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September 14, 2014

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Bristol Motor Speedway has become too polite

If you owned a Rolex watch, you would probably treat it with kid gloves. You’d protect it, preserve it and you certainly wouldn’t replace its Swiss time-keeping mechanism with the workings of a $15 watch from Walmart.

That’s how I feel about Bristol Motor Speedway. It was a thing of beauty with character and a reputation that made it famous. So why change it?

Bristol was resurfaced in 2007 to become wider and to add an additional racing groove. This ended the aggressive and physical bumper-to-bumper racing that drivers disliked but fans loved. Now drivers can pass with greater ease without having to use their front bumpers to nudge a slower car out of the way. As a result, the drama, emotion and unpredictability that used to define the racing at this track are largely gone.

1999 Bristol night race

The racing at Bristol is still good and I still enjoy watching it. But it used to be a track where, more than most tracks, you saw how each driver had to be a warrior to survive 500 laps on the high banks. Now Bristol is just too polite.

So is this why we saw so many empty seats on Sunday’s race? It could be one of many factors that have turned the most sought after ticket in motorsports into an event that can’t fill the grandstands. But it’s also logical that many things are at play here. The recession, gas prices and maybe the week off before the Bristol race all contributed to so many fans staying home.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder how many fans would have been in the stands if the old racing surface were still being used.

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