Bristol Motor Speedway bills itself as the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” race track, and despite straightaways barely 200 yards long, it is one seriously fast race track. The secret is in the variable banking in the 300-yard wide-open corners – you may not have much room to accelerate off one corner before shutting down for the next, but with steep banking (up to 30 degrees) there’s not much loss of speed when you get there. And the all-concrete racing surface provides great traction.
With 160,000 seats, arrayed in grandstands all the way around the racing surface, Bristol looks more like a football stadium on steroids than a typical race track. Veteran drivers have described racing at this East Tennessee speed emporium as the equivalent of “flying a fighter plane in a gymnasium,” so it’s not surprising that tickets to NASCAR events are much in demand. Still, the best seat in the house is the one behind the wheel. But it’s sure not a relaxing one, with laps at racing speeds ticking by at barely more than 15 seconds. Oh, and the compact nature of the track means there are infield pits on both the front and rear straightaways, so drivers and team strategists face added challenges. Rare is the car that makes it back to the garage without at least a few bumps, scrapes or other battle bruises after a 500 lap NASCAR race. And the drivers aren’t in much better shape.
Opened for competition in 1961, Bristol Motor Speedway has had a number of remodelings over the years, and several owners as well. It has been under its current owner, Speedway Motorsports, that Bristol Motor Speedway has enjoyed its greatest period of growth.