Known as The Last Great Colosseum, Bristol Motor Speedway’s stadium-like structure serves as a versatile multi-use venue that hosts major auto races, football games, concerts and many other captivating events.
Work began on what was then called Bristol International Speedway in 1960 and it took approximately one year to finish. Many of the original ideas facility founders Larry Carrier, Carl Moore and R.G. Pope came up with for the track were sketched on envelopes and brown paper bags.
Purchase of the land on which BMS now sits, as well as construction of the track, cost approximately $600,000. The entire layout for BMS covered a little more than 100 acres.
The very first NASCAR race at BMS, held on July 30, 1961, was won by Jack Smith with relief help from Johnny Allen.
The facility was held by several different owners in the early days, but eventually found its way back to Carrier ownership in 1985. On Jan. 22, 1996, Carrier sold the speedway to O. Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports, Inc., at a purchase price of $26 million.
The sprawling facility has come a long way from its early roots. Today the Colosseum offers guests a wide range of accommodations, from luxurious man cave suites to bar stools in the Busch Banks and Brews Deck to a relaxing environment high atop the track at the Turn One Tavern to a nightclub inside the oval called The Apex. The BMS footprint now includes more than 500 acres of the surrounding area.
The short track is a (0.533-mile) concrete oval with corner banking ranging from 24 to 28 degrees and a pair of 650-feet straightaways. Also part of the complex, the adjacent quarter-mile dragstrip, Bristol Dragway, offers more than 50 events annually, including the marquee NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals every Father’s Day weekend. The Thunder Valley Amphitheatre transforms the dragway into a premier concert venue on select dates to host some of the world’s best music acts.
While enjoying racing at the iconic oval, fans are offered a unique viewing experience courtesy of Colossus TV, the world’s largest outdoor center-hung four-sided video screen with a 540,000-watt audio system.
Bristol hosts races in several NASCAR touring series, highlighted by two major NASCAR Cup Series weekends. The biggest names in NASCAR, including Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Bobby Allison have earned victories at the legendary track.
The Food City Dirt Race, held in April, will once again showcase the Cup Series stars on the dirt-transformed Bristol Motor Speedway. Food City is celebrating its milestone 30th anniversary of sponsoring the spring Cup race at BMS in 2022 and is NASCAR’s second longest running race entitlement sponsor in the sport. Food City has been involved in the event since 1987 through their hosting of one of the most popular fan events on the NASCAR circuit, Food City Family Race Night.
The historic facility, forged amid the scenic mountains of Northeast Tennessee near the Virginia state line, earned its reputation for producing incredible finishes during its most storied event, referred to as “America’s Night Race.”
The first Night Race at Bristol was held in 1978, and stands today as one of the first on the Cup circuit to illuminate NASCAR’s marquee touring series under bright stadium lights. In 2022, BMS will celebrate its 44th anniversary of conducting major auto races after dark and appropriately both the Food City Dirt Race and the Bass Pro Shops Night Race in September will be held under the lights.
In 2022, the iconic Night Race will continue to be the elimination race in the Round of 16 Playoffs for the Cup Series. As always, the drama is sure to be intense as four Cup drivers seasons will end at Bristol after the 500 grueling laps in playoff mode.
In 2016, Bristol enjoyed its “Biggest Year Yet” hosting the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol, where border rivals Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee played a college football game in front of an NCAA-record crowd of 156,990.
Prior to the game, a special country music concert was held, featuring a trio of successful local acts. The Honda Ridgeline Bristol Tailgate featured Kenny Chesney, The Band Perry and Old Dominion in front of a crowd of more than 40,000.
Interestingly, two other football games have been held inside the BMS oval. In 1961, the NFL’s Washington Redskins took on the Philadelphia Eagles in a pre-season game. The Eagles won, 17-10. The week following the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol, BMS held a second game in 2016, the Food City Bucs at Bristol presented by Food City. The local favorite East Tennessee State University Buccaneers upset rival Western Carolina University 34-31 in a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
One thing is for certain, Bristol Motor Speedway will continue to showcase itself as a facility widely regarded as a major sports and entertainment destination.
Bristol Motor Speedway Track Facts
0.533-mile concrete oval
Degree of banking in corners: Variable, 24 to 28 Degrees
Degree of banking on frontstretch: 5 to 9 degrees
Degree of banking on backstretch: 4 to 8 degrees
Straightaways: 650 feet
Concrete racing surface is 40 feet wide
“World’s Fastest Half-Mile”
“The Last Great Colosseum”
“Holy Grail of Short Tracks”
NASCAR Cup Series event: 500 laps (266.5 miles concrete layout)
NASCAR Xfinity Series event: 300 laps (159.9 miles)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event: 200 laps (106.6 miles, concrete layout)
ARCA Menards Series event: 200 laps (106.6 miles)
Television coverage: FOX (Food City Dirt Race) and NBC (Bass Pro Shops Night Race)
Radio: PRN Radio Network (Cup and Xfinity Series races) and MRN Radio Network (Truck Series races)
Online: BristolMotorSpeedway.com and NASCAR.com
Media Online Resources: BMSSpeedReads.com and NASCARMedia.com
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