Tony Bishop put his camper in line outside the Earhart Campground on Tuesday. He wanted to make sure he had his favorite camping spot, right on the creek in the shadow of the grandstands. Photo by Jeff Bobo.
BRISTOL, Tenn. - The green flag hadn't even fallen to start the NASCAR Nextel Cup race in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon and there were already dozens of early campers staking out their ground for next Sunday's race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Tony Bishop of Erwin actually put his camper in line outside the Earhart Campground last Tuesday. He wanted to make sure he had his favorite camping spot, right on the creek in the shadow of the grandstands.
"We try to get our same spot every year, and this is where we like it," Bishop said. "We pretty much get the same crowd camping in the same place every race, and we're all friends. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows where each other likes to park, so we end up camping in the same place.
"We'll be back in the same spot in August. We're right in the middle of all the action."
Bishop has camped near the racetrack for both races for the past 16 years. He and his wife Connie were actually married on the bridge that connects the Earhart Campground to the racetrack property.
Being right on the creek, Bishop and his regular neighbors have been flooded out more than once the week of the spring race. Bishop said the danger is part of the fun.
"My cooler doubles as a flotation device," he joked. "As long as I keep my head above water and save the beer I'm OK. The big flood scared a lot of people away and they're up on the hill now. They still come down and see us, though."
Fortunately the early forecast for race week is sunny and mild, so high water shouldn't be a problem. Bishop and his wife will be in and out of their campsite all week and expect to spend the night beginning Thursday.
"We just commute back and forth, come back and have a few beers, and then head home for work the next day," Bishop said.
One group that decided to move to higher ground after a flood was already in position Sunday afternoon.
Ron and Sherry Hysell of East Moline, Ill., and Gordon and Betty Sharp of Columbus, Miss., are camped beside each other on the hill at the far north end of the Earhart Campground. They arrived around noon Sunday, and their children will be arriving throughout the week.
Sherry and Betty are sisters, and their families meet twice a year in Bristol for the races.
Aside from being safe from potential floodwaters, they also like that section of the campground because it has electricity, water and septic. And the view from the "front porch" of their motor homes overlooking the racetrack is outstanding.
"We've gotten stuck many times down on the bottom, and now we're up here watching all of that action from above," Betty Sharp said. "Our view is perfect."
They're all retired, and they plan to hang around the campsite all week.
"We've been doing this for about 11 years," Betty Sharp said. "Both races, every year. We come early and relax for a few days waiting for the kids to get here."
Brothers Carl and Clarence Harris from Manchester, Ky., don't come to Bristol races every year, but when they do they like to camp out all week.
Neither can talk their wives into coming, so if one brother gets a pair of Bristol tickets he calls the other brother and they load up Carl's camper.
They arrived Saturday and have been drinking beer and watching NCAA basketball on a portable TV ever since.
"Actually my wife got me Food City 500 tickets this year for our anniversary present," Clarence Harris said. "I think it was more of present for her. She gets a week vacation from me."