Sunday, August 23, 2009

The F-18's woke me from my nap

Bristol is not exactly the big city. Straddling the Tennessee and Virginia border and with the actual state line dividing downtown on the aptly named State Street, our combined population is approximately 43,000 people. Add another 164,000 folks and the impact is felt.

That's the number of that people show up for the two annual NASCAR races held at Bristol Motor Speedway, officially christened the World's Fastest Half-Mile. Local folks either embrace the event wholeheartedly or avoid that side of town and its attendant high traffic entirely. Myself, I belong to the latter category, never having attended a race in the 14 years Bristol has served as my hometown.

In my quiet suburban neighborhood the noisiest sounds are generally those of the apparatus employed in the great American hobby (fetish) of maintaining a manicured green lawn. So late on this warm Saturday afternoon, in my comfy pillow-piled bed, it was ever the shock to be awakened by the roar of F-18 jet engines. Their flyover was one event during the opening ceremonies for the Sharpie 500.

Despite its small half-mile size, Bristol is among the most popular tracks in NASCAR due to its distinct features that include extraordinarily steep banking and an all concrete track surface.
The track is so short that speeds here are far lower than is typical on most NASCAR oval tracks, but very fast compared to other short tracks due to the high banking, making for a considerable amount of "swapping paint". The initial starting grid of 43 vehicles extends almost halfway around the track, thus the slower-qualifying cars begin the race almost half a lap down. The congestion inherent in this facility and the power of the cars has been likened to "flying fighter jets in a gymnasium".

The fall race has traditionally been a night race since lights were installed in 1978 and this race is extremely popular, making it one of the hardest NASCAR tickets to obtain.

It is a big deal that I am perfectly happy to allow our out-of-town visitors enjoy without any ticket competition from me. The track reportedly has sold out the last 55 races straight.


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