Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bruton Smith Aims For The Middle Ground

When Bristol Motor Speedway was a one-lane race track and the only way to pass was to deftly nudge the leading car out of the way, some people loved it. Others hated it.

More recently, when a reconfigured Bristol spawned long runs of two and three-wide racing and far fewer wrecks, some people loved it. Others hated it.

Give them what they want to see...
“Old Bristol,” with its multi-car crashes and volcanic tempers, packed its 160,000-seat grandstand with rabid race fans who could not bear the thought of missing a single spark or four-letter word. “New Bristol” – saddled with a flagging economy and soaring gasoline prices -- saw half its seats go unfilled recently for the first time in memory.

Bruton Smith is the CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., parent company of Bristol Motor Speedway. Always a “buck stops here” type of guy, Smith has never shied away from making difficult – even controversial – decisions. With a keen eye for discerning what the paying customers want, Smith was first to create a Fan Zone at his race tracks, giving spectators a level of access unprecedented in the sport. He brought the excitement and drama of NASCAR racing to new venues like Las Vegas, and transformed venerable ovals like Bristol into gleaming monuments to the sport.

Now, Smith faces his latest – and perhaps greatest – challenge, trying to bring Bristol Motor Speedway closer to what it used to be, without alienating the purists who appreciate the more genteel aspects of recent events there.

He announced Wednesday that construction crews will grind the track’s outside groove to eliminate the progressive banking and its inherent high-line advantage. The usable portion of the race track will also be narrower, leaving drivers less room to work and forcing them to once again elbow each other aside for the preferred piece of real estate.

Progressive banking is not the enemy here. It has resurrected both Las Vegas and Homestead-Miami Speedways, turning them from ho-hum, one-laners to two of the more competitive venues in the sport. By grinding the outside lane and narrowing the usable racing surface, Smith hopes to re-create – to as large a degree as possible – the “Rock`em Sock`em Robots” atmosphere that sold out 55 consecutive Sprint Cup races there between 1982 and 2010.

Bruton Smith is no stranger to controversy or polarization. In this instance, however, he correctly believes that the workable ground lies somewhere in the middle. He won’t leave the track the way it is, and he won’t change it back to what it was.

He’ll attempt to find a happy medium, and race fans should wish him luck.

A second reconfiguration of Bristol Motor Speedway will not cure the economy. It will not bring gasoline back to $3 a gallon. But maybe, just maybe, it will re-create the sort of high-drama, “can’t miss” racing that convinces fans to ignore the economic realities of life, if only for two weekends a year.


  1. Miller53vt6:10 PM

    Now if he can get lights at NHIS that would be magical!

  2. Anonymous8:32 PM

    And when the 'fans' (who dictate how he should spend his money to entertain them) are unhappy yet again, should he just tear down Bristol and make it a museum or a central parking lot for the overpriced hotels?

    I think the vocal minority are forcing a very unnecessary change, and the fans won't fill the stands in the fall because we won't have returned the economy to 1998. But they'll be complaining because not enough cars were torn up. Too bad the owners don't have anything to say about this.

    Doug from NJ

  3. Anonymous10:41 PM

    flattening the track, and narrowing the track will only result in 50% of the race run under yellow. that makes it a race i will not bust my tail to get to... nor will i allow Bristol to grace my TV. also, due to this knee jerk reaction, no longer will i grace SMI tracks with my money. Bruton is one of the brightest minds in NASCAR... WTF is he thinking that this will fix all Bristol's woes.... Bristol needs to drop a race... and they will see the 160k+ like they had before... the racing was fine... i enjoyed the new bristol style. i cant stand seeing a 6 hour race for 500 laps... heck i can do 5 laps around the DC beltway in 3 hours and drive 250 miles faster than Bristol before the repave...

  4. Bill Panzich11:33 PM

    Guess most folks prefer wrecking to racing. Cryin' shame as the racing is better than ever at Bristol IMO, two wide and even three wide, real racing!!!!

    If they want to fix racing at all the tracks, NASCAR and Goodyear need to put some give up back in the tires, they're lasting way too long!

  5. Anonymous8:08 AM

    I dont believe this is the change Fans were so vocal about. Bruton will dicover this as he counts the empty seats at future races at Bristol.

  6. Danger lies in trying to make everyone happy... good luck Mr. B

  7. Anonymous7:40 AM

    This will not bring the Fans back.