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CATEGORIES (articles) > American Motorsport > Race Circuits > Bristol Motor Speedway Race Circuit

Bristol Motor Speedway Race Circuit

Bristol Motor Speedway
Location Bristol, Tennessee
Track length .533 miles (.858 kilometres)
Track shape Oval
Banking Turns - 36°
Straights - 16°
Major events NASCAR Nextel Cup, NASCAR Busch Series, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Capacity 160,000
Address 151 Speedway Blvd., Bristol, Tennessee 37620
Owner Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

Bristol Motor Speedway is a NASCAR short track located in Bristol, Tennessee. It was constructed in 1960, and held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961. The track has geographical coordinates of 36.516172° N 82.256945° W.


One of the most popular tracks in NASCAR, this all-concrete construction is similar to Dover, except far shorter. The advertised banking of 36 degrees in the turns makes Bristol the most steeply banked track used by NASCAR (but see the "Trivia" section for a differing opinion on the turns). However, the track is so short that speeds here are far lower than is typical on most NASCAR oval tracks, making for a considerable amount of "swapping paint". Also, the initial starting grid of 43 vehicles extends almost halfway around the track, meaning that the slower-qualifying cars begin the race almost half a lap down. Another anomaly is that the short overall length means that there are two sets of pits. Until 2002, slower starters ware relegated to those on the backstretch. In 2002, the rules were changed to form essentially one long pit road. During caution periods, cars wishing to pit must enter pit road in turn two, drive all the way down the back stretch, through turns three and four and down the front stretch, exiting pit road in turn one. This rule eliminated the inherent disadvantage of pitting on the back stretch. Pit stops under green flag conditions have different rules. Cars with pits on the back stretch enter the pits in turn two and exit in turn three; Cars with pits on the front stretch enter the pits in turn four and exit in turn one.

The congestion inherent in this facility and the power of the cars has been likened to "flying fighter jets in a gymnasium" (the terms "washing machine" and "toilet" have also been used). The track is one that tends to be either loved or hated by fans and drivers alike--purists who grew up driving or attending races at older short tracks located at fairgrounds and similar places tend to love Bristol while those raised on superspeedway racing tend to chafe at the lower speeds. Often, Bristol races are the scene of the highest number of yellow-flag caution laps in the NASCAR season; with so many cars in such a small space, contact is almost inevitable. Until a 2003 rule change eliminating racing back to the start-finish line and imposing the free pass rule, the short lap length and the unpredictable nature of the racing meant that this was one of the few remaining NASCAR tracks at which it was feasible for a driver to come back to win a race from several laps down; at most modern tracks, especially superspeedways, this is almost impossible. The short lap length also cuts the other way; any unscheduled pit stop for reasons such as a cut tire will result in the driver going two or more laps down as it is almost impossible to get anything done to a car during the time taken to complete one circuit, especially under green-flag conditions (approximately 15 seconds).

Ironically, since 2002 pit rules were instituted, virtually making the track's two pit roads one for caution periods, several drivers have made major mistakes during green flag pit stops by driving through both pit roads when only one is necessary for green flag pit stops.

The drag strip at this facility has long been nicknamed Thunder Valley. Both current Nextel Cup races held at Bristol are for 500 laps; the spring race (daytime) is sponsored by area grocery chain Food City and the late summer race (the popular night-time race, considered "the toughest ticket in NASCAR" to obtain) has rotated among several sponsors; the current sponsor is Newell Rubbermaid's Sharpie marker. Tickets for the Bristol NASCAR event are said to be the second hardest to obtain in all of sports, second only to the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Bristol is also a very fertile ground for other levels and types of racing; Busch Series races here often draw over 100,000 spectators, making it one of the best-drawing Busch venues, and resulted in the Fox network televising the race nationally in 2004-2006.

In 2004, it was the first Busch Series race of the season televised on broadcast network television, and the race, which had been 150 laps in 1982, 200 laps in 1984, and 250 laps since 1990, was a 300-lap race in 2006.

It is also the home of the only midweek (Wednesday) night NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event, held in conjunction with a USAR Hooters ProCup event.

