The racing might be over this year for Bristol Motor Speedway, but that doesn’t mean fans should just wait until the next race to stop by if they get the chance. You never know what might happen when you make a side trip to the World’s Fastest Half-Mile.
Yesterday, I was sitting at home when my best friend Jordan texted me asking if I wanted to ride to the speedway with her. Well, I was supposed to work that evening, but I called my mom, who agreed to go in to work for me (Thanks, mom!) so I could go. Jordan picked me up, and we headed for the speedway, which is about an hour and a half from my house. Being on Twitter, Jordan sent an update saying we were heading to Bristol. Our main reason for going up there was to just see what kind of deals the souvenir shop had. Little did we know that our random trip to Bristol would turn into a once in a lifetime experience.
The souvenir shop is located on the first floor of the O. Bruton Smith. When we first walked into the building, I noticed the Fan Relations office doors were closed. I was a bit disappointed at first, because I was hoping to be able to talk to Ben Trout, Bristol’s senior Fan Relations director who I had met back in August. Jordan and I went on to the souvenir shop. She once again posted a Twitter update, this time saying we had arrived at the speedway. We wandered around the souvenir shop for a bit. Then, we got a surprise when Ben walked in and greeted us. He talked to us for a few minutes before suggesting we make some kind of short video. So after we paid for our purchases, Jordan and I went with him to the Fan Relations office to record the video. (The video can be seen here)
As we finished the video, Bristol’s new General Manager Jerry Caldwell, who took over those duties following the passing of Jeff Byrd, approached us. Ben introduced us to Jerry, who was happy to see two fans just visiting. Jerry asked us who our favorite drivers were. Jordan and I both are David Ragan fans, and Jerry said he liked Ragan too. He said that every time they were in for a race, Ragan would always ask how Jeff Byrd was doing. Jerry said he really wanted to see Ragan succeed. Hearing the General Manager of Bristol speak so highly of Ragan made me admire Ragan even more. Just as Jerry was about to leave, he looked at Ben and asked “Have you taken them around the track yet?” Ben said “No, but I can.”
So, Jordan and I followed Ben out to his car. He drove onto the track and took us a few laps around. Due to the Speedway in Lights displays being up, he couldn’t drive around the track like he wanted to for us, but he was able to drive around 65 miles per hour in turns 1 and 2 (the Speedway in Lights displays prevented us from going fast in turns 3 and 4). Going 65 on the track seemed so fast to me! I know the Cup drivers go twice as fast, and I couldn’t imagine just how that really feels, especially when there are 42 other cars on the track! Ben stopped at the Start/Finish line, and let us get out to take pictures. Then as we got back in his car he asks, “Have you ever been in victory lane?” Of course, our answer was no. So, what does he do? He makes that hard left into the infield, and drives right up to victory lane!
As I stood in victory lane, it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact I was standing in the exact spot where some of the best drivers in NASCAR have stood. It was surreal. I know victory lane at Bristol has changed a lot over the years, but the principle is still the same. I was standing where Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, and so many other legends in NASCAR had stood. I think what made me smile the most was the fact I was standing in the same spot where David Ragan had celebrated his second Nationwide win last August. A little known secret of mine is that for years, I have wanted nothing more than to stand in victory lane at Bristol, whether it was on a race day or not. I just wanted to stand in the same spot where so many NASCAR drivers have stood. That wish was fulfilled yesterday.
We returned to the O. Bruton Smith building after another lap around, and talked for a few more minutes before Jordan and I left. There really are no words to describe just how awesome it was that Ben would do that for two fans who decided to make a random trip to the speedway. Before we left, Ben had asked us, “Expectations exceeded?” You better believe they were!
Bristol truly represents what “for the fans” means. What they do for fans is a testament to everything Jeff Byrd worked toward for the speedway. For me, yesterday was a bittersweet moment though. It was one of those times that I wish Jeff could have been there, to see just how happy I was. Jeff loved to see the fans happy, and until Bristol’s gates close for good, the track will always live up to the legacy that he left behind. As fans, we may say to the folks at Bristol “You have no idea how happy I am right now!”, but the truth is, it’s the other way around. At Bristol, they love nothing more than being able to leave fans with memories that will last a lifetime.
It doesn’t have to be a race day for you to have an unforgettable Bristol experience. Next time you’re in the area, I suggest stopping by. Go to the Fan Relations office and introduce yourself. You’ll be amazed at just what can happen by simply doing that.
You belong at Bristol!
All photos are my own.
Photo 1: Outside the speedway as the sun was setting.
Photo 2: Ben Trout and I in the Fan Relations office.
Photo 3: Picture taken while riding shotgun at 65mph around the track.
Photo 4: Jordan (right) and I standing in victory lane.