Bristol Motor Speedway - Elliott

NASCAR driver Chase Elliott, right, rides in a Blackhawk helicopter from the 1-230 Assault Helicopter Battalion as it flew over Nashville as part of the Bristol Motor Speedway’s Neighborhood Heroes program on Wednesday.

Daniel L. Cole, left, was the recipient of the program award. Below: Elliott and members of the media flew over the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – NASCAR fans and drivers rarely forget their first visit to Bristol Motor Speedway.

For Cup regular Chase Elliott, the scenario was unique.

Before he could ever imagine a career at the top levels of motorsports, the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott joined other children of drivers and crewmen to sing the national anthem for the famed Night Race at BMS.

“I can’t remember how old I was, but I’ve seen a lot of the photos. “It was a cool deal,” said Elliott of the Motor Racing Outreach choir.

On Aug. 17, Elliott will return to BMS as one of the race favorites. He won the pole for April’s Food City 500.

During Wednesday’s press conference at the Tennessee Air National Guard’s Berry Field, Elliott discussed his chances for a Bristol breakthrough.

“It was awesome to win the pole at Bristol,” said Elliott, who has six career poles and four wins. “That was my first outside of a (super)speedway and it was the best thing I’ve done (at Bristol) results-wise. I felt I was able to contribute to that one a little more than the other ones.”

Elliott, 23, led the first 38 laps before his No. 9 Chevrolet sustained damage in an incident that began when the car driven by rookie Ryan Preece cut a tire.

When Elliott slowed, he was slammed from behind by the Corey LaJoie car. Despite a malfunction to his power steering system, Elliott managed to finish 11th.

“That was definitely not what we started out hoping for,” Elliott said. “We had a great car, even without the power steering.”

Elliott got a different perspective on perseverance and heroism Wednesday morning. With hundreds of National Guard members and other military officials looking on, Sergeant First Class Daniel L. Cole of 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion was honored thanks to the Bristol Motor Speedway’s Neighborhood Heroes program

“This is as close as people like me will ever get to this experience without being in the Army National Guard,” said Elliott, who was voted as NASCAR’s most popular driver in 2018.

Elliott, an accomplished pilot, later took a ride over downtown Nashville in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.

“That was an amazing experience to ride in a Blackhawk,” Elliot said. “I’ve never been in anything similar to that. The views over downtown Nashville were beautiful. I love the city, one of the coolest towns in the country in my opinion.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Elliott concluded his Nashville adventure at Fairgrounds Speedway where he took multiple laps around the 0.596-mile paved oval located near the heart of the rapidly-growing city.

The 115-year-old facility, the longest continually operating track in the country, has been a hot topic in the NASCAR world over the past two years as city officials and racing fans have lobbied for a NASCAR event.

Elliott won the storied All-American 400 Late Model race at the track in 2013.

“I always enjoyed coming to the Fairgrounds,” Elliott said. “I think it’s one of the coolest short tracks in the United States. You’re not going to find a race track, this cool, this close to a major city. It’s a major piece, looking at all the speedways across America.”

Speedway Motorsports, which owns and operates Bristol Motor Speedway among other NASCAR facilities, made a renovation proposal to Nashville Mayor David Briley in April that included $54 million in bond payments along with $2 million from the city.

That bid, which would have doubled seating capacity to 30,000, was turned down.

Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Caldwell addressed the topic Wednesday afternoon.

 “We continue to be very encouraged,” Caldwell said. “We have great discussions with the city. It’s an ongoing process where we’re working on a collaborative approach with how all this can work together.”

The Nashville Soccer Club Major League Soccer expansion team is expected to begin play in 2020 at the Fairgrounds, with a planned 27,500-seat soccer-specific stadium.

“Right now, this facility is owned by Nashville Metro,” Caldwell said. “We’re in the event business and we’re in a conversation of how we can work together. We will see what the future holds.”

According to Elliott, Fairgrounds Speedway has the essentials to host another NASCAR event.

“It would be fine,” Elliott said. “That’s what they did here a long time ago. I don’t know why we can’t do it now.”

For now, Elliott is focused on following a family tradition at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Going to Bristol was always cool when I was growing up. I would get upset when I couldn’t go watch my dad race,” Elliott said.

“There’s always been a magic about that Night Race at Bristol. It’s a cool event that only happens once a year. With the atmosphere at the track, it’s really not like anywhere else.”

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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