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Bright lights of Bristol: Night races rekindles energy for BMS

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — The legend of Bristol Motor Speedway was built around unpredictable storylines, compelling finishes and breakthrough performances.

That was the scenario for the most recent Bristol Bash, which culminated with a throng of over 100,000 fans for Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race.

Herald Courier photographer Emily Ball went to a NASCAR race for the first time this weekend and got full access to the sights and sounds at BMS. Here's her impressions.

What sort of overview did BMS President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell have?

“Oh, it was an incredible weekend,” Caldwell said. “We work all year long for these major events, and we had people from all 50 states and 17 different countries here.”

In Saturday’s closing act, Chris Buescher snapped a 222-race winless streak by holding off fan favorite Chase Elliott over the final 50 laps. That event featured 11 cautions for 80 laps.

On Friday night, free-spirited Noah Gragson held off Brandon Jones to claim his third straight Xfinity Series win.

Short track hero Ty Majeski scored his first Truck Series victory Thursday after 18-year-old prodigy Sammy Smith continued his domination of the ARCA Series.

Tracks do not release official attendance figures, but Saturday’s show had the biggest fan turnout in nearly a decade.

“It was a huge crowd, and we were thrilled to welcome all those folks back,” Caldwell said. “The night had a wonderful energy about it. We heard it from the drivers. We heard it from NASCAR officials, and from those that had been longtime fans. We were thrilled.”

The thrills will continue next year with night races on Easter weekend and during Playoff time in September.

“We will have a huge Easter celebration and we are working on some big names,” Caldwell said. “We’re always working on new events and hopeful for some new things to come out in 2023.”

The next major act at BMS will be the Country Thunder Bristol 2022 music festival on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Jason Aldean and Morgan Wallen are the headliners.

“That’s going to draw another huge crowd,” Caldwell said. “We don’t stop. People don’t realize but about 300 days out of the year we have something going on at Bristol Motor Speedway, whether it’s at the drag strip, Speedway in Lights and all the other events throughout the year.”

The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals will move from Father’s Day weekend to June 9-11 next year.

“We’re excited to try that date,” Caldwell said. “We get a tremendous response from that event.”

For now, NASCAR fans can savor an unpredictable weekend which saw former Cup champs Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick eliminated from the Playoffs and Buescher become the 19th different Cup winner this season.

“We’ve had a pretty good run,” Caldwell said. “We had Cleetus and Cars a few weeks ago and then one of the biggest NASCAR races of the year.

“We were thrilled to have this place filled up to welcome all these people into this beautiful region. So many people are just blown away when they come to visit.”

PIT STOPS: The Night Race attracted 1,766 million viewers to the USA Network for a rating of 1.07. That was down from last year’s 1.20 rating with 2,20 million viewers on NBCSN. …The RAD Fall Fling, which attracts hundreds of grassroots racers from across the East Coast, is scheduled for this weekend at Bristol Dragway. …The Mike Keith Memorial season finale is set for Saturday at Wythe Raceway. Point leaders include Sugar Grove’s Keith Griffitts (Super Street), Chilhowie’s Morgan Widener (Modifieds), Rural Retreat’s Will Hostetler (UCAR) and Tanner Cook of Max Meadows in Pro Mini. … Former Legend Cars standout DJ Canipe (Fallston, N.C.) won Saturday’s Southeast Super Trucks race at Lonesome Pine Raceway. It was third victory of the season for Canipe. Lance Gatlin (Morristown, Tenn.) captured both Limited Late Model features. Abingdon’s Josh Gobble posted a pair of top-three finishes in the Late Model class, which had 20 cars in the first race and 18 in the second.

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