In the past, dirt has been spread over the oval and it has been used for sprint car racing. Even these events have drawn over 100,000 spectators, a crowd almost unheard of in sprint history. Many of the fans come from the East Tennessee area, but thousands more come from all parts of the country to experience Bristol's unique brand of racing. Even in the off-season, the complex attracts fans during the Christmas season by facilitating a miles-long holiday lights display that culminates with a lap on the actual speedway track itself.

Track History

Bristol Motor Speedway could very easily have opened in 1961 under a different name. The first proposed site for the speedway was in Piney Flats but, according to Carl Moore, who built the track along with Larry Carrier and R.G. Pope, the idea met local opposition. So the track that could have been called Piney Flats International Speedway, was built five miles down the road on Highway 11-E in Bristol. The land, upon which Bristol Motor Speedway is built, used to be a dairy farm. Larry Carrier and Carl Moore traveled to Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960 to watch a race and it was then that they decided to build a speedway in northeast Tennessee. However, they wanted a smaller model of CMS, something with a more intimate setting and opted to erect a half-mile facility instead of mirroring the 1.5-mile track in Charlotte.

Work began on what was then called Bristol International Speedway in 1960 and it took approximately one year to finish. Carrier, Moore and Pope scratched many ideas for the track on envelopes and brown paper bags.

Purchase of the land on which BMS now sits, as well as initial construction of the track, cost approximately $600,000. The entire layout for BMS covered 100 acres and provided parking for more than 12,000 cars. The track itself was a perfect half-mile, measuring 60 feet wide on the straightaways, 75 feet wide in the turns and the turns were banked at 22 degrees.

Seating capacity for the very first NASCAR race at BMS – held on July 30, 1961 – was 18,000. Prior to this race the speedway hosted weekly races.

The first driver on the track for practice on July 27, 1961 was Tiny Lund in his Pontiac. The second driver out was David Pearson. Fred Lorenzen won the pole for the first race at BMS with a speed of 79.225 mph.

Atlanta’s Jack Smith won the inaugural event – the Volunteer 500 – at BMS on July 30, 1961. However, Smith wasn’t in the driver’s seat of the Pontiac when the race ended. Smith drove the first 290 laps then had to have Johnny Allen, also of Atlanta, take over as his relief driver. The two shared the $3,225 purse. The total purse for the race was $16,625.

Country music star Brenda Lee, who was 17 at the time, sang the national anthem for the first race at BMS.

A total of 42 cars started the first race at BMS but only 19 finished.

In the fall of 1969 BMS was reshaped and re-measured. The turns were banked at 36 degrees and it became a .533-mile oval.

The speedway was sold after the 1976 season to Lanny Hester and Gary Baker. In the spring of 1978 the track name was changed to Bristol International Raceway.

In August of 1978 the first night race was held on the oval.

On April 1, 1982 Lanny Hester sold his half of the speedway to Warner Hodgdon.

On July 6, 1983, Warner Hodgdon completed 100 percent purchase of Bristol Motor Speedway, as well as Nashville Speedway, in a buy-sell agreement with Baker. Hodgdon named Larry Carrier as the track’s general manager. On January 11, 1985, Warner Hodgdon filed for bankruptcy.

After Warner Hodgdon filed for bankruptcy, Larry Carrier formally took possession of the speedway and covered all outstanding debts.

On Jan. 22, 1996, Larry Carrier sold the speedway to Bruton Smith, of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), at a purchase price of $26 million. At the time of the sale, the facility seated 71,000.

On May 28, 1996 the track’s name was officially changed to Bristol Motor Speedway. By August of 1996, 15,000 seats had been added bringing the seating capacity to 86,000.

BMS continued to grow and by April of 1997 was the largest sports arena in Tennessee and one of the largest in the country, seating 118,000. The speedway also boasted 22 new skyboxes.

For the August 1998 Goody’s 500 the speedway featured more than 131,000 grandstand seats and 100 skyboxes. Improvements to the speedway since Smith took possession are in excess of $50 million.

