Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Caldwell looks at the early indicators and is encouraged by ticket sales for next month’s IRWIN Tools Night Race.
“We had a good spring and I’m encouraged because we’re seeing more corporate activity,” he said. “To me, that’s a leading indicator for the general population to come along. I’m encouraged with what I see, and we’re coming off two good race weekends. Last August was really exciting and March, we had our typical Bristol drama. Race fans are wanting to see what’s next.”
Caldwell falls short of promising a sellout for next month’s race. There were 55 straight sellouts for Sprint Cup races at BMS from 1982-2009 before the streak came to an end at the 2010 Food City 500. Caldwell does believe, however, that a a new streak is not far off.
“The day is coming soon whether it’s in August or next year,” he said. “I fully believe we’re coming around and headed in the right direction. The sport has great things going on and the economy is turning. There is a bell-weather mentality with Bristol as how it relates to the rest of the sport. Everyone wants to see a sell-out. Talking to Greg Biffle, he wants to see that happen. He wants all those people in the seats because this is such a special place. The drivers want those grandstands full because they know the energy of those race fans and what they mean to the sport.”
While there’s more excitement towards Bristol, it’s not the case with every track. The crowd at Michigan two weeks ago was noticably smaller than in years past.
The challenges of a still struggling economy have Caldwell and his staff working harder than ever to sell tickets. The track had a press release on Monday touting four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon stopping by to meet fans in the Pepsi Half-Mile Club before the IRWIN Tools and Caldwell promised more announcements to enhance the fans’ experience.
The latest marketing campaign centers on BMS being the Sprint Cup tour’s battleground. Caldwell said the fans have embraced the Bristol Battles microsite, especially those focused on Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte and Tony Stewart vs. Matt Kenseth.
For those at the speedway, they take the empty seats personally. Caldwell said it’s that way from the top down, and it’s a mentality shared by Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith.
“It’s what we live for, what we pour our blood, sweat and tears into every day,” Caldwell said. “How do we make it bigger and better for the race fans? We work for those race fans and we have to make it better for them.”
Kingsport Speedway points leader Chad Finchum scored his third Late Model Stock win of the season this past Friday night, holding off Johnson City’s Zeke Shell at the end of the 60-lap feature.
Finchum had the fast time in qualifying and after an inversion of the top-four qualifiers, worked his way towards the lead, only to fall back to fourth after contact from Ronnie McCarty.
It didn’t deter Finchum, an 18-year-old from Knoxville, who finally grabbed the lead on lap 23 and held it the rest of the way.
Shell fought his way from a seventh-place starting spot for the runner-up finish. Derrick Lancaster of Christiansburg, Va., was third, and Robbie Ferguson, the 2002 track champion from Jonesborough, finished fourth. Joey Trent of Gray had a career-best with a seventh-place finish.
In addition, the race marked the return of two-time defending track champion Nate Monteith, who had taken the first part of the season off to get his used car dealership going. Monteith qualified second fastest and soon worked his way to second in the race. He battled up front until gettting spun on lap 53. He finished 12th.
Paul Nogradi Jr., who started on the pole after the inversion, had a spectacular crash on lap 7 after contact from Lee Tissot. His car got airborne and flipped over, skidding on its roof until coming to rest in turn three. Nogradi emerged from the wreckage with no major injuries.
Finchum now holds a 13-point lead over Shell in the Late Model point standings. Daniel Pope II of Smyrna is third, just one point behind Shell.
In other Friday races, Allen Rich of Sylva, N.C., won his second straight Street Stock feature, holding off Surgoinsville’s John Harrell at the end of the 30-lap race.
Billy Ketron of Kingsport won his first-ever Pure 4 race, passing his father John with three laps to go for the win. Billy’s older brother, Jason, finished fourth.
The Legends race was also a family affair as Jerry Lane of Kingsport held off sons Derek and Trey for the victory. The Rookie Pure 4 race saw a determined Bruce Crumbley of Kingsport charge from an eighth-place starting spot to score his second win of the season.
Another night of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing is scheduled for Friday.
Elizabethton’s Carl Widener doubled up Sunday at the DER Bracket Series at Bristol Dragway.
Widener beat Bristol’s John Isom in the Sportsman final and bested fellow Elizabethton resident Larry Price in the Pro final.
Ethan Ford of Jonesborough was victorious in Junior Dragster, Division 1, while Amy Thompson of Mountain City defeated Mark Crowe of Butler in the Trophy final.
Other winners were: Chris Johnson (Super Pro), Dennis Gibbons (Motorcycle) and Dylan Kiser (Junior Dragster, Division 2).
Jeffrey Walls of Knoxville led the list of Saturday’s winners with his Super Pro victory.
Jason Nelson and Austin Roberts, both of Bluff City, won the Sportsman and Trophy classes respectively, and Chris Friis of Kingsport took the Motorcycle victory.
Kentucky racer Mark Philpor won the Pro division as Peter Protengeier of Gray was the runner-up.
In Junior Dragster, Kaden Haynes won Division 1, and Kiser had the weekend sweep in Division 2.
There were two days of racing the previous weekend with Bill Roberts taking the Super Pro victory on Saturday, June 22.
Other winners included Bill Crane (Sportsman), Jerry Turner (Motorcycle), Carson Brown (Junior Dragster, Division 1), and Dylan Kiser (Junior Dragster, Division 2).
Patty Eads of Bristol was the Trophy Division winner and Jimmy Sias of Johnson City was the runner-up.
Ian Woods of Knoxville topped the Sunday list with his Super Pro win. Other winners included: Cody Spears (Sportsman), Joshua Rogers (Motorcycle) and Brown again in Junior Dragster, Division 1.
Chris Proffitt of Elizabethton beat Amy Thompson of Mountain City in the Trophy final, while Taylor Gill defeated Lucas McKinney in an all-Elizbaethton final for the Junior Dragster, Division 2.
Another weekend of DER Bracket Series racing is scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday.