[media-credit id=5 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Several years ago the idea of empty seats at Bristol Motor Speedway would have been considered blasphemy. How in the world could a track, where tickets were often the focus of divorce proceedings, have not just one empty seat, but thousands?
Purists point to the redesigned track and the new multi-groove racing we see now twice a year. Optimists state that it is merely a reflection of both the national and local economy and that in time it will bounce back. In reality, it is more likely a combination of changing a spectacular product at precisely the wrong time.
While growing up, Bristol had an aura about it. Sure Daytona was the sports big shiny stage and Darlington was mythical in its stories, but Bristol… that’s where the ‘real racing’ was. As the years wore on, the media would play off of this notion which caused it to grow even further.
And, to be honest, the fact that Dale Earnhardt was involved in two of the most well-known finishes at the track merely fueled its expansion.
Alas, times change and the track owners decided that Bristol was in need of a face lift. Visually the track would look the same, but the character of it would become more polished. What followed after that first race was, perhaps, more unexpected than anticipated.
The racing we see today at Bristol is vastly different to the races of old. Multiple lanes provide drivers ample opportunity to snake their way up and down Bristol’s high banks, seeking a way past a competitor. It is not necessarily bad racing, but it is not the Bristol that fans had come to know and love.
It used to be that 500 laps at Bristol was an intense experience for both drivers and fans alike. A sense of the unknown and of excessive anticipation hung like a cloud over the speedway on race day. It was something that fans would feed off of and, I venture, is mostly responsible for packing those 160,000 seats year after year.
One never knew if Carl Edwards would simply dive into turn three on the last lap to give Kyle Busch a nudge. It could be for first place, or it could be for twentieth, and for the fans it honestly did not matter.
Some call it dirty racing, while some do not call it racing at all. That was racing at Bristol though, good ole boys duking it out Saturday night style in front of 160,000 screaming fans.
That racing no longer exists, nor will it most likely ever come back. The product the track produces has changed; the intensity is no longer present which leaves previously conditioned fans hungry for more.
In time, the fans will come back as they grow accustomed to the new Bristol.
Until that point, and from now on, we’ll have to live with the comparisons and recognize the difference between the two. The old Bristol’s legend will continue to grow as the years wane, perhaps growing in grandeur as well while fans continue to miss that intensity and anticipation.
Do not discredit the racing at the new Bristol, however much disdain you may have for it. For as long as drivers like Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards lurk among Bristol’s high banks, there will always be a chance that another driver will have their cage rattled.
Because for all of the complaining, that’s what fans truly want… right?