‘Fan at the Track: Bristol Dirt’ is an in-person perspective of the action in the dirt from Andy Laskey, one of our Fan4Racing crew members. (All Photos by Andy Laskey)
‘Unpredictable,’ is the word of the Bristol Dirt weekend. It was my second NASCAR weekend of 2021 and neither the Bristol Dirt races nor the Daytona 500 were planned. Sometimes the spontaneous race weekends make for some of the best adventures.
Historic Day on Bristol Dirt
Bristol on dirt is a historic weekend in many ways. The NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series were making their debut on the new dirt surface at the Bristol Motor Speedway. And, the high banked half-mile oval in eastern, TN is not a typical venue for racing on dirt. While the trucks have raced at Eldora Speedway in recent years, the Cup Series hasn’t raced on dirt in over 50 years. As a fan of racing for more than 20 years, it is hard to recall a more anticipated moment in the sport.
My Favorite Driver is an Ace on Dirt
A month ago, this race weekend wasn’t even on my schedule. When my favorite driver, Chase Briscoe, announced his intention to enter the Truck Series event, it was clear that I needed to be there given his dirt success throughout his career. By the time my truck ticket was secured, any Cup tickets were long since sold out. I was ok with that because just being at Bristol for a Truck Series dirt race was enticing enough.
The Weather Delay
The race weekend started with some adversity as severe thunderstorms and heavy rain plagued both Saturday and Sunday on-track activities. My original plan was to be at Bristol only for Saturday and then head home. Unfortunately, with everything rained out both Saturday and Sunday, and the heat races canceled, it meant waiting around an additional two days. The wait and added expenses were worth every penny as ticket holders for either Truck or Cup were allowed to attend both events. At that point I knew Monday, March 29th, 2021 would be an awesome day.
Under bright sunny skies, I drove to Bristol Monday morning not really knowing what to expect. It was my fourth trip to Bristol but with it being a dirt track for this weekend, there were so many unknowns. I managed to get to my seat barely in time for pre-race ceremonies, engines fired, and for the pace laps to begin.
For a Monday crowd, there were plenty of race fans in attendance, mostly NASCAR fans but, plenty of dirt racing fans too. A lot of excitement hung in the air with everyone knowing the significance of the day. For me, as a dirt racing novice, I tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could throughout the week leading into the race.
The NASCAR Truck Series
The truck race went green and I was immediately entertained. Track conditions seemed ideal and the racing was good. Side by side racing and passing were common early on. I found myself standing a lot due to the close racing and the many incidents taking place throughout the event. It was intriguing to visibly see the track change from pure dirt to packing into a rubbered-up hard surface from the tires. As the track changed, the preferred groove was the rubbered-up groove, and keeping up with the truck handling was crucial. Before I knew it, the 150 lap event ended and it was hard to contain my excitement.
In between races, track workers spent significant time preparing the track for the Cup race, taking away the hard-packed rubbered surface and bringing it back to pure packed dirt. It was interesting to watch the process of essentially roto-tilling the dirt surface, applying water, and re-packing it.
The NASCAR Cup Series
Now it was time for the first Cup race on dirt in over 50 years. Like the Truck race, the racing was good and it was fun watching the drivers working to maintain car control, tire wear, and an ever-changing track surface. While drivers with dirt racing backgrounds were considered the favorites heading into the weekend, it was amazing to see so many Cup regulars quickly figure out dirt racing. As the race wore on, dust made the visibility difficult and making it tough for spotters and drivers to navigate. When the dust settled, literally, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano were the drivers to claim victory.
As I reflect on the day’s events, it seems that dirt racing is here to stay. The idea of more dirt racing excites me because NASCAR drivers are the most versatile drivers in the world when it comes to the variety of tracks and surfaces they race on. For NASCAR’s first dirt weekend at Bristol, it is apparent a lot of hard work went into the dirt racing weekend at Bristol, and for that, fans can applaud NASCAR.
The weekend was slightly bittersweet. For me, it was the idea of being at Bristol without the traditional concrete surface that we all love so much. Bristol is certainly worthy of the traditional two concrete races per year. But at the same time, I applaud NASCAR for thinking of a new way to present racing at the track. I recommend any fan go try the dirt racing experience at Bristol. An overall very enjoyable experience and a day I won’t soon forget.