BRISTOL, Tenn. – Two brothers from Wilkesboro, North Carolina, made their annual trek to Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday morning.
While NASCAR drivers and media types were moaning over track conditions, the Wilkesboro boys had just one concern.
After another week of mind-numbing factory work and stomach-churning bill-balancing this trip was all about a different brand of fun.
And that’s the basic appeal of BMS, especially for the Night Race.
In a sport where the cars have become virtually bullet-proof and the stars develop their skills on computers, Bristol has a unique crossover quality.
That might explain why fans began arriving in NASCAR’s second-smallest market a week early and keep coming until the 7:30 p.m. green flag.
According to this longtime track observer, an estimated crowd of 92,000 watched Saturday’s event. That figure is second only to the Daytona 500, which attracted a sold-out gathering of 101,000 on Feb. 17.
While Kyle Busch has dominated the headlines at BMS in recent years, the underlying story has been attendance.
Forget what the NASCAR spin masters tell you, the turnouts for the various NASCAR races at BMS in April were not good.
The sight of all those empty seats at one of the world’s largest venues fueled speculation over the Spring race date at BMS, especially if or when the Cup schedule is contracted.
Bristol is not exactly Las Vegas, but residents in this little city work insane hours in support of their major league stadium. From short order cooks and convenience store clerks to hotel workers and policemen, there has been no rest.
On this Saturday night, the Wilkesboro boys savored the chance to kick back and enjoy the motorsports version of a heavy metal rock concert.
Yes, these two longtime Dale Earnhardt fans do miss the old version of Bristol where the soundtrack was southern rock and drama resembled roller derby.
But the Night Race is no place for a theatre critic. It’s all about the spectacle, the history, and the controlled chaos
That’s why fans from 50 states follow the siren call to the green mountains of Northeast Tennessee twice a year.
With the classic stories and familiar setting, Bristol is a treat for NASCAR historians. With the video-game imagery of 122-mph laps unfolding every 15 seconds, BMS also offers a glimpse of the future.
It may not rival the imaginative concepts found in an episode of The Jetsons, but the Bristol Night Race is an impressive display of high-tech technology and fighter pilot-like concentration.
Still, the current version of the Bristol boogie is a matter of hot debate.
Some fans like the nuanced form of driving and the chess game strategy with the crew chiefs and engineers. Other fans, who tend to be more vocal, miss the multi-car crashes and theatrics from participants.
In the case of two North Carolina brothers who capped their night with a moonshine-tasting party, all the talk about aesthetics can be left to the nerds.
They just wanted a night of carnival-style fun, and Bristol Night Race delivered.