With ticket sales for the Aug. 24 IRWIN Tools Night Race already surpassing those for the Food City 500 in March, Bristol Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell promises his race track will soon return to its No. 1 standing among the fans.
“We will sell the most tickets of any race track in the sport,” Caldwell said last week at an event to promote the upcoming race. “I can say that confidently.”
Caldwell didn’t go as far to guarantee a sell out, although it will take that to beat the NASCAR estimate for the most attended race this season, the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR estimated that crowd at 159,200 with the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas next at 150,000.
Keep in mind, however, those are estimates.
NASCAR originally turned in a number of 180,000 for the Daytona 500, but later amended it to 140,000. However, a source with knowledge said NASCAR is sometimes accurate. He said an estimate of 102,000 for the Food City 500 was accurate and that Bristol Motor Speedway truly sold over 100,000 tickets to its March race.
According to the NASCAR crowd estimates, the Food City 500 ranked ninth out of the first 21 races with races at Charlotte, Indianapolis, Daytona, Talladega and Kentucky all exceeding the 100,000 figure.
Still, Caldwell has been encouraged by the interest in the IRWIN Tools Night Race and the races leading up to it.
“We’re encouraged. I don’t know whether we will make it to a sell out or not, but we’re going to have a huge crowd,” Caldwell said. “There are still struggles out there. The economy is still tough for a lot of folks. But, there is a lot of excitement, fans wanting to see what goes down when the lights come up.”
Changes to the track surface, which were done after an online poll of the fans, have received plenty of positive reviews.
“For the most part, the fans are really excited about it,” Caldwell said. “You talk to some of the drivers and they’re not as excited because they don’t like change. They’ve enjoyed being able to run three-wide. They know this is going to tighten things up and be a challenge. But, race fans overall are excited.”
With the changes to the track finished, questions remain about how the tires, the cars and the drivers themselves will affect the racing. Caldwell added one won’t truly know how the race will go until it actually happens.
“We won’t know in qualifying and we won’t know in practice,” he said. “Wednesday night, we always have a lot of action with the modifieds and truck races. You will get some sense of what the Cup race is going to be like, but you’re not going to know until Saturday night until the IRWIN Tools Night Race fires up.”
The number of caution periods was nearly cut in half after the Bristol track surface was resurfaced in 2007. There were only five cautions for 49 laps at the Food City 500 in March.
Caldwell pointed out, however, there was a lengthy side-by-side battle for the lead between Matt Kenseth and eventual race winner Brad Keselowski.
“There’s never a Bristol race without some kind of excitement,” Caldwell said. “It’s just what excitement whether it’s side-by-side for the lead for 15 laps like we had in March or beating and banging like the old-school days. I’m as excited about it as anybody out there. Probably the only person more excited is Bruton.”
After the disappointing turnout in March, Caldwell said the only option was to be aggressive, tear up the top groove on the track and try to meet the fans’ desires.
“It’s the only option, especially when you work for a man like Bruton Smith,” he said. “You have to respond by doing something,” he said. “You do nothing and you get the same results. We’re going to be aggressive and go after it, and make Bristol the No. 1 facility like it’s been for years and years.”