In the Rearview Mirror: The history of Bristol Motor Speedway

Does racing get anymore exciting then the beating and banging of Bristol Motor Speedway? No way!!! In honor of the circuit heading to BMS this weekend, I salute Bristol and look back In the Rearview Mirror at Bristol Motor Speedway’s rich history in NASCAR.

This overhead shot shows the greatness of what we call Bristol Motor Speedway
After a visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960 and attending the tracks first race, Carl Moore and Larry Carrier got the idea to build a similar track in Northeast Tennessee. The duo decided on a smaller scale of CMS, a more intimate setting, and chose to build a half-mile track.

The track's proposed location was seven miles south of Bristol in Piney Hills, but locals were not keen on the location. What was set to be Piney Flats International Speedway never came to fruition, so less than 10 miles north, on the land of a dairy farm, ground broke for Bristol Motor Speedway.

Work began on what was then called Bristol International Speedway in 1960 and took about a year to complete. The design, done by Carrier, Moore and R.G. Pope, was sketched out on envelopes and brown paper bags. Little did they know those designs would become one of the most exciting tracks in NASCAR.

The layout of Bristol covered 100 acres with parking for up to 12,000 cars upon initial design. The track was exactly a half-mile, featuring 22-degree banking on the turns. The very first race at BMS was held on July 30, 1961. When cars first hit the track for practice, the first driver to lay down a lap was Tiny Lund who was followed by David Pearson.

Jack Smith and Johnny Allen
Credit: RacingOne multimedia
Claiming the pole for the first ever Volunteer 500 was Fred Lorenzen, the pole was set with a lap of 79.225 mph. Marking their name in history books as the first winner at Bristol was Jack Smith. The interesting thing is, Smith is in the books as the winner but he did not finish the race in his car, though he did complete 290 laps of the race. When the extreme heat started to blister his feet he had Johnny Allen climb in as his relief driver. In the early years this was a scenario often seen at Bristol due to the high temperatures and lack of insulation in the cars.

This 1981 victory was one of DW's many
Credit: RacingOne multimedia
In the 101 races that have been held at Bristol, one driver has the honor of mastering the track. A native of Owensboro, Kentucky, Bristol is considered the home track of Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip claimed 12 wins in his racing career at Bristol, seven on which were consecutive, starting in the spring of 1981 and lasting through August of 1984.

Bristol Beatin’ and Bangin’
The small race track creates some of, if not the best racing we see in NASCAR. With drivers in close proximity bumpers, fenders, and everything else in between creates some hot tempers.

The spring race at Bristol has created such moments as:
  • 1993 - Dale Jarrett throwing his helmet at the car of Bobby Hillin Jr. during the race. Hillin collided with Jarrett and in his frustration the mild mannered Jarrett tossed his helmet in what would become an often aired TV clip. 
  • 1994 - Mark Martin leads the Goody’s 250 while under caution and believing the race was over, pulled onto pit road, one lap early. David Green won the race due to the error and Martin said afterwards “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done and there’s nothing else I can say. I thought the race was over when the guys pulled up beside me waving. I thought it was over.”
  • 2006 – While racing for third place, Matt Kenseth bumps Jeff Gordon on the final lap, taking the position. Gordon spun out and dropped 18 positions, finishing in 21st. After the race Gordon shoved Kenseth on pit road.
Not to be outdone, the summer races have shared the highlights as well.
  • 1974 – Cale Yarborough bumps Buddy Baker on the last lap to win the Volunteer 500
  • 1999 – Dale Earnhardt crashes Terry Labonte for the win but afterwards says all he was trying to do was “rattle his cage.”
  • 2002 – In a move similar to the 1997 Food City 500 where Jeff Gordon nudged Rusty Wallace for the win, the playbook repeated itself. Gordon tapped Wallace and passed him in the final two laps claiming his fifth career win at BMS.
  • 2008 – After leading 415 of the first 469 laps, Kyle Busch was nudged by Carl Edwards for the lead. Edwards went on to lead the final 31 laps to win the Sharpie 500. After the race Busch knocked into Edwards on the cool down lap and this created more beating and banging between both drivers. As a result, both drivers received a six race probation.

    The racing from Bristol starts tonight, as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series leads off the action from the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” For all these reasons and many more, I for one will not miss it.

    NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two weekly columns with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also strives to provide exclusive interviews for the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews click here.. Feel free to contact and follow Amanda on Twitter.

    In the Rearview Mirror: The history of Bristol Motor Speedway In the Rearview Mirror: The history of Bristol Motor Speedway Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 Rating: 5