There is plenty of optimism at Bristol Motor Speedway heading into 2012.
After a huge red flag with thousands of empty seats at the Food City 500 in March, the track was back under green at the IRWIN Tools Night Race in August, drawing the biggest crowd for any NASCAR race this season.
“You don’t want the ups and downs, but you put it in perspective and you’re thankful for the ups we had,” said Kevin Triplett, BMS vice president of public affairs. “The August crowd was arguably the largest on the circuit this year and we don’t have the infield camping to add to the number.
“The March crowd wasn’t where we wanted it to be, but it was still larger than the majority of the crowds this year. But, we have our goal of selling all the seats we have and when that doesn’t happen, you’re disappointed. But, under the circumstances, we had a pretty good year.”
Obviously, the speedway faces the same challenges of the past three years with a economy slow to recover from a recession. However, in those tough times, the BMS staff has rolled up their sleeves and worked. Triplett can’t remember any time working with the speedway or back in his days with NASCAR that more was done to sell tickets than the months leading up to the August race.
“For us, it was implementing new strategies and doing new things,” he said. “Not to insinuate there wasn’t an effort there before, but we had to redirect our energy because of the circumstances. It’s been a challenging time, but in the end, it was a pretty good year.”
Looking ahead to this coming March, Triplett said the staff is pleased with the way ticket sales seem to be going. There are initiatives for the spring, for August and for season-ticket holders.
“We’re trying to reach all audiences,” Triplett said. “It’s a challenge with a majority of our fans coming from more than six hours away. It’s an investment, not only of money, but time. When they make that kind of investment, we want them to have the best time they can have.”
Much of the credit for Bristol’s strong second half of the 2011 season goes to Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell.
With an unenviable task of taking over the reins following the death of former BMS President Jeff Byrd, Triplett feels Caldwell would have made his mentor proud with the work leading up to the August race.
Over the past couple of years, Caldwell has been at the forefront of working with some NASCAR’s biggest stars to drum up interest for the races. It included a special promotion this past summer with Dale Earnhardt Jr. which the sport’s Most Popular Driver ran a special white and gold paint scheme along with a BMS logo to celebrate the track’s 50th anniversary.
Triplett used an analogy of Byrd planting a tree and Caldwell coming along and nuturing it to help it grow.
His efforts aren’t limited to the two Sprint Cup races, as the track again hosted NASCAR support series races with Nationwide and Truck, along with the Modified Series.
There was a large crowd on hand for Monster Trucks and a new world record was set for a half-mile race track with a lap of 150 mph at the Xtreme Speed Classic in October.
On the dragway side, it was another banner year with the NHRA Ford Thunder Valley Nationals one of the major events on the drag racing calendar.
With the event set Father’s Day weekend, Triplett said it seems to be the perfect date.
“The dragway is literally in the shadow of this big circle track, but we know what we have with that facility,” Triplett said. “It’s one of, if not the, finest drag strip in the country. We said for years if we had a consistent date the Thunder Valley Nationals would take off. Now with a couple of years on a weekend in the summer which everybody can mark on the calendar, we’ve had great events with great racing.”
The DER Bracket Series continues to be strong as well as the Street Fights program which encourages speed demons to race on the drag strip instead of the street.
The various car shows like the Super Chevy Show and Fun Ford Weekend continue to be big hits, as does the All-Harley Drag Racing weekend.
Still in the Christmas season, Speedway in Lights remains the biggest holiday attraction in Northeast Tennessee.
Triplett believes all those factors validate a ranking by a British sports business magazine which placed BMS as one of the 30 most important sports venues in the world.
“To be included among places like Madison Square Garden, Lambeau Field, Wrigley Field and Augusta National, that’s great,” Triplett said. “But, it also brings an expectation with it you have to live up to when people decide they’re coming to Bristol.”