Tuesday, March 22, 2011
I found myself lucky enough to have a ticket for Bristol in my possession this past weekend, and I made the long drive down from upstate New York to congregate with 159,999 other passionate Nascar fans to see "racin' the way it ought'a be!"
Through Friday and Saturday, I enjoyed some extra leg room as the stands were nowhere near their 160,000 person capacity, but figured that, surely, that wouldn't be the case on Sunday.
Turns out it was, as only about 120,000 people attended the race at a track where tickets used to sell out as quick as they were offered. Don't believe me? In August of 1982, the track enjoyed a sellout crowd. From then on, there wasn't a single vacant seat at the track until March 2010.
From my vantage point, I could see that from turn two down the end of the back straightaway had the most open seats, with entire sections of seats vacant.
As I spectated my first Bristol race in person, I discovered why. This historic track, known for its white-knuckle racing, has been reduced to the type of racing you would find at Dover. I don't mean to downgrade racing at Dover, which is entertaining in its own right, but that isn't why a fan goes to Bristol. A fan goes to Bristol to see the type of racing that made it famous in the first place; drivers banging doors, the bump-n'-run, and tempers flaring as 500 laps of chaos take their toll.
That simply wasn't seen on Sunday. In fact, since the track was reconfigured in 2007, it has been lost. Of course there are those little highlights in the four years since, such as the incidents between Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch in the 2008 night race, but that type of action is hardly the norm. Now, the drivers are able to use the entire racetrack, which eliminates most of the bumpin' and bangin' that used to excite us so much. Instead, we have drivers running side-by-side in the corners instead of moving each other out of the way and causing tempers to flare.
Oh, but don't fool yourself. Very rarely does the side-by-side navigation of the corners result in much, as more often than not the driver on the high side gets the run off the corner and they're back single file by the time they enter the next corner, and this process repeats for 500 laps, and short track racing simply isn't supposed to be that way. Good short track racing is different from good speedway racing. On speedways, having drivers side-by-side is exciting enough, but on short tracks you want to see drivers getting into each other, moving each other out of the way and ultimately trying to be the last man standing when the checkered flag falls.
Instead of that action though, we have sub-par side-by-side racing, at best, at a track that used to showcase some of the best action Nascar had to offer all year. Now, its just another track on the circuit. Just another race to take a nap during the middle of. Just another track with plummeting ticket sales. Just another race with declining TV ratings. All because someone had the bright idea to change a track that was perfect the way it was, with 36 degrees of banking in each of the corners, with tight-quarters racing throughout. They decided to spend millions reconfiguring the entire track, ultimately for no reason as the track didn't have to have a new surface like Daytona, Talladega and Martinsville have had in recent years, and ruined the track in the process.
To put it perfectly clear, I have been a die-hard Nascar fan since 2003. I haven't missed a single race, having recorded any race I couldn't sit and watch live. I've also had the pleasure of attending two races at Watkins Glen, just outside of turn 1 on each occasion. In all that time of watching a race, only once had I yawned, and that was during the Dover race last year. I think it should be noted that in that instance I hadn't slept in 36 hours, so Dover gets a pass.
However, in the middle of turns three and four with forty-three cars rushing by with the sound of each of their motors roaring throughout the stands and on into the valley, I found myself resting my head on my hands yawning, and on more than one occasion. It should be noted that, in this instance, I had slept a solid ten hours the previous night. That's how lackluster the racing truly was.
“When you have gas prices that are 50 to 70 cents more per gallon than a year ago, and 46 percent of your race fans are traveling from distances six hours or more, that’s probably going to have an effect,” Kevin Triplett, vice president of public affairs at BMS, said in regards to the decline in attendance this year.
To that I point out that I make a mere $7.40 per hour at my current job, come from a family is far from wealthy, yet I saved up my money to purchase two tickets for the race and spent a nice sum of money on the gas it took to drive a total of 2,100 miles to and from the track, all to be able to see what I believed was a must-see race. Before the weekend, I had aspirations of saving up to see the night race as well, but now that I have seen in person what the racing at Bristol has been reduced to, Charlotte (or just about any track for that matter) is looking like a much better choice.
At any rate, the price of gas didn't stop me from coming the first time. The fifteen hour drive each way didn't stop me. The fact I was going to have to stay awake overnight to drive back up to New York, go to classes on the following day and work until midnight before I slept again didn't even stop me. All of those things wouldn't have stopped me from going to the Bristol night race, either, but the racing has.
Time for the disclaimers:
-While the racing at Bristol was disappointing, the weekend itself wasn't. The "Family Fun Night" thing they had on Friday evening was a lot of fun, and was worth the drive alone.
-Speaking of "Family Fun Night," I met Eric McClure and he couldn't have been a better guy. He talked to my friend and I for a good half hour, and gained two fans in the process.
-Sorry I haven't written anything in so long! I've been really busy with work, classes and most recently a trip to Bristol, haha. However I had some time today and a rant to share.