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Nathan Baker

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Fast cars equal big business for Johnson City

March 11th, 2014 10:17 pm by Nathan Baker

Fast cars equal big business for Johnson City

The race is big business for all of the Tri-Cities, including Ridgewood Barbecue. (Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press)

As the high-banked oval of Bristol Motor Speedway churns to life, hundreds of thousands of fans, drivers and support staff will flock to the Tri-Cities this week, bringing millions of dollars rolling into the local economy from race-related tourism.

Johnson City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gary Mabrey said the biannual race weekend is a boon for the region’s hospitality industry.

“We’ve come up with a quick number in-house, and we’ve found that one race has a $3 million to $4 million impact on Johnson City’s economy alone,” Mabrey said Tuesday. “With more than 130,000 people coming into the community, they’re spending money on hotel rooms, gas, food, souvenirs and a number of other things. This weekend, when you factor in the multiplier effect, will have a multimillion-dollar impact. Race weeks are awesome, and they are great economic drivers for us.”

Although Bristol’s campgrounds are usually packed with tents and RVs during the motorsporting event, hotel rooms are still in high demand each time the spring and summer races roll around, causing a hike in rates.

Kristen Price, assistant general manager at Johnson City’s Courtyard by Marriott, said the races are the hotel’s biggest events of the year.

Like many area lodging establishments, the Marriott offers a special race package, theirs requiring payment for a minimum of three nights.

On Tuesday, Price said there were a few rooms available, a rarity in the lead-up to the big weekend.

“Prices do jump, like they do at every other place in the Tri-Cities during the race,” she said. “It’s kind of like going to the beach in the summer time. We have the beach front property.”

Staff at Ridgewood Barbecue, near a major route leading to the track, are already making preparations to serve race fans and stars later this week.

“We’ve had our regular customers coming in earlier this week, so they won’t have to get into the crowd from the race,” Ridgewood manager Cindy Dobbins said. “By about Thursday or Friday, the race fans will really step in, and we’ll have huge ‘to-go’ orders from the racing teams and NASCAR employees.”

Dobbins, a 26-year employee at Ridgewood, said the barbecue joint has served many drivers and other stars over the years.

Jamie McMurray, one of only three NASCAR drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year, eats there every time the race comes to town, she said.

Other past notables include retired driver and current television analyst Rusty Wallace and the late Benny Parsons, a famed announcer and 1973 Winston Cup champion.

“We definitely get a lot of customers from the track,” she said. “We’ve had people who started coming here 10 years ago, and they still come here when they come to the race. Some of them remember their server’s name from the years before and specifically ask for them when they come in.”

To cope with the business bump, Dobbins said the restaurant will have extra staff on hand and plans to smoke more meat than usual.

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