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...|
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.