I bid you welcome gentle readers, as this week NASCAR takes the traveling circus to the small town of Bristol Tennessee/Virginia. If you’re new to the racing family, that’s one of those interesting little factoids that fill our history with stories and anecdotes… the town of Bristol lies smack-dab on the borderline between the states of Tennessee and Virginia, and either both want it or both disclaim it, but it has remained for its lifetime, a town divided.
It seems like only yesterday since we were talking about the Texas race and after that, the Hall of Fame. Well, since someone brought up Texas… oh, that was me, but no matter, did everyone see the overnight ratings for that prime time extravaganza? Between Big Hoss, a night-time race and a Jimmie Johnson victory on a 1.5-mile track… imagine that… Texas Motor Speedway managed to turn in a record low in ratings for any race ever on NASCAR on FOX with a 2.9. Congratulations Mr. Gossage! You’ve brought racing to a new low… quite literally.
Gentle readers, have we not told them in crystal clear tones that the majority of us do not care for night races, probably with the single exception of the Bristol Night Race, the reason for that being that it was the first, and for some time, the only track on which the Grand National/Winston Cup Series raced at night? There really can be too much of a good thing, and NASCAR has saturated Saturday nights with a sport known for its Sunday afternoon appeal. For years on years, racing was what we all did between Church and supper. That was its niche and where we, the most loyal fans on the planet, liked it and watched it.
Big Hoss? Is that named for the second son on Bonanza or for the lippy fat son on Pawn Stars? Either way, it is the absolute height of redundancy. Again, for those not familiar, that is what TMS has christened its far larger than necessary TV screen, which shows those in the grandstand the race that is passing right by them on the track. I know I’m old and I confuse more easily than I used to, but has anyone considered the fact that fans go to the race track to see the race live? Most of us have at least a serviceable TV at home, should we care to watch it on a screen. OK, let’s be real… many of us (make that you) choose to watch on a 3” screen on something we jokingly call a “phone”, though no one seems to use it as such. That phenomenon I shall never understand.
As for Jimmie, well… when we go to a track 1.5-miles in length, it’s either him or Happy Harvick, ergo the mystery is gone and there is little reason to watch the race. Ah, but your scribe did not come to speak solely of Texas; not when Bristol is in the offing and growing closer by the minute. Taking care of first things first, let’s look at our map of the SAFER barriers at Bristol as they were last week when Jim did this map. (The “gentleman” that had agreed to do the maps for me is no longer with us. Stuff happens. My partner in crime here, Jim Fitzgerald, stepped right up to the plate and took the job for the same pay. That’s why we’re partners.) (Jim says: “I’m the DJ, she’s the rapper.”)
The first thing I must tell you gentle readers, is that Bristol has taken a very responsible attitude thus far, with the following announcement made perhaps 2 weeks ago.
"The safety of our fans and competitors continues to be a focal point for Bristol Motor Speedway," said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager for Bristol Motor Speedway. "SMI engineers and NASCAR reevaluated the track and made additional recommendations. We've been able to secure an additional 600 feet of SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers and will complete the build out of the front and backstretch outside walls before the Food City 500 race weekend."
Thank you Mr. Caldwell, for seeing a problem and taking at least the first steps toward correcting it. We know it’s expensive, but we also know there can be no price put on human life. Bristol, the fastest half-mile in the world, is setting a good example in bringing the straightaways into full compliance, but those turns at each end of the track are completely without protection. We, the fans that care, thank you for your efforts so far and expect to see those turns getting the same attention when we return in August.
Gentle readers, I cannot tell you how nice it is to be able to write words such as those instead of the ones we’ve been sharing of late. So far, I can tell you there has been progress at Daytona and Bristol, with some improvements promised by Michigan and Talladega. It’s a start, but it’s a long way from the desired goal of #SAFER barriers everywhere!
Now if I might, I’d like a word with some members of the racing media. It is not my intent to single out this particular crew, but this was brought to my attention during the Xfinity race last weekend at Texas. This short clip from FOX Sports of a wreck between Cale Conley and Brendan Gaughn clearly shows Conley’s car jammed into the inside wall, which doesn’t have a lick of SAFER to be seen. We’ve heard many of you express your desire to see SAFER everywhere feasible. Don’t you think that when the camera gives you a shot like this, it would be so very worthwhile to point out where those barriers are NOT? The strangest thought just struck me as I typed that… Jeff Gordon was in the booth for that race. Jeff, we know broadcasting isn’t your thing… yet, but take a lesson. When the mic is in your hand and you have a chance to reinforce something you stand for or behind, take it and run with it!
OK race fans, now there is nothing to do but sit back and wait for a weekend of racing at Bristol! Pick your state; it doesn’t matter; she answers to both, though I’m told the track is actually on the Tennessee side of the road. Over the years since her inception in 1961, Bristol has gone from dirt to higher banked dirt, to asphalt, to extremely high-banked asphalt, to concrete, to progressive banking on concrete and finally to whatever one might call the concession to the fans granted by owner, Bruton Smith, a scant few years ago. When he changed BMS to progressive banking from those 36º monster banks, many of the fans pitched what amounted to one super-sized hissy fit.
Bruton did his best. Sparing no expense, he ground down the old girl until the effect of the progressive banking was lost, and so of course, was the side-by-side racing that progressive banking affords. That produced more howls and cat-calls from the fans, at which point Bruton washed his elderly hands of it. He gave the fans what they asked for, and immediately, they didn’t like that either. Personally, I loved the racing there with the progressive banking. Sure, she was different from her old self, with the banking so steep that you couldn’t walk on it, but she raced beautifully. The fickle fans, however, wanted their wrecking back. They didn’t have to pay the bills to repair the cars, so they didn’t care. Hmm… does this make it any clearer why NASCAR does as it thinks best with the Hall of Fame we discussed earlier this week? Sometimes, Daddy does know best you know.
No, Bristol is no longer a sellout for every race; those days are gone and they won’t be coming back. If you were here for them, rejoice in the memories. If not, well your best chance to share in the glory that was NASCAR racing is to listen to old farts like me tell tales of the old days. Just don’t believe the ones that tell you they were all “Good ol’ days.” They weren’t, but they were fun! Bristol has been called many things over her years on the circuit, and from the drivers’ perspective, they weren’t all good nor were they all printable, but she’s also received a lot of love, no matter her configuration. Her latest nickname is “The Last Great Coliseum.” Did they remove seats from the old one as well? Almost brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? Ah, but no time for tears. This weekend, “It’s Bristol, Baby!”
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout, so lean back, close your eyes and pretend it’s 1958… the year Don and I married, and the song on the juke box is by a pair of young brothers that took the 50s by storm, Phil and Don Everly. Here is one of my Everly favorites, “All I Have to Do Is Dream.”
While we’re with the Everlys, please allow me to share a special memory that I hold dear. This next song was never one of their big hits, but it will forever be my favorite. You see, my brother Mike, whom some of you have seen here on these pages from time to time, had a small band of his own back in the time when we were both much younger, and this song was one they played. Well, the guys played it, but the recitation was done by my younger sister Meg, with background vocal done by Mike and my sister Ronnie, the next in line, as it were. I can never hear this song without being transported to that time and that rendition of “Ebony Eyes.”
Some folks in our family got all the musical talent, while this one couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket… but they tell me I can write pretty words. And speaking of words, YouTube is becoming my favorite place in the world because I find great things there no matter why I was there originally. This last offering is an excerpt from one of the Country’s Family Reunion shows, and it offers both poignant and funny memories about some of the stars now long gone. Please, enjoy a laugh and maybe a tear on me.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!