It has been a bit of the same routine for the ESPN guys. They’ve shared memories of the different stops on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour during the network’s last season of broadcasting the races.
Allen Bestwick, the lead announcer on the network’s NASCAR coverage, will tell you, however, there is something different about the crew’s last visit to Bristol Motor Speedway, site of this Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race.
“There is no other place like it,” he said. “You see the complex around you and the cars rocketing around there at a dizzying pace. You see how fast they go around this little race track. I will go stand in the corners and look up at the race cars just to remind myself of how steep the banking is, and all the drivers have to do every single lap.
“On race day, there are a lot of people in a small space. It creates an atmosphere so different than most places. There is so much electricity and a high sense of energy, excitement. People are determined they’re having a good time as soon as they walk through the gates. It creates a crazy, party atmosphere different than most places.”
At every stop, there has been a time to reflect. More than the races, Bestwick thinks about the people he misses and the places away from the track. At Bristol, he remembers a couple of good friends who died in recent years.
“When I go to Bristol, I still think about (former track president) Jeff Byrd, the times we had and the laughs we shared,” he said. “So many things come flashing back, like Thursday night at Ridgewood Barbeque. That was a staple in my time working with Benny (Parsons). When the night race was over back in the day, we would drive back to Charlotte after the race. Riding up through the mountains on (Highway) 421 with Benny, that was an always an adventure with the laughs, the stories and having a NASCAR champion behind the wheel.”
Bestwick, a Rhode Island native, first came to Bristol as part of the Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast team in 1987. He already had nearly a decade of experience at that point. As a teenager, he had served as the announcer at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway where his father raced. The experience of working at that short track, located ironically in Bristol County, and broadcasting a variety of other sports led to an opportunity with MRN in 1986. Less than a year later, he got his first taste of the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”
There have been plenty of great moments since, although nothing tops a pair of Nationwide Series (then Busch Series) incidents.
“We were on the air when Michael Waltrip had the crash at the (turn 2) gate in 1990,” he said. “To see Michael get up out of what was left of the car and walk away, it was one of the most amazing sites I’ve ever seen on a race track.
“There was the total destruction of that race car, but there was a lack of injury to Michael.”
While it appeared to be a modern miracle that Waltrip emerged unscatched from the wreckage of the No. 30 Pontiac, Bestwick’s other standout memory was shocking because of a lack of focus by a future Hall of Famer.
“They waved the caution and Mark Martin was leading the race,” he recalled. “He pulled off the track at the white flag instead of the checkered flag and David Green won the race. That one stood out to me, to be so bizarre. Otherwise, what stands out about Bristol is the great racing, the people pushing and shoving. There are just so many great nights there.”
Bestwick has announced plans to stay with ESPN and ABC next season as their lead broadcaster for the IndyCar Series. He’s excited about the opportunity, but admits there will be a tinge of sadness after Saturday night.
In fact, some of the folks he grew up with have made a part of their plans to be at his last Bristol race.
“I have people from Rhode Island who are making the trip to Bristol for the night race,” he said. “That’s a pretty long drive down I-81, but they’re making the drive because Bristol is such a special place. I feel the same way. When I walk in there with the atmosphere and the vibe, it’s a real treat.”comments powered by Disqus