Once the checkered flag waved following the conclusion of the World of Outlaws first visit to Bristol Motor Speedway in two decades, Speedway Motorsports Senior Vice President of Operations and Development Steve Swift was already putting his crew into position to begin the all-important dirt removal process from around The World’s Fastest Half-Mile. With only a 20-week time period until The Last Great Colosseum was scheduled to be back in the NASCAR Playoff spotlight serving as host of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Swift knew time was of the essence.
Along with the two World of Outlaws races in April, BMS proved to be one of the busiest dirt tracks on the East Coast. In March, the track hosted the historic Food City Dirt Race, the first time a NASCAR Cup Series race was held on a dirt surface in more than 50 years. Veteran driver Joey Logano claimed the signature BMS trophy and famed Gladiator Sword at that hotly contested race. Prior to that landmark event, BMS also crowned a bunch of winners in eight different classes during a week of grassroots dirt racing at the Bristol Dirt Nationals in early March.
No doubt, Bristol Motor Speedway made great use of the estimated 23,000 cubic yards of red Tennessee clay that was spread around the high-banked short track’s legendary racing surface.
With the clock ticking at a rapid pace, the dirt removal process began almost immediately after the last Victory Lane photo was taken following David Gravel’s thrilling back-to-back victories in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series in late April.
Swift says the facility will be as shiny as new when the green flag drops for a Thursday night doubleheader featuring the ARCA Menards Series Bush’s Beans 200 and the Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics on September 16 to kick off America’s Night Race weekend. The Food City 300 Xfinity Series race will follow on Friday night and the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race for the NASCAR Cup Series will be the weekend’s grand finale on Saturday.
Swift says relocating the dirt out of the facility wasn’t the hard part. The real challenge, he said, has been power washing and cleaning the facility from all of the dirt and dust that flies around as a by-product of the exciting racing action constantly churning on the clay surface.
“Taking 2,386 truckloads of dirt out of the oval was actually the quickest part of the process,” Swift says. “Once we were given the green light to start taking out the dirt and loading trucks and getting it out of there, that part of the job went fairly quick. Within two weeks we had the mass dirt out of here minus the backstretch because we were using that dirt for the Dude Perfect event. However, we are still in the process of the actual cleaning side of things, which is really the harder part after you hold dirt events.”
Following the 2000 and 2001 BMS dirt events BMS operations team members said they were still finding bits of dirt hidden in the most remote corners of the stadium several years after those races were over. Swift says he is well aware of all the stories from the past and is determined to get the grandstands and concourse areas as clean as possible for the Night Race.
Swift estimates that the dirt was off the track and out of the facility in about 10 days. He said there were multiple excavating machines moving the dirt around and pushing it down off the high-banks to a flat loading zone where it was then loaded into a rotating fleet of about seven dirt trucks making round-trips to the drop and storage location.
“To get the race team trucks in and out of the track easier we had to build a temporary ramp with the dirt,” Swift explained. “One of the smartest things we did after the racing was over was leave that ramp in place to help us get the dirt out. It was really an efficient way to get the dirt out because the dump trucks had a lesser grade to climb. That ramp stayed put until the very last truck load went out.”
Swift says once the dirt was removed it was hauled a short distance from inside the oval across the BMS campus to a flat lower lot near the Bristol Dragway entrance off Highway 394. He said that site made the most sense because it is level for the dump trucks to move in and out. The dirt will sit there until January when Swift and his team will start the process all over again as they begin putting the dirt back on the track for the 2022 Food City Dirt Race.
“When the fans come in for the Night Race in September they are going to see two big lovely piles of red dirt over by the Dragway entrance and that was the dirt track,” Swift says. “We stored it like we did for a reason to keep the life into the dirt and keep it as native as possible and to make sure less surface area is visible for the sun to hit. When we excavated it we made sure that we stored the very surface stuff on the bottom of the pile. What you see on top is the base layer.”
With the dirt gone, Swift says the concrete looks better than ever. He noted that the layer of sawdust product that his team put down between the concrete and the dirt did its job remarkably well.
“The track is as clean as it has been since we placed the track around 2007-’08,” Swift said. “It’s back to that initial state with just a little bit more rubber on it now. It’s amazing to look at the track pre-dirt pictures compared to what it is now and just what the cleaning process has done to bring it back to life.”
Swift says he learned a lot from the past year about “dirt magic” and as a result expects to add additional surface layer dirt for the 2022 races and says the process will begin as soon as the annual Pinnacle Speedway in Lights show is completed in early January.
“We have started sourcing some new surface dirt with the goal being to have the best product on the surface to help keep the dust down as much as possible,” Swift says. “To use a majority of what we’ve got and also bring in some new surface dirt to mix in with it is the plan.”
Swift says there’s as much or more buzz going on now for the 2022 Food City Dirt Race as there was last year. He says it’s the topic he is most asked about as he travels around for his duties at every Speedway Motorsports facility.
“We received a lot of great feedback from fans on the ’21 race and I think we got to see a glimpse of what it really could be.” Swift said. “With it being held on a Monday because of weather and having all the laps that it had, the track wasn’t at its peak performance so to speak. There’s still a lot of anticipation going into ’22 in having that one day that the Cup cars get on it and run the amount of laps that the track is able to withstand. Even with the bad elements we were dealing with, it was still a great competitive show. I think everyone is looking forward to having a good weekend, with the right start time and having Mother Nature work with us. I think we can improve on what we had the first time around.”
In the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Cup Series event (Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN, PRN Radio), you’ll get to see all of your favorite drivers racing hard to advance in the Playoffs, including Bristol dominator Kyle Busch, Food City Dirt Race winner Joey Logano, three-time Bristol winner Brad Keselowski, defending Night Race winner Kevin Harvick, Bristol All-Star Race winner and defending series champ Chase Elliott, and five-time season winner Kyle Larson, who is still looking for his first BMS Cup victory.
In the Food City 300, NASCAR Xfinity Series favorites Austin Cindric, A.J. Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier will be trying to lock in their Playoff positions in the season’s final regular season race (Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN, PRN Radio). Meanwhile, headliners John Hunter Nemechek, Ben Rhodes and defending champ Sheldon Creed will battle for an elimination Playoff race victory Thursday night in the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics Camping World Truck Series race (Sept. 16, 9 p.m., FS1, MRN Radio). The rising stars in the ARCA Menards Series also will take on the challenging half-mile oval in the Bush’s Beans 200 as part of a Thursday night doubleheader (Sept. 16, 6:30 p.m., FS1, MRN Radio).