BRISTOL — For sisters Jillian and Jenna Thomas, racing is in the blood, so it’s easy to see why the two NASCAR fans were all smiles as they walked around downtown Bristol Thursday night, taking in the ultimate fan experience at Food City Race Night in downtown Bristol.
The Thomas sisters, of Blairsville, Ga., have been cheering on their favorite drivers at the world’s fastest half-mile for about the last 10 years. Jenna said their love of racing comes from their father, who raced when she and her sister were both young.
While they missed out on Wednesday night’s race, both Jillian and Jenna were eagerly awaiting the weekend race action at Bristol Motor Speedway during what Jenna called their “favorite vacation of the year.”
“It’s something that we as a family enjoy thoroughly, so it’s something that brings us together and we want to do every year, time and time again. It never gets old to us,” Jenna said.
What is it about Bristol in particular that gets these race fans so revved up? In short, there’s just no place like Bristol, where the focus on racing never seems to fade away, Jillian said.
“It’s small. It’s high-banking. There’s a lot of wrecks, and no matter where you sit, you can see everything. To me, it’s the best track,” she said.
Bristol was the first track Jillian ever visited, and it has remained her favorite ever since she started following the sport.
Another plus to Bristol’s race atmosphere is Race Night, which gives fans the chance to meet some of the biggest names in NASCAR, while mingling with other race fans in downtown Bristol.
That type of fan service is something both sisters love about what Bristol has to offer.
“I think it draws a connection that the people can relate to, and we get to see those drivers and make connections with them. It makes it feel like that they’re people, too, and they’re not just figures on TV like other stars seem to be,” Jenna said.
“Getting their autograph and being able to talk to them all, it makes you feel like you have that one-on-one connection, so you feel important as a fan,” she said.
As a first-timer to both Bristol and Food City Race Night, race fan Aaron Johnston, of Aiken, S.C., was enthralled by the fast-paced energy of a weekend at BMS. Mingling with drivers was just one aspect that made the event something he would never forget.
“This is awesome,” he said after getting an autograph from one of the many drivers lined up on State Street. “A lot of race tracks should do stuff like this, I think. It makes it much more of an event to have something like this going along with just the race.”
Like the Thomas sisters, Aaron said the fan event made him feel like he was a part of all the action.
“It’s huge. You get to talk to drivers who got to race last night and now you get to tell them how you feel about stuff and they listen and talk back. It makes you more connected with the sport, I guess,” he said.