Race Weekend Central

Side-by-side – Bruton Smith threw bad money after good by grinding the top of the race surface at Bristol

In the Summer of 2007, Bruton Smith spent a truck load of money to put truck loads of new surface onto the race track at Bristol Motor Speedway. Not only was a new surface put in place but variable banking that allowed drivers to, say it with me, RUN SIDE-BY-SIDE competitively on a half mile race track. Unheard of in the modern era of NASCAR, fans were allowed to see people on the outside at Bristol actually make passes and advance their position. Better yet, they were able to pass people without having to at least shove them out of the way or at worst, wreck them to get by. Races were filled with two and three wide racing throughout the pack for laps on end without detriment to one lane or the other. Somehow, that irritated or bored fans to a point that more than a third of them stopped coming to see the races there. As a result, Bruton Smith ground down the banking at the top of the track and attempted to return the single grove bump, dump and wreck racing back to the facility.

Thanks to Smith at least trying to bring the old parade back to town, the track was nearly sold out last August for the Night Race at Bristol. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, the drivers figured out that they could make the top groove work and the race ended up being a two groove race still. While the race was fantastic from start to finish and the ending was edge of the seat theater, the number of cautions was limited and almost know cars were wrecked. As a result, the jury is still out on whether the fans will like the new surface more than the altered surface before the grinding.

From where I sit, which was near the top of the grandstands in turn two last Summer, there is nothing more enjoyable that watching cars racing side-by-side with first one and then the other gaining slight advantages each lap. The great thing about Richmond is that a driver can get to the inside of another competitor but has to struggle to complete the pass because they can't use the whole race track. That never ending battle to gain the inches necessary to eventually complete the pass is why Richmond is still one of the best race tracks anywhere. When Bruton Smith added the progressive banking to Bristol, he put the track on the same plane as Richmond and the racing became fantastic from the front to the back and everywhere in between.

With the ground top of the track, the surface at Bristol is offering enough grip up top to give drivers an advantage running up there, but going to the bottom won't give the drivers enough of an advantage to make a pass so the race is going to lend itself to a single groove, it will just be around the top now instead of the bottom.

Close racing and passing are the two things that make for great races. With the varying degrees of banking the “old” new Bristol had allowed drivers to run on all three lanes around the track and make passes in any of them. The drivers could pass someone on the top at one point in a run then on the bottom another part and finally in the middle at yet another point. However the drivers were running, and wherever they were running, they put on a fantastic race and did it all without tearing up a bunch of race cars. And that is the rub right there.

Based on the statement made by fans with their wallets and their keyboards, they don't want to see racing at Bristol, they want to see wrecking. If what you want to see is cars destroyed for no reason, then the “new” new Bristol is more for you than the old one. I'll stick with cars running in three lanes on a half mile race track with any of them having a chance to win.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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