Friday, August 27, 2010

The Race Week Began on Wednesday: My Bristol Experience (Part I)

The waning days of August mean that summer is almost over and that for many kids, school is just around the corner. However, for me, thousands of other residents of northeast Tennessee, and NASCAR fans, it means something totally different—race week at Bristol Motor Speedway. Every time I passed a motorhome on the highway, it made me realize just how much closer it was to being race day at Bristol.


Last August was the first time I had ever gone to a Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol, and after the exciting time I had then, I couldn’t wait to see what last week’s race would bring. This year, I was fortunate enough to have my best friend Jordan join me. She is fairly new to being a NASCAR fan and had never been to Bristol, despite the fact she has lived in east Tennessee for quite some time now. Recalling my past experiences at Bristol, I knew this year’s race week would be one I would never forget. When I fired up my car’s engine and headed for Bristol on Wednesday morning for what would be the first of a three day racing schedule, I never could have imagined just what would happen this time around.

The race week kicked off on Wednesday. Bristol is the only track that hosts a race in the middle of the week, and I must say, there is always a sizeable crowd for the race. Gates opened around 9:00a.m. Jordan and I arrived around 10:00a.m. Being a Twitter user, I have spoken frequently to Ben Trout, who runs Bristol Motor Speedway’s Twitter page (@BMSupdates), and I had told him late Tuesday night that I would stop by the Fan Relations office in the Bruton Smith building to meet him after getting my Truck and Cup tickets. Ben greeted me with a smile and said he was glad to finally meet me. He called me Bristol’s “All-Star Twitter follower”, which made me smile. I wasn't sure who was the most excited about meeting the other, but I was glad I had finally gotten the chance to meet him. We talked for a few minutes, and then he did something totally unexpected. He handed me a parking pass to park right next to the speedway for that day. After talking to Ben for a few more minutes, Jordan and I headed inside the track to watch the practices and qualifying sessions scheduled for that day.

The track’s infield was redone following the Cup race in March, and with the new layout, almost every seat in the stands is like a pit pass. Fans can look right into the haulers and watch the teams prepare for the race. The renovations even made the infield seem bigger, and I must say Bristol did an incredible job on it!

Rain fell in the early hours on Wednesday, prompting some of the fans, myself included, to break out the ponchos while sitting in the stands during Truck practice. While the weather looked like it would ruin any plans for the races to be run that evening, the rain stopped falling, but the skies remained gray. The rain only caused one delay the entire day—a short pause in Truck practice. All the Truck drivers managed to keep it under control in practice, with none of them spinning out. The only incident (that I can recall) was when Austin Dillon hit the barrels at the pit road entrance off of turn 2.

During Truck qualifying later that afternoon, Kyle Busch won the pole, but James Buescher came ever so close to taking that top spot. And to be honest, I was hoping Buescher would. I was on my feet when Buescher ran his laps, willing that No. 31 truck to find that extra speed needed to knock Busch off the pole.

However, Wednesday wasn’t just a day for the Truck drivers to be on the track. This year would mark the second year the Whelen Modified drivers would race at Bristol. I attended the race last year, and it was some of the best racing I had ever seen at the half-mile speedway. This year, it was no different. A rookie, Justin Bonsignore, would claim the pole for the UNOH Perfect Storm 150. There is never a dull moment during a Whelen race. Those guys will race each other as if every lap is the last one. They aren’t afraid to beat and bang to gain track position. Those guys truly lay it all on the line. As the laps wound down, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Ryan Newman suddenly became a factor for the win after hanging out inside the top five almost all of the race. He took the lead, but the battle for the lead would come down to the last lap. The driver in the 2nd position had a run going, but had to chase his car up the hill in turn 2, losing all the momentum that would have carried him past Newman on the final lap. Newman took the checkered flag, much to the surprise of many people.

Then came the big race of the night--the O’Reilly 200. It’s no secret that most Bristol fans despise Kyle Busch, so when it appeared on the giant TV screen atop the scoring pylon that Busch would go to the rear of the field due to an engine change, cheers erupted from the stands. However, I knew Busch wouldn’t stay in the back for long, which prompted me to yell out, “I don’t know why you’re cheering for, people. Busch will be back at the front before the race even reaches halfway!” Being a Kyle Busch fan, I couldn’t wait to see my words ring true. The green flag dropped, and I was on my feet for the first few laps as drivers jockeyed for position. I couldn’t help but smile as Busch made his way through the field. Then came the moment when he got into Jennifer Jo Cobb and spun her out. The incident unfolded right in front of where I was sitting. I like Cobb, and was upset Busch wrecked her, but I knew it would be classified as “One of them racing deals.” Since she didn’t make any contact with the wall, I thought Cobb would be able to rebound. At least, that’s what I thought until she spun out in turn 3 and got hit by Buescher later on. It scared me because of how hard Buescher hit Cobb, but thankfully both drivers were okay. With about 15 laps remaining, Cobb returned to the track to finish the race. As she drove down pit road, I cheered for her. Her team did an amazing job to get her back out, even if there were only a handful of laps remaining. Throughout the race, the caution flag seemed to wave after almost every restart, and the race came down to a green-white-checkered finish. For the final restart it would be Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola in the top two spots. I was anxious to see how hard Almirola would race Busch, but in the end, it didn’t make any difference. Busch brought home the win, for the second consecutive year.

Even though there was no on-track action on Thursday, there were still plenty of things for fans to do near the track. In downtown Bristol, on State Street, the speedway hosted its Food City Race Night. It gave fans the chance to meet some of the drivers and just have a great time. At 9:00p.m., it was time for the Cup hauler parade. Fans lined the street as the drivers’ haulers make their way to the speedway. A little known fact is that there is one open gate at the track were fans can enter the stands and watch the haulers being parked in the infield. Sadly, I did not attend any of the goings-on Thursday. I really wanted to, but I was sick all day. Thankfully, I was 100% better by Friday morning. I returned to the track early Friday, with no clue as to just how awesome that day would be.

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Check in tomorrow for ‘The Race Week Got Better on Friday: My Bristol Experience (Part II)’. I’ll share with you about meeting my favorite Cup driver’s spotter, meeting my 2nd favorite Cup driver, just how funny things can get when a praying mantis joins the fans in the stands, and more!

Photos courtesy Whitney's personal collection.

Photo 1: Shot of the outside of elevator tower 9.

Photo 2: Shot of Truck teams working during practice.

Photo 3: Ryan Newman celebrates his win in the UNOH Perfect Storm 150

Photo 4: Kyle Busch in Victory Lane following the O'Reilly 200.

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