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Driving at Bristol Motor Speedway's Pre-Race Ceremonies


XGatorHead 8904
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As some of you may already know, my friends and I have been renting an RV and going to the night race at Bristol since 1999, so this would be the 13th annual trip for our group. The group has changed a few members over time, but the last five years or so it's been Brian, Jason, Rich, Gary and me (Brian & I are the only originals left from that 1999 trip). Over the years we've had our fair share of experiences there (and on the road to and from there), including getting daytime tickets (cold pit passes) into the infield a few years ago, but nothing like what we experienced this year.

We got to drive the drivers around the track for driver introductions before the races!

This experience was possible because of a friend of Rich's. Rich, Gary & Brian got to do this at Kentucky Speedway last month too, but we were all looking forward to doing it at Bristol because it's the best track, we've been going there for years, and the banking of the track is incredible!

Prologue: Wednesday, August 24th

Lebanon, OH - We always go grocery shopping the night before we leave, that way we can get on the road a little earlier. We've been doing this so long that we have it down to a science. This year, to get us on the road even earlier, we decided to get the RV the night before as well. Gary was to go pick up the rental RV and then meet the rest of us at the Kroger in Lebanon so we could load up our food and all of our gear, allowing us to leave as soon as we got all of our kids on the school busses on Thursday.

As I was heading up to Lebanon, Rich called and asked if I was sitting down. Being as it's very difficult to stand up and drive, I told him that I was. He then hit me with the bombshell: "We don't have an RV for the weekend." We've had a few problems in years past and had gotten them quickly resolved but this one was different. Some of the guys had been calling other RV rental places and no one had any available.

It turns out the rental company had dropped their insurance, so we had to supply our own for the rental. No one had told us that when we reserved back in January, and the person who took the reservation was no longer employed with the company. Gary stayed up at the rental place for hours trying to come up with a resolution while the rest of us completed the shopping. The woman at the rental company was going to come in extra early the next day to contact their insurance company first thing and see if anything could be worked out. We went our seperate ways not knowing if we would be able to get an RV, or if we would have to take Brian's in-laws' pull-behind camper... at least we had that to fall back on if we needed it.

Bristol, TN - Meanwhile in Bristol, the truck race was held. During the race, there was a misunderstanding on the track between Kyle Busch and Elliott Sadler. Busch thought that Sadler purposely wrecked him, so Busch waited for Sadler to come back around the track, then ran into Sadler's truck. To me it looked like it was Busch's fault for wrecking in the first place, and many fans had the same opinion as me (as I would especially find out on Friday night... more on that later).

Day 1: Thursday, August 25th

Gary, Rich & Jason went to the RV rental place to work on our situation some more, and Brian & I were told to wait at home for them to call us. I finally got a text from Jason at 11:40 that read "Long story, but we got the okay from Rich's attorney to rent the RV," then another text at 12:15 instructing me to be at Rich's at 12:50 "unloaded in the driveway and ready to leave."

Apparently some sort of agreement was reached, the full details of which I still don't understand and I'm not sure I want to. All I know is Rich was the only one allowed to drive, which was just fine by me. We loaded up, and were finally on the road around 1:30... 4 hours behind schedule. We decided to cut out our side trip to Pigeon Forge and the go-cart tracks there and head straight for our campsite at All American Campground.

After stopping for dinner in Knoxville, we made it to our site just after dark. We quickly set up our site and joined other campers in the festivities.

Day 2 - Friday, August 26th

We started the day by going down to some of the vendor tents, going back to the RV and watching Boat Trip & Animal House, then soon it was time for us to go to the staging area where we would pick up our trucks.

We were let into the Hospitality Village entrance at 5:00, then walked to the sign-in area where we signed all the appropriate waivers. As we were waiting for everyone else to sign in, we all agreed that this would be cool to do once, but then go back to our normal routine next year. Our main reason was that since we had to be there so early for the race (5:00 on Friday, 4:30 on Saturday), it really cut into our... um... how do I say this?... our "libation" time, since we had to be sober to drive the trucks. Our opinion changed though once we actually got out onto the track.

We had a meeting with the Ford representatives, where they went over the rules with us. Do not go over 25mph, stay on the flat part of the track around the turns, turn headlights and hazard lights on, and no air conditioning (to prevent water from the AC dripping on the track). They had us line up, and they randomly picked which trucks we woud get by picking out a key from an envelope. Once we were handed our key, we had to find our corresponding F150. I got truck #22, which meant I was toward the end of the line, and got one of the better qualifiers to drive around.

Before we get to the pictures, I apologize ahead of time for the quality. I didn't have a real camera with me, so these were all taken on my phone.

Here is the truck that I got to drive Friday.

BristolFridayIntro1.jpg

I've always been a GM guy (my first car was an '89 Grand Am, I inherited a '93 Pontiac Sunbird through marriage, then we bought the '01 Chevy Malibu which Mrs. Gator currently drives, and now my '07 Impala), but I will say these F150s were extremely nice. I didn't look at the sticker on the window myself, but Jason did and IIRC he said it was about $47,000 sticker price. They were loaded with pretty much every option you could want.

We played follow the leader from the Hospitality Village, up the hill to the entrance tunnel into the track. We lined up and had to pull as close to each other as we could.

The view from my windshield...

BristolFridayIntro2.jpg

...and out the passenger window.

BristolFridayIntro3.jpg

Once lined up, it was found that the last few trucks were covering the logo of the race sponsor that was painted on the track. So the last few drivers in line had to pull up onto the track next to other trucks in line. And who was the first trck in the line that had to pull up? Me! This is when I got my first feel for the banking... and it was just the bottom of it.

