With Bristol Motor Speedway down to the final few weeks of preparation before its inaugural NASCAR dirt weekend, the list of things left to do has dwindled.
“Really, it’s just grooming the track now,” Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and Bristol general manager, told a handful of reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Obviously, we have a lot of race preparation behind-the-scenes stuff going on, but as it relates to the dirt track itself, it’ll be more grooming the track and bringing cars in for those other events we’ll have running.
“We did that a little bit last week with the Dirt Nationals cars, and their team brought some in. And then allowing our team and kind of the dirt experts that we’ve been working with to give us advice on the track, things that we can do to improve and make that a great show.”
The NASCAR Camping World Truck and Cup Series will run at Bristol on March 27 and 28. Race weekend will feature practice and heat races before the main events.
Bristol’s banking was shallowed up to 19 degrees for the dirt event, and over 23,000 yards of dirt was needed.
Caldwell said officials have been in a “good spot” getting ready for its events and have not encountered anything unforeseen. Bristol does have the experience of putting dirt down back in 2000 and 2001 for World of Outlaws events.
“The response to that concept has been tremendous,” said Caldwell. “It has far exceeded our expectations. We knew it would be popular, but it has far exceeded our expectations.
“Ticket sales are very strong. We’re at capacity for Sunday. We are close to getting at capacity for Saturday. I don’t know if you’ve looked at some of those secondary market websites for ticket sales for Sunday; it’s pretty crazy what the tickets are for the event.”
Positive feedback has also come from the drivers who have reached out to Caldwell.
“They’re all excited,” he said. “They’re really excited with just the attention this is receiving across the board.”
Before NASCAR comes to town, Bristol will host the Bristol Dirt Nationals on March 15-20. The event will feature eight competition classes, and over 1,200 drivers, including some from the NASCAR garage, are expected to compete that week.
The Dirt Nationals will give track officials their first chance to going through track preparations under race conditions and learn how they can be better for NASCAR weekend. Part of that will be making sure there is enough moisture in the dirt to avoid conditions becoming too dry and dusty.
While the Truck Series race will run at night, the Cup Series race will be in the sunshine. Some have already expressed concerns that it will lead to the dirt quickly drying out, especially during a 250-lap race. Steve Swift, senior vice president of operations and development of Speedway Motorsports, acknowledged that is the biggest concern going into the weekend and said they would be working to make sure they have enough moisture built into the dirt to mitigate that happening.
The dirt used came from three different sites. The first was on property just across the street where officials had stored it from the 2000-01 races and is the base layer. All three sites that dirt was taken from were within 30 miles of Bristol.
With dirt track experts across the country, Swift and other Bristol officials decided to stick with the locals. According to Swift, the same individual, Mike Van Genderen, who will oversee track maintenance during the Dirt Nationals, will also be on-site for the NASCAR weekend.
“He’s going to have the most experience with that track and that dirt being on it for six nights and 42 races a night,” Swift said. “He’s been to a lot of dirt tracks across the United States and prepped them, a lot of experience at different types of soil. But our feeling on that is he’s going to have the most experience on that dirt and that track, so it was better to utilize him.
“There’s a lot of local tracks that have offered input and given us information — the reason we went to the local tracks in lieu of the Knoxville’s and places like that is because they’re dealing with the same type of dirt. Again, going back to the different types of dirts that are out there, from the black dirt to the red dirt to the Volusia, different colors they’ve got and dealing with in Florida sands, it’s typically different. So trying to get locals who know the dirt we’re going to be dealing with is what we tried to lean on our hats on.”