When it was first announced that the Bristol Motor Speedway would be covered with dirt for the purpose of having the NASCAR Cup Series contest its first race on clay since 1970, there was a great deal of excitement as well as many questions on the parts of fans, media, and competitors. Ultimately, the 2021 version of the Food City Dirt Race played out to mixed reviews after being interrupted by heavy rain and then turning into a very dusty affair on a Monday afternoon. While some appreciated the move by the sanctioning body to make a return to dirt racing, not all were sold on the idea.
Still, an announcement was made during the 2021 event that declared there would be a second Cup Series race on dirt at the half-mile facility located in the northeastern corner of Tennessee. As a result, this past weekend marked the second running of the Food City Dirt Race at ‘The Last Great Colosseum’.
After again having to battle weather, but this time during the evening hours, the race finally finished with Kyle Busch taking the checkered flag as the winner after front runners Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe took each out on the last lap.
But how many more times will the labor intensive and expensive process of converting a concrete surfaced track to dirt and then back again continue?
On Tuesday afternoon, BMS President Jerry Caldwell stated that he and his team will begin preparations for a spring time dirt race at night in 2023. While no official statement has been made nor has the exact date has not been announced but with the success of this season’s event, Easter weekend could be a likely time frame. This statement coming after the television ratings were released showing that Sunday night’s race was viewed by more than 4 million households.
Bristol Motor Speedway confirms that it's preparing to hold a spring night race on dirt again in 2023. pic.twitter.com/GIoNhOkY5A
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) April 19, 2022
Whether this process of dirt installation and removal continues beyond 2023 will no doubt be based on future success or failure of NASCAR.
The races for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Cup Series are not the only events to play out on the dirt in Bristol. Over the past two years, the XR Super Series-sanctioned Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals for Super Late Model cars as well as several other divisions have been on the agenda. Also, the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series and the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series have been or will be a part of the action.
That said, however, the duration of the run of dirt racing on Bristol’s high-banked surface will ultimately be left up to NASCAR and BMS owner Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
The Bristol Dirt Nationals are largely meant to sell subscriptions for the raceXR.plus streaming service. That said, attendance at the 2022 version of the XR Super Series-sanctioned races did not appear to be nearly as good as was the case last year. Of course, it is difficult to gauge just how many people are actually in the seats at a stadium that holds 160,000 people. And again, if there were very many year-long subscriptions sold because of the Dirt Late Model affair at BMS, the whole thing was worth it as far as the series was concerned because subscriptions keep revenue flowing for a full year and not just for a couple of weekends.
This year’s Dirt Nationals featured four separate $50,000-to-win feature races and a $100,000 bonus for the driver who scored the most points in those events. Chris Madden of Gray Court, SC won two of those races as well as the bonus.
The big World of Outlaws weekend will play out at the end of April before the dirt is again removed in preparation for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race that will take place in September on the more traditional concrete surface.
When Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and the state of North Carolina began moving toward a revamping of the North Wilkesboro Speedway, my initial thought was that the historic track might become NASCAR’s new home for dirt racing. And it does appear that there will be some dirt racing to take place there in October of 2022. However, it now looks as if that will not be the case as talk of a repave for the 5/8-mile facility were brought up during a press conference held at Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend.
Ultimately, how many more times the Bristol Motor Speedway is covered in dirt won’t be determined by the Bristol Dirt Nationals or the World of Outlaws, it will be decided by NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. And if television ratings remain high and attendance at the track is at least as good as it was for the more recent spring races on concrete, dirt racing at BMS will continue for the foreseeable future.
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