Bristol Motor Speedway Changes Begin With Expectation Of Finish In Time For August Races
With a large backdrop sign declaring "Fans Spoke...We Listened," SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith yesterday announced that he "ordered engineers to eliminate the progressive banking at the high-banked" Bristol Motor Speedway, according to Allen Gregory of the BRISTOL HERALD COURIER. Workers from Calif.-based Penhall Co. have "already begun the intricate process of grinding away the top lane from the concrete surface in all four turns." Smith said, "I think it’s going to be a lot better than it was. It’s going to be exciting. We think we will win all these race fans over to our side on this, and chances are we’ll have a complete sellout here in August." SMI President & COO Marcus Smith said, "This wasn’t an overnight decision. This is something we’ve been considering since repaving the track in 2007. While the chatter has been more this year, it’s the culmination of the last few years." BMS Exec VP & GM Jerry Caldwell said, "There were some fabulous moments, but you're remembering key moments from 45 years of history. We want a good race, year after year." Caldwell said that SMI engineers "faced complex decisions and time constraints with altering the track in time" for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 250 and Sprint Cup Irwin Tools Night Race, Aug. 24-25, respectively. In addition, Goodyear officials have "scheduled a tire test" at BMS for June 12-13 (BRISTOL HERALD COURIER, 4/26).
AT WHAT COST? In Tennessee, Nate Hubbard writes, "Compared to 2007 -- when the progressive banking was initially installed during a complete resurfacing of the track -- the latest revamp is a minor adjustment." Final financial figures "were never released" for the '07 resurfacing and BMS officials yesterday "gave only 'eight figures' as the total for the past work." Bruton Smith had previously cited $1M "as the amount of money he planned to pour into the track" when he first announced he would be making changes in March. Caldwell said, "I don't know what the final number will end up being. It's kind of like a road project -- you don't know what you're going to run into. I think you can easily say it's going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars." Bruton Smith: "You can't please everyone, but we had more 'don't-touch-its, leave-it-alones' than we did otherwise. What we're doing now is modifying what we have. I really believe we're doing the right thing" (BRISTOL HERALD COURIER, 4/26).
IF I WANTED YOUR OPINION...: Bruton Smith said, "I have built more speedways than anybody in the world, and I have never consulted race drivers when I'm building a speedway because it'll drive you nuts. ... I guarantee you're going to have close to 43 opinions. We're modifying the track. Come August, we'll find out if we were right or wrong." USA TODAY's Nate Ryan notes Smith "had the approval of NASCAR officials" such as VP/Competition Robin Pemberton. NASCAR driver Jeff Burton said, "I find it interesting that some racetracks, when they make some changes, they never call drivers to say, 'OK, here's what we want to do; we know you might not like it, how do we accomplish it?' Guess what? We know more about it [than] some people making those decisions. We might not agree" (USA TODAY, 4/26).
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? SPORTING NEWS' Bob Pockrass wrote, "While track officials might have listened, they ultimately decided to make changes to the track even though 60 percent of the fans surveyed asked them not to change it." Bruton Smith said that he "has never had an issue where fans were so split." He also said that he "did not anticipate a change in ticket prices for next year and even plans on possibly adding 7,000 seats to the 158,000-seat track" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/25). ESPN.com's David Newton wrote Bruton Smith "better be right." If not, NASCAR fans "may create an even bigger public relations nightmare" for him. What Smith is doing "is a far cry from what he seemed to be suggesting after the March 18 race, which was tearing up the progressive banking and building Bristol back to the way it was when it was the toughest ticket in NASCAR." Newton noted it is "an expensive risk if it doesn't work out," but "at least Smith is trying to change things." Besides grinding Bristol, he also "will personally ask Goodyear to bring a softer tire" for the August races. Newton: "To Smith's credit, he's trying to do something about entertaining the fans at Bristol." Smith "may be taking a risk by not returning the track to the way it was, but he didn't become one of the richest people in NASCAR by playing it safe" (ESPN.com, 4/25).