Race Weekend Central

Voices From the Cheap Seats: With Bristol, Perhaps There Is Room for Compromise

As longtime readers can attest, I have always been very vocal about changes made to the famed ‘Fastest Half Mile in the World.’

It was, after all, the changing of the track to a three-groove raceway a few years ago that prompted a heated exchange between the late David Poole and myself after I questioned his professionalism of his reporting of the first race after the change.

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To be honest, the ‘heated’ part was mostly on David’s side as I was quite cordial (OK, maybe a bit sarcastic) with my responses and never once called him any names as he did me, but that is neither here nor there. What sticks in my mind even more so is the call I received from our head honcho, Tom Bowles, who seemed to me, as best as one can tell over a cellphone, to be having a heart attack over the whole deal.

“My God, Jeff! He’s DAVID POOLE,” said Tom. (That’s the printable version)

“I don’t care who he is! He’s not a God. He puts his pants on the same as I do, one leg at a time, as far as I know. Just because he’s DAVID POOLE doesn’t make him right all the time!” said I rather pompously.

At any rate, that is all ancient history. I believed then, as I still do today, that the changes Bruton Smith made back then made for better racing on the track. I’d rather see long green runs with actual racing at Bristol than sit through almost a quarter of the race (125 laps) watching the cars go around the track under caution. And that is exactly what Bristol had become. Record cautions for record laps. If I want to see that, I will go to a parade.

Back to the present (or at least the more recent past), we all know that after the poorly attended spring race this season, Smith vowed to change the track back to the way it used to be assuming, however erroneously, that it was the lack of crashes that was the cause of the poor attendance. I, of course, was against the proposed change.

While Smith DID make changes to the track as promised, he wasn’t entirely truthful. All he did was take out the top groove at the track, essentially making it a very bad idea to go up there.

The more I have thought about this particular change, the more I have become open minded about it. It may possibly be a perfect compromise. A week or so ago, a few veteran races got to turn laps on the new configuration for the first time during a Goodyear tire test. Here is what Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton have to say about the new setup.

No. 14 – Stewart (who is the only driver who tried to run the high groove): “Well, you’ve definitely lost the top groove. Guys who run up there aren’t going to be able to do that because it’s pretty slick up there. There’s going to be less room to race, that’s for sure.

“We’ve gone from a three-groove track to two grooves and any time you’ve got less room to get around it can get pretty interesting. I’m one of the guys who likes that high groove so it’s really going to change things up for me. It’ll change things for everybody though because when you take away room to race on a track this small with 43 cars, yeah, it’s going to tighten things up.”

No. 15 – Bowyer: “That outside line – the upper groove – is out of play now. There’s going to be a lot closer racing than we’ve had here in the past. I don’t typically run up there but a lot of guys do and I can’t see them going up there now. If they do, it’s pretty slippery and they’ll figure that out in a hurry.

“The closer we have to race just means something’s going to happen. Is it going to make fans happy? Well, narrowing up the track means less room to get around so there’s no question there’s going to be closer action.”

No. 31 – Burton: “Goodyear is looking to bring a tire with more grip. I really think they have found some stuff that is really promising. As for the track itself, I really can’t imagine running up there in that top groove. I think it is going to force everyone more to the middle and bottom of the track. The drivers aren’t going to be happy, but the spectators probably will be because it is going to put more cars in a closer space.

“By taking away that groove, it is going to change your mind about going up there. I think it is going to be two grooves, unless Goodyear brings a tire with a lot of grip. If that is the case, you’ll want to run around the bottom. Making the groove smaller is a good thing, it is going to put the action back to the bottom and middle of the track.

“What has changed is up near the wall, the bottom is the same. Tony experimented and tried out that top groove, and I know he won’t be trying that again. If people liked the older track more than the new, they are going to like this. This takes the top groove out and brings it back toward the old track. Taking the groove out moves the track closer to what it used to be.”

As I said, I’ve become a bit more open-minded about these changes made to my favorite track. Perhaps if Bruton Smith had made it “closer to what it used to be” in the first place, (a redundant concept I know, but you get the gist!) Mr. Poole might have taken me up on my offer to buy him a beverage after our little tiff … but then again, we might not have HAD our little tiff if Bruton had done it right the first time! Man, this is getting complicated!

All I know is that David (where ever he is) and I will be watching with bated breath and Tom Bowles can ease off his blood pressure medications!

Stay off the wall, (meaning no higher than the second groove!)

Jeff Meyer

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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