Bristol Motor Speedway diversifying

Football up next
Football up next

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Marcus Smith once considered a career in journalism while attending the University of North Carolina.

Now, as the CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., Smith can see the headline-grabbing and tourist-enticing potential of staging must-see attractions at the 160,000-seat funhouse that is Bristol Motor Speedway writes Allen Gregory of the Herald Courier.

"For anybody in the world who wants to have the biggest event, I think Bristol Motor Speedway is your place," Smith said.

Along with Bristol Motor Speedway executive vice president/general manager Jerry Caldwell, Smith attended an Aug. 29 press briefing for the Sept. 10 Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech.

Standing on the emerald-city like AstroTurf, Smith discussed the impact of hosting the largest crowd to ever attend a college football game and the lucrative sequels that could follow.

For example, the facility dubbed as "The Last Great Colosseum" would make a neat stage for World Wrestling Entertainment and Ultimate Fighting Championships pay-per-view events.

"People have talked about having a big UFC match here, and I've had several people talk to me about having a big WWE event and maybe even having a WrestleMania," said Smith, gesturing at the sea of seats encircling the track. "I think you can tell from what we see here now that's it definitely possible."

BMS has already hosted a free movie night to highlight the world's largest outdoor center-hung video screen known as Colossus. That massive structure hangs 107 feet above the stadium floor and exceeds NFL regulations.

On the surface, this whole fantastic marriage between NASCAR and college football seems a tad outlandish. Just transforming the World's Fastest Half-Mile Oval into a major college football venue in a span of 19 days was a marvel.

The real magic will unfold this week as armies of Tennessee and Virginia Tech fans set up camp outside the stadium and then cheer on their gladiators.

Once again, little Bristol is about to become big. Along with his father Bruton Smith, Marcus Smith said he has relished his role as one of the architects of the "Battle."

While examining the temporary facilities at BMS, Smith recalled a brainstorming session he had with Caldwell and company.

"We stood out on the field a second ago and said 20 years ago this was a pipe dream," Smith said. "We were in the office with Jerry, former BMS general manager Jeff Byrd, and my dad, and this idea of a football game in the infield of Bristol Motor Speedway was brought up. And it was mainly to get a new media center at the time.

"We got this beautiful new media center, and here we go now with the football game on our heels."

If all goes well, that pipe dream from long ago could soon materialize into a sports spectacular and financial bonanza for residents of the Mountain Empire and beyond. Allen Gregory/Herald Courier

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