I tried to take this picture straight so you can see the angle of the truck by the hood.

BristolFridayIntro4.jpg

We had to pull around to the Start/Finish line to pick up our drivers. Most trucks got two drivers in the bed of their truck, but the higher qualifiers got a truck to themselves. And who did I get? Elliott Sadler, who two nights before had been crashed into by Kyle Busch. As I slowly started to drive around the track with Sadler, people were yelling at him from the stands "Take out Kyle!" This made me smile, and I took my time going around the track to enjoy it. I got nowhere close to 25mph... the most I did was maybe 12mph. I found out later that the same was true for my friends.

We dropped off our drivers near the turn 4 entrance to the pits, then we had to do a U-turn to go back to the track entrance, so that we were facing the "wrong way" on the track.

Going the wrong way at Bristol.

BristolFridayIntro5.jpg

We drove back to the staging area, left our trucks and went to our seats (1st row at turn 4) just in time for the start of the race. Sadler and Busch didn't have any squabble during the race, but unfortunately Kyle ended up winning.

Day 3 - Saturday, August 27th

We started the day by going to the drivers' merch trucks and the sponser tent areas. It's always nice to hit up the sponser area because you end up getting free stuff from the various booths. We got a sample of steak from Outback Steakhouse and a coupon for a free steak dinner, a free roll of Tums (much needed on Sunday morning), and since Irwin Tools was the sponsor of the Cup race, they had a huge area where we got a free slip-notch pliers.

We went back to the campsite, and Rich started talking to the people across the way from us. Now, each of the introduction drivers could bring a guest with them to ride in the truck, but since all five of us were driving we didn't have anyone in our shotgun seat on Friday. But Rich invited their group to join us on Saturday, and so four of them agreed to meet us at the Hospitality Village at 4:30. We went into the RV and watched the first half of Hall Pass... very funny movie.

We went down to the Village and only two of the four people ended up coming to join us. They said that the other two decided that food was more important to them and they didn't want to leave their site so early. We were wondering why we had to be there so early ourselves, but we soon found out.

We had our pre-race meeting and were told that our route was different that day. We would pick up the drivers at the tunnel, where there was a "plank" that they would jump into our truck from after coming out to some intro music and saying something to the crowd. I got truck #9, so I had some lower qualifiers that day.

We pulled into the track, went around to turn 4, and had to do a U-turn to face the other way. This U-turn required going almost straight up the banking. Now that was some serious fun, gunning it to make it up that hill. We lined up, and I was situated near turn 3. We were told to shut off our engines because we would be sitting there for nearly an hour. My truck was up much higher on the banking than the day before, and it was a challenge sitting at that angle for an hour.

The view out my sun roof...

BristolSaturdayIntro1.jpg

...and out my windshield.

BristolSaturdayIntro2.jpg

There were many pre-race things going on, one of which happened to be the Budweiser Clydesdales going around the track.

BristolSaturdayIntro3.jpg

There was a pre-race concert by Darryl Worley, during which I decided to take another picture of the crowd in the stands.

BristolSaturdayIntro4.jpg

After the concert, it was time to pick up our drivers from the plank. I ended up with Martin Truex, Jr. and Brian Vickers. We drove clockwise around the track, and when we got to turns 2 & 1, we had to go a little higher on the track than the day before because of trucks and cameras that were set up there. After turns 4 & 3, we pulled into the infield area, where we drove through a crowd of people with hardly any room on either side of us to clear them, to the turn 4 entrance to the infield. I stopped, let Truex & Vickers out of my truck, and lined up on the track again, gunning it up the banking again to make the turn.

As I was sitting there waiting for the rest of the intro trucks to end their laps, I saw Brian drive by and snapped a quick, blurry picture of his truck.

BristolSaturdayIntro5.jpg

Our time on the track was over, and we had to join the rest of the crowd in the stands. We once again made it to our seats (at the beginning of turn 1 this time) just in time for the start of the race. My guy Kenseth ran a good race and led a good amount of laps, but Keselowski won. I was okay with that since I had picked him for my fantasy NASCAR team that week.

After the race we went back to the RV, watched the rest of Hall Pass and went to bed.

Day 4 - Sunday, August 28th

Ever since Rich started coming on the trip, he's woken up early to get us on the road as soon as possible. This year was no exception, as he and jason got up and we pulled out of the campsite around 5:00 in the morning, while Gary, Brian and I slept.

Once back in Ohio, we cleaned the RV up, packed our stuff in our own cars and said our goodbyes. Another year of Bristol is in the past, and it's one we won't soon forget.

I really want to do this again, and hopefully we get the opportunity next year. There's a possibility that one or two of us may not sign up to be drivers so that we can have someone in the truck with us to talk to while waiting on the track, but we'll see.

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I'm not really sure how exactly it came about, all I know is it was through a friend (or a friend of a friend) of Rich's that got us on the list. Rich had been working on it for months, and we finally got confirmation a few weeks before that we would be doing it. We each got a FedEx packet on Wednesday (the day before we left) from Ford Racing that gave us all the details on where to meet, all the rules, etc.

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The Bristol night race is one that I have always want to attend. Sounds like you have a great time and will have cherished memories. Thanks for sharing them with us.

I'll keep that in mind. If there ever comes a year when someone in our group can't make it, you'll be on the list of people to call as a replacement. ;)

Great experience and trip report! Ive gotta ask were you just a bit tempted to try a little bump drafting or atleast put a doughnut on a buddies truck?

With as close as they had us park to each other end to end on the track, it felt like bump drafting (only at an extremely slow pace :lol: ). There was no way I was going to even put a scratch on those trucks. They were too nice and too expensive!

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