Sports facilities have been used to host various events over the years. Baseball games have been played in football stadiums. Basketball games have been played in hockey arenas. It was only a matter of time before a football game would be played at a speedway, as Bristol Motor Speedway has been prepared to host the Battle at Bristol between Tennessee and Virginia Tech this Saturday. However, it isn’t the first football game that has been hosted at this venue.
Bristol Motor Speedway opened in 1961, the same year that it hosted an NFL pre-season game between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles. According to an article by the Redskins, only about 8,500 fans attended the exhibition game, which was billed as the First Annual Pro-Bowl game. But according to Billy Ray Barnes, the starting tailback for the Eagles, in an interview with Pittalks.com, the field conditions were bad including a steep playing surface and puddles all over the field which could explain why another football game hasn’t been played at the speedway in so long.
However, technology has come a long way over the past 55 years and the speedway has worked fast and furious to get everything in place. The speedway hosted a NASCAR race on August 21st and has transformed within the span of several weeks. Changes included making the infield into a playable surface, getting locker rooms in place, and checking sight lines around the speedway to ensure everyone has a good view.
According to the Chicago Tribune, 450 dump-truck loads of rock and sand were brought in to raise the infield three and a half feet and that doesn’t even include the Astroturf that was installed. How about locker rooms? The Hokies will use the Goodyear tire facility with a 53-foot shower trailer and 32-foot restroom trailer behind it. The Volunteers will use the building underneath victory lane. What about the bands? Both will be in pit road and Virginia Tech will be in Turn 1 while Tennessee will be in Turn 3.
Technology also played a part in some of the changes to the speedway. Bristol Motor Speedway executive Adam Rust told the Chicago Tribune about how they had to figure out game clocks, instant replay systems, scoreboards, the cabling to get everything working, and the most challenging: referee microphones.
“We’ve never had to have referee mikes, that can be with belt packs, and those referee mikes have to tie back to various areas on our property. That’s been a big thing to get our hands around.”
Another big concern officials have been focused on is sight lines. The racing catch fence that protects racing fans from flying auto debris has been taken down even though the wires have been in place for over a decade. In addition, over 5,000 premium seats have been added to the infield to bring fans closer to the action. They’ve also added a gigantic outdoor video screen. According to the Sporting News, it’s called Colossus and it’s considered to be the largest outdoor center-hung digital video screen in the world. It’s 700 tons and features four screens that are 30 feet tall, 63 feet wide and includes 54 million LEDs and 18 million pixels. It was installed in April and has received positive reviews.
Despite the additions, several outlets have pointed out that some fans might need binoculars and telescopes to see from the highest parts of the speedway. However, that doesn’t seem to be deterring any college football fans. The Sporting News also reported that both schools have already sold out of their 40,000 tickets and that few remain. ABC will be broadcasting the game so we’ll have to wait and see how many of the 150,000 seats are sold and if it will break the record for highest attendance at a college football game.
Rendering courtesy of Bristol Motor Speedway.