The Bristol Dirt experiment is officially over.
NASCAR and Speedway Motorsport’s decision to axe the annual dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway came after just three races.
But ever since dirt was put on the concrete canyon for the first time, the multi-surface Bristol has been shrouded in controversy.
While many cheered for a NASCAR Cup Series return to dirt for the first time since 1970, several scoffed that it came at the expense of a paved race at NASCAR’s most famous short track, which has now proved to be a cause for celebration as Bristol dirt is no more.
So, as we currently are immersed in the middle of the traditional Bristol Night Race weekend, the sport sits at a crossroads facing a decision about dirt that could once again leave it in the rearview mirror.
It would be a shame if dirt tracks were completely abandoned, but NASCAR’s options are limited if they truly want to keep dirt racing alive at the highest level. There are not many active tracks that would serve as a feasible venue to have a dirt surface laid over top of the existing blacktop. NASCAR would also likely not prefer to go through another temporary surface controversy again.
Thus, if the top rung of stock car racing were to stay on dirt, it would need to find and utilize an existing permanent dirt track.
Granted, this is a tall task. The season is already winding down and the 2024 season is likely already in place and awaiting its release barring a few tweaks. Additionally, there are few if any dirt tracks around the country that have the infrastructure to support the Goliath road show that is NASCAR, so it is very unlikely.
Despite the high odds, there are some reasonable options for NASCAR to stay dirty.
NASCAR does not necessarily have to look very far to find a somewhat adequate dirt track. Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville, Iowa hosted the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series from 2021-22. With that past relationship, it would not be as difficult to bring the Cup Series to the Midwest’s premier half-mile dirt track.
As with every dirt track on this list, seating would be a challenge, but Knoxville is in the best situation out of any. As the proud host of the country’s premier sprint car race, the Knoxville Nationals, the track has well over 20,000 seats and boasts infrastructure to support the Sprint Car Hall of Fame on their property. Knoxville also has a similar footprint to North Wilkesboro Speedway which has already proven recently that it can host the Cup Series with careful improvements.
However, there are two big challenges: can the venue put on a good race and would the region support it? The Trucks have struggled to put on a compelling show for the fans on the semi-banked oval. Additionally, it failed to draw a crowd, as last year’s race saw more empty seats than occupied ones. Thus, NASCAR may want to look at another track it has recent experience.
That track is Eldora Speedway. Eldora was the sight of NASCAR’s first iteration of a NASCAR return to dirt as the Trucks came to the Rossburg, Ohio circuit in 2013 before it departed for Knoxville after the 2019 season. The good news for Eldora is that it had historically brought way better crowds for NASCAR events than Knoxville ever did.
There is also a close NASCAR connection as three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart owns the track. Eldora has proven to produce compelling races for full-bodied vehicles too. The Camping World SRX Series has also been a huge hit with a large national audience and consistent sellouts.
The difficulty for Eldora is that the track is speculated to not be on the best of terms with NASCAR. Many thought with proof that NASCAR left Eldora out of vengeance and moved its dirt truck race to Knoxville after Stewart helped found SRX, a direct competitor to the sport.
Like Eldora, Sharon Speedway has a NASCAR connection with owner Dave Blaney who was a longtime Cup competitor. Also akin to Eldora, the Hartford Township, Ohio track has proven to be a successful and compelling venue for the SRX series.
Sharon sits in the middle of the dirt-track rich Ohio and Pennsylvania border area and is a popular spot on the World of Outlaws tour so there almost certainly would be a healthy crowd if NASCAR were to come calling.
However, Sharon would face a tremendous challenge as it is one of two tracks on our list that has never sanctioned a NASCAR race. Thus, there would be tremendous hurdles in terms of logistics. Parking and seating would need monumental improvements to host a NASCAR-sized event.
The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway
The other track that has not hosted a sanctioned event is the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The difference is that Charlotte has the infrastructure to support NASCAR as the track is located on the same property as Charlotte Motor Speedway. With plenty of parking, camping, and adequate traffic plans, there is no reason why NASCAR could not utilize the dirt track.
However, this would mean that NASCAR would be hosting a third race in the Charlotte market, which would likely be counterintuitive to NASCAR’s recent trend that aims to diversify its market share. NASCAR could have the option to take one of the two dates at Charlotte and move it to the dirt track although this would likely be an unpopular choice.
The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
One choice that may not be as unpopular is the Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 1.5-mile asphalt oval has lacked allure in recent years so it may prove useful to move their second date to the adjoining dirt track on LVMS’ 1,000-acre property.
The half-mile track was already a popular stop on the ARCA Menards Series West circuit in 2018-2019. Plus, parking, camping and concessions are already up to NASCAR snuff.
The lone issue would be seating, as the dirt track’s capacity is minuscule compared to the adjoining big track. There is no reason why the track could not bring in temporary seating or build permanent seating but it would come at a tremendous cost.
Yes, all of these options may be long shots but this was the box that NASCAR was put in the first place before it decided to put dirt on Bristol. It begs the question that if NASCAR were to continue on dirt, there would have to be plenty of sacrifices to be made. The loss of a Bristol race proved to be too much of one, so would NASCAR be willing to make a different one? It is hard to know.
About the author
Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.
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