Owner considers changes to Bristol Motor Speedway
By JENNA FRYER
BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) Bristol Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith is considering about $1 million worth of changes to return his Tennessee track to the way it was before a 2007 reconfiguration.
"We are going to take a very hard look at it this week," Smith told The Associated Press on Monday. "We have everything in our computers that shows us what the track used to be and what it is now, and we started working on that last night. I'll have an answer for you next week on if we'll alter the track."
But Smith insisted it was the rain, not fan apathy over the current style of racing at Bristol, that contributed to Sunday's poor crowd.
"We certainly thought it was going to be better, but the rain got us," Smith said.
The rain began late Saturday night and continued until about two hours before Sunday's scheduled start, which Smith said "killed the walk-up crowd. And that alone accounts for 3,500 to 4,000 tickets."
Bristol once was one of the toughest tickets in all of professional sports, but attendance has waned the past several years and its spring race has particularly suffered.
The speedway says it seats 160,000, and although the grandstands appeared half empty Sunday, NASCAR's listed attendance was 102,000. Smith said 8,120 sold tickets went unused.
"Those were tickets that didn't show, people who elected not to venture out, and that's because of the weather," Smith said.
But he remained adamant the attendance decline has nothing to do with the new racing at Bristol. At the same time, though, Smith said he began talking to his Speedway Motorsports Inc. officials on Sunday evening about changes to the track.
The .533-mile bullring was long one of the most popular venues in NASCAR because of the aggressive style drivers had to adopt to be competitive on the tight track. The August night race is considered a showcase, and the combination of bumping and banging for 500 laps on a hot summer night usually led to an explosion of tempers.
It mellowed a bit after the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship was formed in 2004, and drivers trying to make NASCAR's title-deciding format had to be cautious that late in the season. Then came the 2007 reconfiguration, which added variable banking in the corners and opened lanes for two-and-three wide racing.
With so much room, there's not as much contact between the cars, and fans have complained that Bristol just isn't the same.
Smith said SMI will study fan comments this week.
"I want to be sure that the fans like what they see," he said. "If the fans like three abreast through the turns, we do nothing. If they don't, then we'll alter the track. The fans vote is the most important thing."
If changes are made, they'll be done in time for NASCAR's Aug. 25 return to Bristol.
"If I am going to do anything, I am going to guarantee we are going to do it before August," he said.
Updated March 19, 2012