BRISTOL, Tenn. — There’s a good chance there won’t be a NASCAR event at Bristol Motor Speedway next March, BMS President and General Manager Jeff Byrd said Wednesday.
“The citizens of this region shouldn’t count on the spring date being the same as it’s been the last couple of years,” Byrd said during a press event at Bristol Dragway. “We’ve petitioned (NASCAR officials) hard to move the race date further into the year. They’ve listened to us. They’ve not made a decision on the schedule yet. But they’ve given us reason to believe they will seriously consider moving the date.”
A lot of people plan vacations, weddings, and when they’re going to rent the yard out or their house out, around BMS’s NASCAR dates, Byrd said, “and they just shouldn’t take it for granted the spring race is going to be in March again next year.”
April is a possibility, Byrd said — except for April 12, which is Easter in 2009.
“We’d love to go to June and run two night races, but they wouldn’t entertain that,” Byrd said. “They said they would talk about April. We’re hoping they’ll move it into April.”
Byrd said it’s “undeniable” that gas prices and the general economy have had an impact on NASCAR this year — noting empty seats in the grandstands at some events and venues, including the sold-out Sprint Cup race at BMS in March.
But Byrd is confident BMS’s ranking as number one among fans gives the track — and the region — and economic edge in the current economy.
“I believe Bristol is the best product in NASCAR,” Byrd said. “There’s no doubt about that — the fans tell us that, the polls tell us that. So, when fans are deciding where to go and where to spend their money, Bristol is going to be the last place they cut out. We’re well positioned for this economic downturn as the premier facility in the fans’ minds. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to have to work awfully hard to keep them coming. I think next spring is going to be a challenge for all of us.”
Byrd also shared some other BMS initiatives relating to the economy:
• Track owner Bruton Smith has agreed not to raise ticket or camping prices for next year at BMS.
“We’re trying to keep everything flat for the race fans,”
• After the August race, BMS is going to allow campers to leave trailers in a secure area for storage until the spring 2009 race.
“They can drive just their tow cars home, and won’t have to spend ... for gas to take their motor coach back. We’ll keep it down here in a safe place for them and when they come back for the spring race it’ll be ready.”
The idea, Byrd said, came from a fan’s suggestion and it’s met with a really good reception so far.
He said BMS has encouraged other campgrounds to do the same and band together to get through “this difficult period.”
• BMS, Byrd said, continues to have an ongoing dialogue with city officials and Chamber of Commerce staff about an increased focus on tourism.
“We’re going to help them promote downtown Bristol,” Byrd said. “The thing that absolutely has to happen, and this community has to rally behind, is getting the Birthplace of County Music Cultural Center built. That is a must for us. Anything that we can do to help downtown, to help the Birthplace of Country Music, we’re ready to do that.”