With heavy machinery parked behind him in Turn 4 and a “Fans Spoke … We Listened” sign to his right, Bruton Smith made a case Wednesday for defying drivers’ wishes.
After five years of NASCAR stars praising a repave of Bristol Motor Speedway that added room for racing but stripped the 0.533-mile oval of fender-banging drama, the track’s owner said he would remove the top lane and knock down some of the track’s progressive banking before the Aug. 25 race.
If forcing cars into tighter confines leads to more wrecks that leave drivers fuming but crowds cheering, Smith will consider it a success. “I have built more speedways than anybody in the world, and I have never consulted race drivers when I’m building a speedway because it’ll drive you nuts,” said Smith, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., parent company of Bristol and six other tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit. “I guarantee you’re going to have close to 43 opinions. We’re modifying the track. Come August, we’ll find out if we were right or wrong.”
“I think we’re right.”
Since a streak of 55 consecutive sellouts ended three years ago, Bristol’s 160,000-seat grandstands increasingly have become barren, particularly for its spring race. An estimated crowd of 102,000 last month spurred track officials to launch a weeklong campaign of fan surveys that revealed an overwhelming majority wanted a redone surface.