NASCAR: Bristol All-Star Race – A fan’s perspective

Bristol, NASCAR, All-Star Race (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Bristol, NASCAR, All-Star Race (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Bristol Motor Speedway’s version of the NASCAR All-Star Race brought over 20,000 fans to the stands. Beyond the Flag’s Marty Czekala was in attendance, and here is his perspective on the huge event.

The first ever NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway was one of the biggest races of the year and one of the biggest events in sports to date.

Fan-wise, it set a crowd record in all of sports since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with between 20,000 and 30,000 in attendance at the venue which seats 162,000. Fans had to wear masks on track property at all times except for when sitting in their assigned seats, and seats were assigned six feet apart from different parties.

On the racing side, it was an incredible event to witness in person. It was the inaugural NASCAR event with the choose cone, the car numbers were realigned to directly in front of the rear tires, and underglow lights were used on the rear bumpers of the cars that had qualified for the race before the All-Star Open.

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While the racing in Bristol, Tennessee may have had hot temperatures in 90s, it wasn’t just “One Hot Night” like in 1992; it was one lit night.

I was fortunate enough to watch the historic night in person as one of the several thousand fans to pass through the gates. I want to give a shoutout to fellow friend/media member Kelvin Lapierre, who I work with at ROC Sports Network (RSN), for having me join his group for the event.

It was my first time at Bristol Motor Speedway and I really had to take it all in, with it being a track I have had on my bucket list for many years.

It was also likely the only NASCAR race I can watch in person for 2020, as Michigan International Speedway’s doubleheader will be run without fans, and the weekend originally at Watkins Glen International was realigned to the Daytona International Speedway road course due to NASCAR not getting a waiver from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in regard to his travel advisory affecting North Carolina, which would lead to a mandatory two-week quarantine period for teams.

We arrived at “Thunder Valley” late Tuesday morning with our camper. All trailers were separated by six feet to provide proper room even without wearing a mask in the lot. The view? Breathtaking. I took a panoramic shot of the speedway and the dragway, where NHRA events are contested. You could even walk up to the drag strip for pictures if you wanted.

The fan experience for me on race day before the gates opened, while it was completely limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, was better than I thought it was going to be.

On race morning at around 11:00 a.m. ET, Kelvin and I drove down to the track outside of turn three of the four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) high-banked oval to check out the flea market, where present and past merchandise could be purchased.

There were two shopping trailers at the track, the Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson haulers, but they were not set up by SMI Properties, which have the exclusive rights to sell merchandise on track property.

Jimmie Johnson merchandise, NASCAR (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

A few hours later at around 2:00 p.m. ET, both Kelvin and I went down to the Motor Racing Network trailer to do an interview with booth announcer Alex Hayden for our weekly RSN show, RSN Trackside.

Surprisingly, likely due to the fact our RV was close to the broadcast compound and the lack of security/parking attendees available at the time, we were able to meet up with Alex without a bump in the road. Also, I noticed that part-time NASCAR driver and iRacer Landon Huffman was in the same campground as we were, so we were able to chat for a few minutes as well.

When it came to finally getting to the track, parking at the track was better than usual, but when you only have not even 20% capacity for a Cup race, there naturally shouldn’t be problems getting in. Our party took our truck to the turn three Earnhardt lot that was close to the gate.

The bag check was simple, as fans could only bring clear bags for food, drinks and other vital essentials at a NASCAR race. No coolers were allowed through the gate. Tickets were scanned on mobile devices, which made things easy.

Bristol, NASCAR (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

But getting through the gate, I was surprised to see a bunch of fans not wearing their masks properly or even not wearing them at all, especially at the lines for concessions and track souvenirs.

It seemed like the PSA of “Be an All-Star, wear a mask” wasn’t enforced strongly enough, especially after the race when winner Chase Elliott was high-fiving fans who weren’t wearing masks. I would like to see this rule enforced more during this weekend’s races at Texas Motor Speedway, which could see up to 67,500 fans in attendance.

When you go up the stairs to your seat and see the half-mile “Colosseum” completely surrounded by seats and the huge “Colussus TV”, the hair stands up on your arms.

Pre-race ceremonies were so cool to see. The fireworks display over the top of the stands/suites made it seem like an NFL game, and the flyover was spectacular.

I was watching the pace laps all around, and the feeling while waiting for the green flag was palpable. When the green flag came out, the racing was unbelievable. It was classic short track racing that felt like the old Bristol track in the 1990s, featuring intense two-wide and three-wide racing. There was even some four-wide action in the All-Star Open.

What is really cool is that if you sit on a straightaway, and cars go by you on the opposite end, you get this really nice breeze. Kelvin calls it a “vortex”, and it feels so good on a hot day. You instantly get used to it. The view we had was outstanding, 15 rows above the action.

Chase, Elliott
Chase Elliott, Bristol, NASCAR (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

And in the end, NASCAR’s most popular driver, Chase Elliott, pocketed a million bucks on the night when NASCAR saw the biggest crowd in professional sports since the pandemic began. The crowd went nuts the entire night, from when Elliott was moving his way up to taking the lead to eventually holding off Kyle Busch for the win. The same was the case when Matt DiBenedetto won the Open and when Bubba Wallace got wrecked by Michael McDowell in turn three.

Post-race, besides the normal mass exits leading to slow traffic, the track implemented a smooth exit policy in order to avoid crowds getting too close together. An usher dismissed spectators row by row and had fans exit to the right by going up the stairs. Very few people complied with this part, so I waited and watched the post-race festivities while taking quiet track pictures.

My take on the racing is that it was excellent for what it was. I expected this race to be a one-groove, classic Bristol race where the low line was powerful due to the PJ1. I expected a bunch of bump and runs as well in the final stage, but it was surprisingly clean. A lot of fans said the race was mediocre at best, but I don’t really think so!

Now we wait to see if NASCAR keeps the All-Star Race at Bristol for 2021. If so, I would like to see them increase the length of each stage. Have the leaders deal with lapped traffic! That’s typical in short track racing and gives them a bigger challenge to navigate. If they do that, I think you have a more exciting race with possibly more lead changes.

The choose cone didn’t really play a huge effect on the outcome of the race. But I would like to see it used at more short tracks, specifically tracks that use the 750 horsepower, low downforce package. The drivers love it, and they took to social media preaching for the usage of it several weeks prior to the race.

I was not a fan of moving the numbers directly in front of the rear tires. I’m used to seeing the numbers in the center of the sides, but I get why NASCAR tested that change, since teams need to rely on those corporate dollars. The underglow was cool, but it should only be used at the All-Star Race. Additionally, colors should be based on the primary sponsor, not on the manufacturer.

At first, I was surprised that the underglow was only used on the rear of the car, but having it on the front as well could have caused a glare effect on drivers’ rear view mirrors. I am also glad it was turned off on pit road so that pit crews didn’t have to deal with an extra distraction.

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This will be a week I will never forget. Bristol Motor Speedway is a track that everyone should have on their bucket list. Next time NASCAR hosts a race there, I hope it happens when the COVID-19 spread is at a minimum and that it can happen at full capacity. I’ll be back!