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WATCH NOW: GREGORY COLUMN: Once again, BMS is on the big stage

WATCH NOW: GREGORY COLUMN: Once again, BMS is on the big stage

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Justin Allgaier leads the field to the green flag at the start of the Food City 300 Friday night at BMS.

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Bristol is the second-smallest market on the NASCAR tour but the cozy city known as the “The Birthplace of Country Music” continues to command a national spotlight.

Saturday’s Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway marked the third NASCAR event at the 162,000-seat concrete-coated Thunderdome since the end of May. It was also the first Playoff event in track history.

That run included the July 15 All-Star Race which featured one of the largest public gatherings (estimated 22,000) in the United States during the COVID-19 era.

Despite much regional and national concern, BMS and NASCAR managed to navigate through the various safety protocols and emerge out of the intense microscope with no known virus outbreaks.

The high-stakes balancing act executed at Bristol served as a template for high school, college and pro sports. Officials from major entertainment venues also took notes.

The attendance capacity for the Night Race was in the same range as the 30,000 allotment for the All-Star Race. All those tickets were gobbled up by Sept. 9.

With 72-degree weather Saturday afternoon, there was a big-game atmosphere as fans enjoyed cookouts and souvenir stands.

NASCAR’s extended family can be rowdy and independent, but most folks followed the safety guidelines. A few even kept their masks on inside the stadium.

Whether you appreciate the motorsports scene or not, the story of Bristol Motor Speedway has to impress you on some level.

Consider the history of this architectural marvel tucked into the isolated mountains of Northeast Tennessee.

During the bumping-and-grinding glory days of Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace, BMS generated 55 sellouts over a 28-year span.

The BMS history book also includes a 2017 chapter dubbed the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol. That bold experiment pitted the Tennessee Volunteers against the Virginia Tech Hokies and attracted the largest crowd in college football history with an attendance of 156,990.

Can you say big game atmosphere on a par with the World Series and the Super Bowl?

The BMS rumor mill has been spinning ever since that day with wish-list events ranging from pro wrestling and Supercross to concerts and more college football.

Another rumor surfaced Friday when Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal tweeted that officials from Speedway Motorsports, the parent company of BMS, are exploring the possibility of running some sort of dirt race at BMS in “coming years.”

BMS veterans remember the magical summer makeovers of 2000 and 2001 when 14,000 cubic yards of clay were dumped around the World’s Fastest Half-Mile Oval for the Channellock Challenge involving the Pennzoil World of Outlaws sprint cars and the United Dirt Track Racing Association late models.

The date of May 24, 2000 stands out for sprint car fans. That’s when World of Outlaws legend Sammy Swindell unofficially smashed the track record with a lap of 13.60 seconds at 141.088-mph during testing. Dirt late model great Scott Bloomquist soon followed with a lap of 121.443.

An estimated crowd of 85,000 attended the World of Outlaws portion of the “Dirt Daze,” while a million viewers tuned on The Nashville Network.

Anything can happen at Bristol Motor Speedway, especially with motorsports maverick Bruton Smith calling the shots.

Want more proof?

The summer of speed at BMS culminated Saturday night with a socially-distanced sellout of 30,000 for The Night Race.

Once again, little Bristol is on the big stage.

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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