Bristol Motor Speedway was last converted to a dirt track in 2001 but it won’t be the same as 2001
Bristol Motor Speedway is set to take on a bold project. The famed concrete oval will be transitioned to a dirt oval for Spring 2021.
Four separate dirt racing events will invade the speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. It includes the first NASCAR Cup Series dirt race since 1970. These races will run between March 15-April 10, 2021.
Related: Full Bristol dirt track schedule
The track was previously converted to a dirt track in 2000 and again in 2001. But, this time around, it will be slightly different.
Steve Swift is the Senior Vice President of Operations and Development of Speedway Motorsports. That means he handles the construction of interesting things, like a dirt track on top of a 1/2-mile concrete oval.
He’s racked up 35,000 flying miles in 2020, as he works with SMI tracks all across the country. And those are the limited numbers as travel was reduced due to COVID.
Steve Swift on the Bristol dirt track
“This dirt track was done two decades again. Now, we get to revitalize it and make it better than it was,” said Steve Swift via the Race XR Podcast.
“The NASCAR fan wanted to see the Cup Series on dirt. Of all the tracks that came to mind, Bristol was our idea to kind of revitalize that. We’ve been talking about it for a few years.”
However, just because it was done in 2001, doesn’t mean it will be the same as 2021.
“Talking about what happened in 2000-2001, with the speeds that were there. Bristol is known as ‘The World’s Fastest Half Mile’ and Tennessee’s got several dirt tracks around that claim to be the ‘fastest dirt track’. With Bristol, we wanted to make sure we were taking all that into account.”
“This has been two years in the making. The dirt was the big monster because we’re looking at a very very good race track and covering it with dirt. And trying to create a very very good dirt track.”
“In 2007, we put in a lot of safety parameters. We straighten out the outside walls, added interior walls. We made the wall between the track and pit road, taller. The old track had really bad aprons, there was so many different degrees of banking as you would go around that track.”
“When we re-did the track, we made the track wider. We made the aprons wider. We actually lengthened out the transitions of the track, where the old track fell off very quickly.”
“We’ve done a lot in NASCAR to get that track back to the one-lane, bump [and-run] series. But, it’s a function of what the car has become. The track is very racey.”
Bristol dirt banking
“It helps when we start to put the dirt on that we got a lot more real estate to work with. We can take away some of that crazy speed that it had in 2000-2001 and get back to a better race.”
“The old track was 36 degrees. You always try to place the walls to a 90 degree angle. In the old days, when they were building it, the assets weren’t there to build the track to 100%.”
“Back in 2000, the banking on the dirt track was 22 degrees. Because the track and apron was a lot more narrow, that was as shallow as they could get on the race track itself.”
“To try and increase the racing, we’ve dropped it to 18 degrees. We feel like that will create more competitive racing. With the way the track is layed out with really long transitions, it should create great racing.”
“The track’s 30 degrees of banking on the concrete. In order to shallow that up, basically we’re bringing a lot of dirt in. In the turns, we’re looking at anywhere from 8′ to 10′ of fill.”
“Overall, we’re going to be bringing in 20,000 yards of dirt. That’s the commitment we’ve got to make sure we’re doing it right and we’re doing it.”
Visiting dirt tracks
Swift is an engineer that specializes in asphalt and concrete. But, during the 2020 season he went undercover, so to speak. He visited multiple dirt tracks, as a fan and spoke with many track operators to learn about the dirt side of the sport.
“What I’ve found is there is no exact science for dirt. Each track is unique in it’s own. Dirt is a totally different creature and reacts to so many different things.”
“There’s several tracks that people talk about as great tracks, from the dirt [surface] scenario. Most of those fall in the Midwest, those nice black dirt race tracks. We’ll we’re in Northeast Tennessee and there’s not a lot of black dirt around here that would be worth racing on.”
“We’ve done a lot of research. We’ve tested a ton of soil.”
Every year, Bristol Motor Speedway does a Christmas light show. That’s pushed back the construction of the upcoming dirt track.
“There’s lights in the way, or we would be starting earlier. The lights are cleaned up on January 10th. We’ve already started hauling in some sub-base. We’re ready to hit it wide-open come January 10th.”
The dirt track will be formed using the same laser and GPS technology that laid the track in 2006-07. It will likely be a first for dirt tracks.
“As far as keeping the track graded, rolled in and keeping moisture in the track, we’re taking all that stuff into account. And we’ve got the equipment to do it.”
Bristol Dirt Nationals: The Test Run
The Bristol Dirt Nationals came together in the span of about a month. And it’s set to feature 1,200 cars from Monday-Saturday. Those races will be the Guinea pigs so to speak, for track operators to learn ahead of the NASCAR weekend.
“It’s always better to have an experienced track. We’re talking about brand new dirt, brand new track. It needs it’s paces. With that amount of cars, we’re trying to age the track as quickly as possible.”
“By putting that many cars on the track in 6 days. We’ll be setup for that big weekend.”
“On the NASCAR side, we have all the track cleanup crews, the wrecker service. All that stuff makes the NASCAR race go on. Well, it makes the dirt race go on as well. It’s not just about the track. It touches all those operation pieces as well.”
“The fatalities in NASCAR have almost disappeared with all the safety parameters they’ve put in place. That’s been a great thing that NASCAR spent money on research. From a safety stance, being at a NASCAR track, you’re definitely covered.”
“We’ve also got great reaction teams. To make sure that if someone is piled up, we’re getting to them quickly.”
“From just the pure racing stance of it. The track itself will be laid out geometrically so that it’s providing the best racing that we can create on this race track. We feel confident that we’re not creating a dangerous situation by any manner, with the design of the race track.”