Steven Watts sets up the"Bristol Bash Campground and Resort" at his home Wednesday Aug. 21, 2013. Photo by David Grace
KINGSPORT - Engines roar as the race car comes out of the high banks of Bristol and onto the straightaway.
The car pulls into the pit area and a pit crew clad in green comes out and throws four new tires on. When the car is ready to go, Steven Watts hits the escape button and pauses the game.
That game, Papyrus NASCAR 2003, has led Watts on a journey he had no idea he would take when he first discovered the game 10 years ago.
You see, Watts loves racing. Inside of his home in Rock Springs, framed pictures of racers decorate the walls above his computer. Loving racing led Watts to try and find a computer racing game that would accurately reflect the sport. He said he went through a few games but Papyrus NASCAR 2003 was, and still is, the most realistic.
Watts quickly joined a league, Sim World Motor Sports, and started racing regularly. The league followed the actual NASCAR schedule and raced every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Trucks race on Thursday night, the Nationwide series takes place on Friday and the Sprint Cup race takes place on Saturday.
Racers in the league talk to each other through headsets every race day. On one occasion, Watts proposed a question that would forever alter the landscape of his league and his life.
”After about four or five years, I asked if anyone wanted to come to Bristol,” Watts said. “Jim and Bev from Calgary said, ‘Wow, we’ve always wanted to go to Bristol,’ and I said, ‘Well if you want to go I can get you some tickets.’”
So Watts got tickets for his friends from Canada, got a ticket for his league manager, Frank, and got his daughter and himself some tickets. He said he had five tickets that first year.
What started as a small invite to the Bristol race has turned into an annual bash that seems to get bigger every year. Watts got 22 tickets to the race this year.
Outside of Watts' home at the top of his driveway sits a sign with the initials SWM and signatures of all the drivers in the league. There is also an American flag and a Canadian flag, signaling this annual bash is an international affair.
Watts said all of his guests stay for free and they all pitch in for food. He said this year they were having a low country boil.
Any good bash isn’t complete without music, alcohol and laughter and Watts said they have all those things in spades.
He plays in a local band and they play when at the big cookout, which took place on Thursday. He said the band will play into the night, wrapping up around 9:30 or 10 p.m., but the party doesn’t stop just because the music has.
“We all just build a campfire then we’ll sit around and just talk and laugh and just enjoy one another,” Watts said. “Then on Friday and Saturday we’ll go the race. It’s just a blast.”
The racing game has not only led to an annual gathering, it has also led to long lasting friendships.
Watts took his family to Canada this year to visit with other members of the league who had come down for the bash before.
Of course, when friends are in trouble, you help them out and Watts is no different.
When Frank had lost his job and was struggling to find work in Nashville, Watts invited him to come stay in a trailer on his property for free and to look for work in Kingsport.
Frank stayed for two months, eventually finding work. Now he has moved his whole family to Rock Springs where Watts rents them the trailer.
Watts said he never dreamed this would happen, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“All of this started over a little game,” Watts said. “It’s just an extended family.”