Artist's rendering, courtesy Bristol Motor Speedway
BRISTOL, Tenn. — After years of speculation and negotiation, what was once a dream for many area college football fans finally became a reality on Monday.
On Sept. 10, 2016, it will be football time in Thunder Valley.
Officials at Bristol Motor Speedway came together with representatives from Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee on Monday morning to formally announce the Battle at Bristol, a football game between two storied programs that will take place inside the half-mile racetrack in a little less than three years' time.
“It was 17 years ago that this was just a dream of two guys, Jeff Byrd, then president of Bristol Motor Speedway, and Bruton Smith,” said Marcus Smith, the COO and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc. “It’s amazing that right here, in the middle of NASCAR country and college football country we can come together today and celebrate now what can be a reality.”
Joining Marcus Smith and BMS general manager Jerry Caldwell at Monday’s elaborate press conference, which took place in the infield of the track, were the head football coaches and athletic directors from both schools.
There was no shortage of excitement from both sides of the matchup, which will likely shatter the record for the largest crowd to ever attend a college football game. The record is currently 115,109, set just last month when Michigan and Notre Dame played at Michigan Stadium.
Given the fact that BMS can sit 160,000 and track officials anticipate adding temporary seating on the track surface, the Tennessee/Virginia Tech game could set a record that won’t be broken for quite some time.
“I’ve been blessed to be a part of some very big football games in some outstanding venues, but nothing rises to the level of what we’re sitting here talking about today,” said Tennessee AD Dave Hart. “With the capacity of Bristol Motor Speedway, with the two universities which are about two hours from this venue, it’s the perfect match.”
Speculation about the possible meeting between the teams at BMS hit a fever pitch in August 2005 when Bruton Smith publicly offered both schools $20 million to play at the track. Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver said Monday that neither side came close to accepting that offer, but recent talks between Weaver and Hart eventually led to Monday’s announcement.
“Seventeen years ago, I’d just come to Virginia Tech and I remember talking to (former UT athletic director) Doug Dickey about the possibility of a game,” Weaver said. “And then Mike Hamliton. Lo and behold, Dave Hart, a good friend for many years, and I engaged in some dialogue this past summer. We worked together with Jerry (Caldwell) and it’s a reality that is as big as anything that has happened in the world of football.”
Neither school commented on the payout for the upcoming game, and track officials also declined to disclose a dollar figure.
For more coverage of this story, see Tuesday's print edition or the expanded electronic version of the Times-News.