News & Media

Smith says changes are coming to Bristol

March 28, 2012, David Caraviello,

Renovations yet-to-be announced, wants 'everything ready for August'

Bruton Smith is taking the bulldozer to Bristol Motor Speedway -- but exactly what changes he'll make to the world's fastest half-mile are yet to be seen.

The chairman of the facility's parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc., announced Wednesday that the Tennessee track would be altered in an attempt to stem attendance drops at a venue that once sold out 55 consecutive Cup Series events. The move comes in reaction to a smaller-than-anticipated crowd that turned out March 18 for the annual spring race at a track that was resurfaced in 2007.

"The race fans have spoken. ... We aim to keep the status as the fans' favorite."

--BRUTON SMITH, on reasoning behind changes


"Personally, I think it's irresponsible, misinformed and at best, self-serving."

--BRAD KESELOWSKI, on Bristol's critics


"Talk to the drivers, man. We are the ones out there running on it, and can provide some insight."

--DALE EARNHARDT JR.'s message to Smith

"The race fans have spoken," Smith said in a statement released by the track. "We had input that included a wide range of opinions. But the majority we heard from said they wanted to see changes made. As a result, I have ordered the equipment and work will begin within the next two weeks to allow time to have everything ready for August."

Bristol's annual night race, traditionally one of NASCAR's marquee events, is slated for Aug. 25. Smith said he had spent the past week studying input, and would make an announcement as to the scope of the changes soon.

"The question we wanted to answer as quickly as possible was, 'Is something going to be done?' The answer to that is yes," Smith said. "We will have the details in two weeks as to what that something is. Bristol Motor Speedway has been voted the most popular race track in the country more than a half-dozen times, even one of the 10 things you need to see before you die. We aim to keep the status as the fans' favorite."

While Smith was vague about exactly what will be changed, it seems clear that fan unrest stems from a 2007 resurfacing that turned Bristol into a multi-groove race track and made it unnecessary for drivers to employ the bump-and-run move to get past opponents. That project replaced the concrete surface and added progressive banking in the corners, although the track's 36-degree turns remained the same. The end result was a new style of Bristol racing that earned rave reviews among most competitors, but didn't sit well with many fans who missed the bumping and banging that made it so famous in the first place.

"It's a pretty simple scenario -- when you take a risk like they took on changing the race track with engineers, and thoughts, and whatever process they went through, you're taking a big risk," Kevin Harvick said last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. "Now they are going to pay probably the ultimate [price], just because of the fact they changed it. Now they've got to change it back. As long as you're not scared to be able to eat a little crow and reverse your decision, taking chances like that are OK. In the end, they were trying to make it better and it just didn't work out for them."

Not every drivers feels that way. Brad Keselowski, who has won the past two Sprint Cup events at Bristol, believes some complaints about the facility's current surface are "self-serving."

"The whole reconfiguration story doesn't go very far with me," he said. "Personally, I think it's irresponsible, misinformed and at best, self-serving, for any driver or media member who goes out there and criticizes the track. I don't think that's right. I think there are drivers that struggle there as the track has been reconfigured and have ulterior motives to point the finger at the surface reconfiguration instead of their own teams' performance. And I think there are media members that enjoy getting the extra attention and extra reads for talking about the track's surface. But I don't think that it's an informed opinion when you look at it objectively."

If Smith is going to resurface Bristol yet again, Dale Earnhardt Jr. argues that he should consult with drivers in an attempt to get it right.

"If he wants to move back to the other race track or the other surface the way it was designed, he should talk to the drivers as well about what made that work, what they liked about that. Because there were some things about that race track before that I liked," Earnhardt said.

"One of the reasons why it was so good was because the yellow line was about a foot off the apron and they actually sealed underneath that yellow line. That provided grip for the left-front tire on the banking. That made a world of difference at that race track, being able to get down there and use that. There was guys not smart enough to use that and there were guys that were and that made a difference between comers and goers and made for great racing. It's not just the banking. It isn't ever just one thing. Whatever he decides to do, talk to the drivers, man. We are the ones out there running on it, and can provide some insight. We don't have all the answers, but I'm sure we can give him some things that they can improve on the situation if that is what they want to do."

And that certainly seems the direction in which Smith is headed. If Bristol does eventually return to its former self, Harvick will be among those glad to see it.

"I enjoyed the old Bristol. I like that rough-and-tumble type of racing," Harvick said. "I know a lot of the car owners and some of the drivers don't like that style of racing. That's what made Bristol what it was. People don't want to watch cars ride around with no donuts on the doors, and no caved-in fenders at Bristol. They don't want to see a 200-lap, 150-lap green-flag run. That's not what they come to Bristol for, and that's why they quit coming."