Kingsport Times News Monday, September 1, 2014

Sports Vols Sports NASCAR/Racing

Two-plus years before Battle at Bristol, Butch, Beamer and BMS already a good fit

March 16th, 2014 4:23 pm by George Thwaites

Two-plus years before Battle at Bristol, Butch, Beamer and BMS already a good fit

Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, left, speaks during a news conference along with Tennessee's Butch Jones to promote 'The Battle at Bristol' prior to Sunday's Food City 500 at BMS in Bristol, Tenn. Also pictured is Steve Smith, president and CEO of Food City

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Tennessee has already been engaged in spring practice. Virginia Tech won't start spring drills until March 27. Both football programs face two more spring cycles before they even begin earnest team preparation for the Battle at Bristol showdown at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Given the "one game at a time" gospel preached by coaches at all levels, the Sept. 10, 2016, kickoff seems an eternity away.

Hokies coach Frank Beamer says his young players in Blacksburg are acutely aware of the date. They not only know about it, he said, they are very much looking forward to it.

"We've got two pictures as you enter our football facility. So they walk by it every day," Beamer said. "There is no question. Being a part of history. Being part of something ... the largest crowd ever to watch a football game. That's a once-in-a-lifetime deal. I think they're very excited."

The two coaches were in Bristol Sunday to serve as co-grand marshals of the Food City 500, simultaneously giving the starting command for the race.

In conjunction with their appearance, BMS Vice President Jerry Caldwell and Food City CEO Steve Smith announced that Food City is on board as one of three major sponsorship opportunities for the game.

The mega-gridiron event, which will be played on the converted infield inside the BMS coliseum, is expected to draw a record crowd of more than 150,000 spectators. One other presenting sponsorship and the title sponsorship are in negotiations.

When Jones served as grand marshal in last year's Food City 500, it was a honeymoon moment. His applauded arrival as the steward of Tennessee football still clung to his person like new car smell. Bristol Motor Speedway made a big impression on Jones, who got some face time with legendary NFL coach and NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs.

Gibbs laid a little wisdom on the new Vols skipper.

"Joe Gibbs told me this last year and it made a lot of sense. In football you need a great quarterback and in racing you need a good driver. Obviously you have the staff that has to get the car ready or get the players ready," Jones said. "And you can talk about the competitive make-up. The mental toughness it takes to go from lap to lap to lap. We use a term in our football program called 'snap and clear' with every single snap. So there are similarities between the two sports."

The race last spring was Jones' introduction to NASCAR. He and his entourage returned to Knoxville as converts to the sport.

"We have a lot of NASCAR fans on our football team and our coaching staff as well," Jones said. "Last year at this time I was fortunate enough to bring a number of members of our coaching staff to the race, and they were hooked."

In comparison to Jones, Beamer is not only a veteran NASCAR fan, he qualifies as old school. The Tech coach's associations with the Bristol track reach all the way back into the romanticized roots of modern stock car racing — overlapping the driving days of a certain former moonshine runner.

"My brother is with me here today. I came down here with him when I was in the ninth or 10th grade. Fred Lorenzen and Junior Johnson were the two big drivers back then. I've been here quite a few times," said Beamer, a native of Fancy Gap, Va.

Over the years, he has done so in both unofficial and official capacities. Beamer served as an honorary starter in 2005. He actually got behind the wheel as a celebrity driver for a charity race at The World's Fastest Half-Mile in 2009. His admitted objective during that race: "To stay out of the wall."

Despite Beamer's longtime appreciation of NASCAR in general and Bristol Motor Speedway in specific, he entertains no ambitions of a second career as a car owner. Not at any level.

"I like it, but I don't know enough about it," said Beamer, who knows enough to recognize what's special about racing at BMS.

"I really admire what the drivers do and this place particularly. When you're so close to each other, there is always someone around you. It's not like mile tracks or 2-mile tracks where you kind of get in line," Beamer said. "It takes a special talent and a special person to be a race car driver. And to me, this is one of the most exciting places they race."

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