Bristol Motor Speedway officials hit a home run this past Saturday with large crowds showing up for the Fan Appreciation Day and Thompson Metals Monster Truck Madness.
Gary Porter drove Grave Digger to victories in both the racing and freestyle portions of the monster truck event, beating Bristol driver Randy Moore and his War Wizard machine in the final.
For the people who work at the speedway, the best part of the weekend was seeing such a large and enthusiastic crowd show up for the event.
One area newspaper estimated the crowd around 5,000, but the turnout was closer to 15,000, according to those familiar with the layout of the grandstands.
It is a policy of Speedway Motorsports not to release official crowd figures, as the estimates for the Sprint Cup races come directly from NASCAR. However, BMS general manager Jerry Caldwell was definitely happy with Saturday’s turnout.
“We were very pleased with the crowd,” Caldwell said. “It was over a 60 percent increase from the last (monster truck) crowd we’ve had. We want to continue to build on that and bring in some other big-name trucks to give Grave Digger some serious competition.”
Earlier in the day, many fans braved 90-plus degree weather to participate in the Fan Appreciation Day at the BMS infield. Outside the track at the main entrance to the speedway, a carnival was set up.
“Bristol was built on families and families being able to enjoy this place,” Caldwell said. “That was what Saturday was, a great day for family activities. The 50th anniversary is an important deal for us, but also for this region and what the speedway brings to this region.”
Caldwell hopes all the interest in Saturday’s events is a good sign for things to come later this month when the major NASCAR series come to BMS.
“We’ve been really pleased with the turnouts on Saturday and the different initiatives we’ve introduced,” Caldwell said. “A lot of people in the ticket office have been working overtime, and we’re open seven days a week. Things are coming together really nicely. I’m really encouraged.”
n The action was high-flying at Bristol with the monster trucks, but it got down and dirty this past Friday night at Kingsport Speedway.
Teenage sensation Blake Jones of Sevierville appeared to be headed to his first NASCAR Late Model Stock win on the 3/8-mile concrete track, but veteran racer Lee Tissot of Asheville, N.C., bumped his way past Jones with two laps remaining to capture his fourth win of the season.
Jones and Johnson City driver Zeke Shell started on the front row for the 60-lap feature, but Blountville’s Nate Monteith passed Shell for the runner-up spot on lap 2. Two laps later, Tissot moved past Shell into the third spot.
The 14-year-old Jones was riding out front over the next several laps, while things heated up between Tissot and Monteith.
Tissot rubbed along the driver’s side of Monteith’s car on lap 23, and a lap later the left front tire on Monteith’s Chevrolet went flat with sparks showering from under the car. It brought out the caution and sent a fuming Monteith to the rear of the field.
Five laps later, Brad Housewright of Kingsport and Robbie Ferguson of Jonesborough tangled as they raced for fifth position which resulted in Housewright slamming hard into the turn one wall.
Showing his displeasure, Housewright ran through the pits over to where Ferguson’s car was parked. He proceeded to jump up and kick the driver’s window-net on Ferguson’s car before being restrained by track officials.
Once racing resumed, Tissot passed Jones for the lead on lap 49, but Jones retook the top spot three laps later. It led to the exciting finish which included Monteith charging through the field to wind up third.
Daniel Pope of Smyrna finished fourth and Shell ended up fifth.
Headlining the preliminary races, Chuck Crigger of Surgoinsville led all 30 laps of the Street Stock feature for his eighth win of the season.
Drew Shortridge of Abingdon, Va., held off points leader Hayden Woods of Piney Flats to win his first-ever Legends feature and Pie Short of Abingdon, Va., captured her third Rookie Pure 4 victory.
Kingsport Speedway has another night of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action scheduled for this Friday and then plays host to the UARA Touring Series on Saturday, Aug. 13.
n Bolstered by three individual wins — Kammon Simpson (age 10 division), Ashley Cole (13), and Rylee Stufflebeam (15) — the team from Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis claimed top honors at the 2011 NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League Eastern Conference Finals this past weekend at Bristol Dragway.
Drivers from Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania joined the three Indiana racers as individual winners.
Bristol Dragway has two-wheel action slated this weekend with the always popular All-Harley Drag Racing Association Thunder in the Valley Nationals.
There are 16 classes of competition including the Nitro classes where the bikes can run well in excess of 200 mph.
Gates open Friday at noon with a test and tune from 4-8 p.m., followed by live music. Racing gets underway at 3 p.m. on Saturday and at noon on Sunday.
n The STARS Volunteer Racing Series will make a first-ever visit to Volunteer Speedway on Saturday to headline ‘Fan Appreciation Night.’
The STARS (Short Track Auto Racing Series) Super Late Models will compete in the $3,000-to-win “Back To School Bash 40.” Also in action will be the Pro Late Model and Hobby Stock divisions.
Prior to the evening of racing, all fans will be allowed to come down to the infield pits for a “meet-and-greet” session with the drivers and to get an up-close look at the race cars. Drivers will hand out goodies representing themselves and their sponsors, while the track will have many prize giveaways throughout the night.
Grandstands open at 5 p.m. with Fan Appreciation Night activities scheduled to start at 6:45 p.m. Hotlaps are set to begin around 8:15 p.m. to be followed by qualifying and
Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at email@example.com.