“And the leader comes down out of Four…”
All through any broadcast from Bristol, you hear the catch phrases that often include words like up, down, climbing, dropping. They mention how you’re in the Smoky Mountains, but racing in Thunder Valley. It’s a continuous use of opposite comparatives. But what is true when we run at the Last Great Coliseum?
Well, that the Sprint Cup cars are running at the bottom of a mixing bowl, on top of a leveled hill, hidden in a rocky valley. The stands tower over the racing surface, setting the fans up as the greatest judges—ready to turn their thumbs up or down according to the thrill of the afternoon. To attain your seat you will have to trek across lush, green terraced hills down into the parking areas from where you may have to climb up an endless switchback, before you are asked to crawl the final hundred stairs up to your aerie.
Now that your breath has been ripped from your lagging body by the stress of carrying a case of beer for miles, you might think it’s time to relax. But no.
Once the engines turn over, and the balanced rumble echoes up the glistening rows before it can escape into the mythical mists of the mountains, you will again be beaten back and down. There is no escaping the shriek of the race pack. The tension builds throughout the race, broken by the occasional impact with the wall when the car slides up the banking. Yes, they will drop into the infield, where teams will work to put their egg back together again.
So went Sunday afternoon and into the evening. Our hopes of a race were dashed early on by sodden clouds, only to be brought back up as the mountain gods teased us over and over with glimpses of clearing skies. Oh, how fickle they are!
The list of drivers that suffered equally as the whims of this high-banked monster grew in size—up and up the totals went of those who crumpled bumpers. Joey Logano was the first whose desires were smashed into so many pebbles collected in a rain puddle. Add to his trials, Keselowski and Harvick—at times all of the Hendrick boys had Fate come calling in one form or another. Was there any time where NASCAR Nation’s wishes were safe? I’d love to see the fantasy league points as they equally rode the roller coaster of a Bristol race day.
Some call it a great equalizer track, much like its oversized cousins Talladega and Daytona—but no. The superspeedways will simply crush you under their behemoth heels. Bristol tosses you about, pulling the trophy out of reach only to dangle it so close once more. It’s not so much of a crap shoot as a lesson in humility, for the competitors and the fans. Who was ready to see Larson win his first, or Gordon snatch a victory for his last full year? How about Cousin Carl putting last year’s rain win to bed by beating the night mists that climbed over the lights to the checkered flag—that would’ve been masterful.
Yes, we all came to the altar of auto racing on Sunday afternoon in the hopes of being thrilled. A true moment where we rise up together as fans. Who doesn’t love a good ol’ fashioned short track? But we were not to eat the whole tamale at once. Even the final laps had to be stretched out by the last of the raindrops, falling from the heavens—dashing hopes and daring finishes.
There is a true rhythm to Bristol. We certainly got to experience it all this past weekend. When I return to the hallowed hills, I know what I and all the teams are in for—a deluge of ups and downs.
It’s not a great moment in his career, but surely notable. Bowyer wins the 2012 Fall race, and due to the shenanigans executed by MWR, Jeff Gordon is awarded a magical 13th spot in the Chase. We revisit moments in history so we can avoid repeating them…right?
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