The last driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series on dirt discusses the upcoming Bristol dirt race
Earlier this week, NASCAR released the bold 2021 schedule. 6 road courses and a dirt track are now on the tour for the NASCAR Cup Series.
Bristol Motor Speedway was once the hardest ticket to get in NASCAR. You couldn’t buy tickets. Calling to get tickets would just place you on a waiting list.
In 2008, SMI repaved the surface, adding progressive banking. The crowd set a Guinness World Record in August 2008 when the sell-out crowd completed the largest crowd-wave in history.
It went downhill from there. Soon after, the beating and banging was a thing of the past and the fans abandoned the grandstands along with it.
Now, BMS is looking to re-brand. And there’s no bigger swing for the bleachers than placing dirt on top of iconic concrete oval.
The last time the NASCAR Cup Series raced on the dirt was 1970. That race was run at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds Raceway in Raleigh, N.C.
It took 50 years, NASCAR has finally circled back to the dirt track racing. But, while many fans have high expectations, others are more cautions.
Richard Petty on the last NASCAR dirt race in 1970
“That was a different time, and I think we all knew that after Raleigh that night there weren’t going to be any more dirt-track races,” Richard Petty told Autoweek.
“We knew it was last one that season and we sort of already knew there wouldn’t be any more the next season.”
“We didn’t even have a dirt-track car at that time; all of ours were set up for asphalt. We used a Plymouth we’d sold to Jabe Thomas earlier in the year. His owner (Don Robertson) let us use of one his cars that night.”
“Really, I don’t remember much about the race itself.”
Adding more dirt races?
With one NASCAR Cup Series dirt race on the schedule, fans will soon be looking for a second.
“I have to be careful here,” Petty says.
“There’s some politics involved and I don’t want to annihilate NASCAR on this. I guess I’m looking at it from an old-time deal because we spent years and years and years trying to become a professional sport.”
“Years and years to get away from that stigma. But dirt-track racing is not professional, so we’re going backward. It would be like taking a professional football team and going back to play at a high school field.”
Years ago, people from Iowa Speedway came down to have a look at the Iowa dirt track of Knoxville Raceway. Iowa Speedway is owned by NASCAR directly. This was after the truck race at Eldora was already born.
NASCAR was look at options to add a second dirt race. Again, this was years ago. At the time, they decided not to pursue Knoxville Raceway. Why? They were concerned about a heavy stock car driving right through the tall guardrails that Knoxville Raceway uses as a wall.
Petty expects a dry slick track at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway has been a dirt track before. The World of Outlaws ran at the track in 2000 and again in 2001. Now, for the first time, the NASCAR Cup Series will run on the dirt at Bristol.
“I think it’ll be exciting at Bristol that day,” Petty said.
“It might be another gimmick. It might be what NASCAR needs to keep our base growing. But it won’t be anything like the dirt track we had at Raleigh.”
“In that one, there were big holes in the track and it was rough and you had to drive around those holes. The dirt tracks today turn into asphalt tracks; once you race on ‘em a while they just turn into slick asphalt tracks. But cars will be going sideways in the corners, and that’s what people want to see.”
Petty concluded, “You’ll be able to sit on the front row and still not get dirty.”