Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Checkered Past: Bristol giveth and Bristol taketh away


Bristol Motor Speedway is both one of the smallest tracks in NASCAR and one of the biggest. In spite of its 0.533-mile length, this super short track can hold over 160,000 spectators, putting it in the top 10 list of the largest sports venues in the world. With close-quarters racing a given, Bristol has provided some spectacular races, spectacular finishes – and spectacular wrecks.

For NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, Bristol was a place for spectacular finishes. Twelve times in 52 career Cup Series races at the track, Waltrip was the first driver to cross the finish line, and he finished in the top five in half of the races he ran there. For his efforts, the seating in Turns 3 and 4 were renamed for Waltrip in 2000.

Michael and Darrell Waltrip each had a different type
of luck at Bristol.
Credit: John Harrelson/Harrelson Photography
For Waltrip’s younger brother, Michael, the track is the site of the most horrific crash in his driving career. In the spring of 1990, Waltrip was competing in the Busch (now Nationwide) Series race at Bristol when he tangled with another car, sending his car into the steel crossover gate on the backstretch. Waltrip’s car, to put it mildly, disintegrated – a piece here, a piece there…and an even bigger piece, containing Waltrip, over there. By the grace of God, the strength of the Banjo Matthew’s-built car, or some other higher power, Waltrip survived – even walked away. Unlike his brother, Michael Waltrip had a less-than-stellar record at Bristol – just eight top-10 finishes in 48 races – but at least he can say that he walked away.

The Pearson family has also had mixed luck at Bristol. Hall of Fame patriarch David Pearson, who also has a section of seating named for him, raced just 20 times at Bristol, with a resume of five wins, 10 top-10 finishes and three poles. In March 2010, the Tennessee track was the scene of near-tragedy for the Pearson family, as son Larry, a two-time Busch Series champion, was involved in a serious crash with Charlie Glotzbach during a 35-lap charity race. While the younger Pearson was being removed from his car, the elder Pearson was withdrawing from the race to be with his son. Larry Pearson suffered a fractured pelvis, fractured right hand and a compound fracture of his left ankle.

For 1988 Cup Series champ Bill Elliott, Bristol was something of a headache. In 44 races, Elliott – a superspeedway ace – had just one win, coming in the spring of his championship season. Elliott’s son Chase already seems to have better luck on the track, having become the youngest pole sitter in Camping World Truck Series history on August 21, 2013.

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