How did we get here?
Bristol Motor Speedway is closing out its 50th anniversary celebration in style this weekend with a racing extravaganza that would have been unimaginable on that late July afternoon a half-century ago when the first NASCAR race was run at the halfmile track.
We take it all for granted now. The sleek steel grandstands, the air-conditioned luxury boxes, the giant video screen, the traveling circus of brightly colored souvenir trailers.
In Bristol, twice a year, NASCAR racing seems like a birthright. The best stock car racers on the planet roll right into our backyard and put on a show that you just can’t see anywhere else.
Many of these drivers marvel at the fact that nobody else has tried to build a Bristol Motor Speedway somewhere else.
To the Tony Stewarts and Jeff Gordons of the world, the idea seems like a no-brainer. A slam so many events shaped the speedway’s course over the years.
But the biggest scare came on Jan. 22, 1996, when Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. purchased the track.
There was speculation that the track could lose one or both of its Cup dates, a fate that ultimately befell North Wilkesboro Speedway just over the mountains in North Carolina.
As it turned out, those fears were soon extinguished and Smith transformed the track into the crown jewel it is today.
But of all the things that have shaped the fate of Bristol Motor Speedway, one factor has outweighed all the rest.
This anniversary would not have been possible if it weren’t for the extraordinary support of the fans.
Every time seats were added, those seats were filled. And when drivers talk about coming to Bristol, their eyes almost always light up with excitement as they describe the mass of humanity that rises all around them when they take the green flag.