BRISTOL — Two-time NASCAR Truck Series champion Todd Bodine took the recent changes to Bristol Motor Speedway a little personal.
He was one of the drivers consulted before the track was reconfigured in 2007. Now that the track surface has been changed again, Bodine isn’t exactly jumping for joy.
“To be quite honest, I was pretty disappointed with the whole process,” he said Monday at the speedway to promote next month’s UNOH 200 Camping World Truck Series race. “I had a lot to do with the configuration and changing of the track. A year before they changed it, I sat down with the engineers at Charlotte for about an hour and a half. We discussed the whole thing and they asked my ideas and what I thought should be changed.
“They did everything I thought should be done, and it was an incredible track to race on.”
However, as the speedway has promoted in its recent advertising campaign, this time the change was about what the fans wanted instead of the drivers.
An estimated 102,000 fans showed up in March for the Food City 500 at the 160,000-capacity stadium, leading track owner Bruton Smith to poll the fans about the track surface. In overwhelming numbers, they wanted the old Bristol back.
While it’s not exactly back to the old surface, it’s clear the racing should be tighter after the top groove was cut down.
Timothy Peters, Bodine’s teammate at Red Horse Racing and the current Camping World Truck Series points leader, took the side of the fans over his fellow drivers concerning the changes.
“Without the fans’ diehard love of the sport, we wouldn’t be here,” Peters said. “I think it’s cool that you get back to what the fans want to see. From an owner’s or driver’s standpoint, you don’t want to see torn-up equipment. But this place is known for action.
“It’s definitely going to be interesting. If it comes down to a green-white-checkered (finish), you might put the bumper to somebody like it used to be.”
However, Bodine believes Smith may have overreacted in changing the track surface. He’s not sure that was actually the problem.
“Because of a couple of bad races, I won’t say they ruined it because you can never ruin Bristol,” said Bodine, a former Nationwide Series winner at the speedway. “But to take that outside groove away isn’t the answer.
“We need Goodyear to fix the tires. The left-side tires have always been way too hard here. Any race that you watch here, when the bottom groove rubbers up, there is no rubber on the bottom. It’s on the right-side tires. That tells you the left sides are too hard. That’s what ruined the racing — too hard left-side tires and not enough stagger.”
According to Bodine, it wasn’t the fault of Smith or anyone else with the speedway for the fans not liking what they saw on the race track.
“I feel bad for Bruton that he took it upon himself to take the blame for it,” Bodine said. “It wasn’t his or anybody at the speedway’s fault. It was the circumstances of what we had to race with. It would have been a simple fix to fix the tires and to get the side-by-side racing better.”
However, the biggest complaint of the fans wasn’t side-by-side racing, but the lack of fender rubbing and crashes for which Bristol was famous for. Bodine, a veteran with 40 career starts in NASCAR’s three national touring series at Bristol, pointed out that issue isn’t unique to Bristol.
“I know the fans didn’t like all the green-flag laps,” Bodine said. “That wasn’t the product of the race track. It’s the product of great race car drivers not making mistakes.
“When you get the quality of drivers you have in all three series now, you’re going to have green-flag racing. It’s not just Bristol, it’s every track we go to. They have been several races this year with 1-2 cautions per race. Because the quality of drivers, equipment, pit crews and everything that goes into this is so high, there are no mistakes made.”
Notes: Jerry Caldwell, BMS executive vice president and general manager, announced Monday the University of Northwestern Ohio would sponsor both races of the Wednesday, Aug. 22 doubleheader.
Already the title sponsor of the UNOH Perfect Storm 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series, the college also will sponsor the UNOH 200 Camping World Truck Series event.
Caldwell also unveiled a special ticket price for local fans with $20 tickets available for fans who live in Carter, Greene, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties in Tennessee, and Lee, Scott, Washington and Wise Counties in Virginia.
“It’s about the people who surround that race track and support the track,” he said. “Those in our local area always go above and beyond when it comes to the events at BMS. They take pride in this facility as part of their community. We wanted to make an unbelievable night of racing even greater for those who see the speedway every day.”