Under Smith's ownership, all seats were renamed in honour of past winners at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The seating capacity for the Food City 500 in March of 2000 was 147,000 as the Kulwicki Terrace and Kulwicki Tower were completed. Both were named after the late NASCAR star Alan Kulwicki, who was the reigning NASCAR champion when he died in a plane crash in 1993 while on his way to the spring race at Bristol, which he won the previous year.

As a tribute to retiring star Darrell Waltrip, the entire Turn 3 and 4 sections were renamed in his honour in 2000, including a section of seats in Turn 4 near the start-finish line marked as no alcohol permitted. (Waltrip refused to drive for a team in 1987 because its sponsor was of alcoholic beverages.)

The Allison family and David Pearson were also each given grandstands as part of the renaming of grandstands.

As has been the case since the SMI purchase of BMS, improvements continued in and around the Speedway. The 2002 season saw the addition of a long-awaited infield pedestrian tunnel, allowing access into and out of the infield during on-track activity. Also in 2002, a new building was constructed in the infield to house driver meetings.

2002 also witnessed the christening of a new BMS Victory Lane atop the newly constructed building. Kurt Busch won the 2002 Food City 500 on March 24 and became the first Winston Cup winner in the new BMS winner's circle.

Additional improvements in 2002 included new scoreboards located on the facing of the suites in Turns 2 and 3.

On Monday, August 26, 2002 work began on the most ambitious construction project since Speedway Motorsports, Inc., purchased BMS in 1996. The entire backstretch, including the Speedway’s last remaining concrete seats, was demolished. The new backstretch increased the venue’s seating capacity to more than 160,000. The new backstretch includes three levels of seating and is topped with 52 luxury skybox suites. These seats are also named for NASCAR figures, with Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, and Robert Glen Johnson Jr each having a section of the new seats named for them. Dale Earnhardt was given a section in his memory on top.

A 5,000 seat section of the Turn 1 and 2 grandstand, on top of the Alan Kulwicki Grandstand, will be named the Rusty Wallace Grandstand. Wallace's publicist Tom Roberts also worked with Kulwicki and was scheduled to be on the fateful plane which crashed in 1993, but was not aboard because of a last-minute change. Roberts worked with Wallace throughout the remainder of his career as publicist.

Current Races

  • NASCAR Nextel Cup - Food City 500
  • NASCAR Nextel Cup - Sharpie 500
  • NASCAR Busch Series - Sharpie Mini 300
  • NASCAR Busch Series - Food City 250
  • NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series - O'Reilly Auto Parts 200


  • NASCAR Nextel Cup Qualifying: Ryan Newman, 14.908 s (128.709 mph), 2003
  • NASCAR Nextel Cup Race (500 laps): Charlie Glotzbach, 2 h 38 min 12 s (101.074 mph), July 11, 1971
  • NASCAR Busch Series Qualifying: Greg Biffle, 15.093 s (127.132 mph), 2004
  • NASCAR Busch Series Race (300 laps): Kyle Busch, 2:13:59 (71.606 mph), March 25, 2006
  • NASCAR Busch Series Race (250 laps): Harry Gant, 1 h 26 min 2 s (92.929 mph), April 4, 1992
  • NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Qualifying: Ken Schrader, 15.118 s (126.922 mph), 2004
  • NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Race (200 laps): Travis Kvapil, 1 h 12 min 1 s (88.813 mph), August 20, 2003


In an interview with Stock Car Racing's Larry Cothren, driver Ryan Newman openly disputed the measurement of the banking of Bristol Motor Speedway's turns. Newman's crew measured the banking during a test session to aid with setups, and found that the turns were banked 26 degrees, rather than the advertised 36 degrees.

The 2006 Disney-Pixar film Cars used Bristol Motor Speedway as the basis for the racetrack seen in the film's opening race, the "Motor Speedway of the South." The size of the track was increased to give it a more stadium-like appearance.

Bristol Dragway

In addition to the speedway, there is a quarter mile dragstrip that hosts an annual NHRA event each year. Prior to its status as an NHRA national event track Bristol Dragway had a long association with the rival IHRA organization through Larry Carrier which ended when Bruton Smith took over its ownership. The dragstrip has long been nicknamed Thunder Valley due to its location and surrounding scenery.

(Ironically, Carrier's sons now field cars in the NHRA.)

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