The NASCAR Cup Series raced on a dirt-surfaced track last year for the first time since 1970 when the high banked Bristol Motor Speedway had its concrete covered by a layer of clay. The 2021 version of the Food City Dirt Race faced a number of challenges as it was the first time dirt had been placed on the half-mile facility in two decades so there was a learning process to go through. Further, heavy rain fell leading into the events for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Cup Series which made the dirt more difficult to manage.
A final challenge from 2021 was that the racing last year was held during the daylight hours which many followers of dirt racing will say is not ideal in terms of track preparation.
Coming into this season’s version of the Food City Dirt Race, steps have been taken to perhaps improve on last year’s event. The track crew now has the experience of working in this rather unique set of circumstances with a concrete track covered in dirt. Also, the weather forecast(as of now) does not call for flooding rains as was the case a year ago. And more, the race will be held at night rather than under the afternoon sun.
The XR Super Series-sanctioned Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals were held on a pair of weekends leading up to the NASCAR events, as was also the case in 2021. Among the Super Late Model competitors in those four races were drivers who had raced at Bristol last year in Late Model machines as well as one driver who entered both NASCAR-sanctioned races at Bristol.
Those drivers offered comparisons of the track as it was for them last year versus this time around. Virtually to a man, the racers praised the dirt surface and how it felt to them here in 2022.
Mike Marlar was in both the Truck Series and Cup Series dirt races at Bristol last year. The 44-year-old former World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series champion from Winfield, Tennessee completed a total of 392 laps in combined NASCAR racing action at Bristol last year. Further, he had NASCAR dirt experience coming into that weekend as he had placed fourth in the Truck Series race held at Eldora Speedway back in 2019 so he has experience both on this track and with this type machine.
Marlar did not participate in the Bristol Dirt Nationals in 2021 but he did race in the most recent of those events.
“Everybody in the Late Models say it’s better than last year, and I wasn’t here for the Late Model race, but it didn’t feel a lot different to me than the NASCAR race,” Marlar told InsideCircleTrack.com. “But everybody who ran the Late Models here last year says it feels a lot different so I’m not sure.”
Many Late Model drivers stated that last year’s track had some bumps that tended to upset the cars. Marlar pointed out that the difference in a Dirt Late Model and a NASCAR racer are quite stark.
“I didn’t feel it but these things have so much more power that we can just race better,” he said of Late Model racing.
Addressing the fact that this year’s race will be held under the lights, Marlar believes track preparation will be adjusted to fit those conditions.
“I think they’ll probably keep it drier at night but it will probably be a lot better,” he explained. “But even with that though, in those big heavy cars because it’s just hard to run a cushion in something that has 200 horsepower less and weighs a thousand pounds more.
“I think it will be a bottom dominant race for NASCAR, probably,” Marlar added. “With these cars here, we have so much more horsepower that we can make enough speed around the outside wall to make the top work.”
Brandon Overton raced in the Bristol Dirt Nationals both in 2021 and 2022. The 31-year-old driver from Evan, Georgia who won several of the sport’s biggest races in 2021 including three of the four major Late Model events held at Eldora had good things to say about this year’s version of the BMS dirt surface.
“The top is almost about to keep up with the bottom,” Overton said. “Bristol is getting it better. It’s definitely not as rough because last year we had a couple of holes we were bouncing through. They got it good and smooth.”
Chris Madden won two of the four $50,000 features held at Bristol over the span of two weekends. He too praised the efforts of those who prepared the track for those races. One thing he pointed out was the fact that the rumble strips around the bottom of each set of turns(so-called Dirtles) have been reduced.
“It was probably as good as you could get it,” Madden declared following his first feature win. “It was extremely good, two and three lanes wide. When you caught lapped cars you could pass them on the bottom or you could pass them on the top. I don’t think you could have the race track any better, it was tremendously smooth. They changed the dirt humps they had around the bottom so those are not as harsh if you do graze them a little bit like they were last year. Hats off to those guys, they did an amazing job with that dirt.”
Based on the comments of those who race on dirt for a living, it does sound as if NASCAR competitors will have a different type of surface to work with in this year’s race. Time will tell just what that will mean on the competition side of things.
Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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