt) had side by side racing. Just like we have today. The newer old Bristol was concrete and had just one line for racing. There were just as many people complaining about how the repaving ruined Bristol. It had become a boring race where the only way to pass was to crash the car in front of you.

    I personally prefere the fact that Bristol has returned to the original 2 line track I first remember. But I can understand why people like the single lane racing as well.

    I agree with zhills though that there are to many drivers out there points racing. Hopefully the new points system will help curtail that. Drivers are going to have to go for as high a points day as possible to counteract the results of a DNF or low finish. More so under this points system tham before where it was a slight hit to the standings. Also I think that after a year of ‘have at it boys’ all drivers are on the same page and drivers that got pushed last year remembered their short track upbringing and started to push back. So I think there will be more drivers trying to make up points and you will have to get wins to do that.

  6. Points racing is the name of the game now adays. Thats because money is all that counts anymore. NASCAR has screwed up stock car racing so bad that it’s not a sport anymore. It’s no wonder they are having trouble finding sponsors, who in their right mind is going to spend 15-20 million for sponsorship, only the very rich can afford it anymore. It won’t be much longer before you will see short fields and some teams leaving NASCAR.

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