BRISTOL, Tenn. — At Bristol Dragway, bragging rights are always on the line.
That’s certainly true during the popular Fas Mart Street Fights program, which takes Thunder Valley by storm nearly every Thursday night during the spring and summer.
The program, which gives local drivers the chance to plunk down 10 bucks, pull up to the starting line and race on Bristol’s famous quarter-mile, is entering its 10th year of existence and picking up speed with each passing year.
“It’s got a lot of momentum behind it,” said Wes Ramey, who handles public relations for the dragway. “It started as a way to keep kids off the street, to bring them to a safe environment to race with trained professionals.
“Now we get people who race their minivans, big trucks, small cars, anything you can think of.”
But sometimes the most intense competition doesn’t happen on the dragstrip. That was certainly the case during the Diamond Dig, a promotion held during Street Fights a couple weeks ago.
The premise was simple — a diamond ring was buried in a kid’s swimming pool filled of sand. Eight women were picked out of the crowd, and the first one to find the ring owned it.
“It was quite a show,” Ramey said, laughing. “There was sand flying a lot of places, I’ll tell you that much.”
That sort of audience participation, Ramey said, helps to set Street Fights apart from other local racing programs.
The action on the track is the main draw every Thursday night, but Street Fights isn’t just a spectator sport. While the drivers pay $10 to race, fans have to pay only $5 to be part of the show.
“We have a lot of great competitions and things during the night because the fans at Street Fights are as big a part of the action as what’s going on on the track,” Ramey said. “We have promotions for every event we do. Street Fights, we look at it as a minor league baseball game — we have promotions around it.”
Over the years, Ramey said the same drivers have started showing up at Street Fights more consistently, allowing the fans to become familiar with them. Some drivers have developed into fan favorites while others have gained infamy over the years.
Either way, it all makes for a better show.
“It’s all about building the characters,” Ramey said. “The NHRA has got their characters, but we’ve got our characters, too.”
Among them is an 82-year-old driver from Kentucky who shows up most weeks with a car that sizzles down the dragway at about 186 mph — to the delight of the fans. A driver looking to get booed like Carl Edwards at a Keselowski family reunion need only to show up and beat this fan favorite, Ramey said.
“Everyone likes to see him run,” Ramey said. “It’s sort of a feel-good story. The guys that do beat him, (the fans) don’t like that.”
The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, which will be at the dragway on Father’s Day weekend, is obviously the biggest draw of the year.
There is plenty of other action on tap this season at Bristol Dragway, however, including the bracket racing that is offered by the DER Series nearly every weekend throughout the spring and summer.
Other special events include the NHRA Junior Drag Racing Eastern Conference Finals in July and a visit from Rich Christensen and the Pinks All Out crew at the beginning of October.
Almost every manufacturer will have its day in the sun as the Ford Blue Oval Bash, Super Chevy Show, Dodge Mopar Thunder and All-Harley Drag Racing events make stops in Bristol throughout the year.
For more information on Bristol Dragway and a full schedule of the strip’s events, go online at bristoldragway.com.