The reaction was overwhelming, even to those who have seen the plans for the massive project from day one. Its bright lights and booming sounds eclipsed the news that NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace was named grand marshal for Sunday’s Food City 500 Sprint Cup Series race.
“We’ve been working on this for over two years and it feels great to see it finally come together,” Jerry Caldwell, BMS executive vice president and general manager, said. “To unveil Colossus today is one for the history books of Bristol Motor Speedway.”
To show how it might work for Sunday’s race, a replay of the final few laps of last August’s night race was shown with the video and graphics of the car numbers displayed underneath the action.
The sponsor of Sunday’s race was enthusiastic in his praise for Colossus, and like Caldwell, applauded the efforts of Speedway Motorsports Chairman Bruton Smith, who first came up with the idea of the massive video displays.
“The first thing that comes to your mind is, ‘Wow,’” Food City CEO Steve Smith said. “What an addition here at Bristol. Marcus and Bruton Smith, along with Jerry and his team here, have shown quite a commitment to the race fans. That’s putting the fans first and it’s just incredible. Nobody can deny this is the premier motorsports facility in America, perhaps in the world.”
But, it was pointed out Colossus opens up the speedway to much more than its auto racing events.
In September, the speedway will host two college football games, the first one, the Pilot/Flying J Battle at Bristol between Tennessee and Virginia Tech is expected to shatter all NCAA attendance records by the tens of thousands.
A week later, the track will host East Tennessee State University’s return to the Southern Conference against Western Carolina.
It’s not just sports that Caldwell and his team is looking at for future events.
He would not elaborate on rumors of high-profile musical concerts or that the speedway has been in talks with World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon about staging a major pay-per-view event in Bristol.
“We’ve had some really good conversations,” Caldwell said. “Bristol is already on the map for hosting world-class NASCAR events, but this is great for other sporting events and entertainment events. You look at this place and it really is a coliseum.”
As for questions about the height of the screens for the football games, they hang over 100 feet in the air, well past the 92 feet required by the National Football League. Caldwell said the different safety issues of a structure weighing 700 tons with much of it hanging over a crowded infield were addressed in meetings with engineers from all over the world.
There are 127 tons in the center ring, screen frame and screens, but they are supported by cables larger than those supporting the Golden Gate Bridge.
The screens are five times larger than the old screens in the infield and the former sound system had just 10 two-way loudspeakers compared to 380 three-way loudspeakers for Colossus.
The unveiling overshadowed the otherwise big news that Wallace, who ranks ninth on NASCAR’s all-time win list with 55 victories, nine of them coming at Bristol, would be Sunday’s grand marshal. The Food City CEO pointed out Wallace is the record-holder for spring race wins at Bristol.
“Rusty won our race six times, more than anyone else here,” Smith said. “He’s a Cup champion, a NASCAR Hall of Fame driver, what more could fans ask for than to have Rusty start the race?”