All is well at the Hillbilly Thunderdome

Famed promoter and showman P.T. Barnum would have been delighted by the Saturday night extravaganza at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Track owner Bruton Smith and his lieutenants certainly were.

After much hand-wringing and debate among drivers and fans over the alterations to the track configuration, the IRWIN Tools Night Race produced all the crowd-pleasing elements of the circus big-top.

In addition to the pre-race suspense and theatrics, there were 13 cautions, 13 different leaders and all sorts of drama.

It’s a testament to the talent level of the NASCAR stars that they were able to adapt so quickly to the changes.

Entering the week, the upper lane of the steeply-banked track was deemed to be a forbidden zone where only the brave and foolhardy would dare to venture.

Amazingly, the chopped down high-way gradually became the fast-way as rubber built up on the grinded concrete surface.

Many drivers still came away frustrated by the tight conditions. Instead of the classic bump-and-run Bristol boogie, they were forced to set up passes by using slower cars and then using a complicated sling-shot maneuver.

Of course, the real reason that the IRWIN Tools Night Race has created such a national buzz can be traced to two jaw-dropping incidents which will be vital components in the 2013 BMS marketing campaign.

From ESPN SportsCenter on Sunday morning to sports talk shows across the country, commentators singled out the helmet-throwing exploits of Tony Stewart and the finger-wagging tantrum of Danica Patrick.

Those were the kind of soap opera sequences that gave BMS races a must-see appeal and generated 55 straight sellouts. The antics of Stewart and Patrick helped fans forget the rather mundane final portion of the race, where Denny Hamlin pulled away to his first win at the track.

It’s still too early to proclaim that the old Bristol is back. But you can bet that track officials are breathing easier after Saturday’s carnival ride.

For the estimated crowd of 145,000, it was fun stuff. Old-school fans got their wrecks, new-school fans got some passing, and casual fans got their fireworks and fussing.

Even old Phineas Taylor Barnum would have been hard pressed to top this spectacle at the Hillbilly Thunderdome.

Leave a Reply