NASCAR green flags Bristol race weekend

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   BRISTOL, Tenn. -- The race is on at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend in spite of the current war situation and raising of the terrorist threat from "elevated" to "high".
   After a meeting of Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) and NASCAR officials Tuesday afternoon, the revving engines of NASCAR will go forward as the spring race fever rises in the Tri-Cities.
   "Everything is moving along as scheduled, and we anticipate racing here this weekend," said Ben Trout, senior manager of Communications at BMS. "Over the course of the next couple of days, depending on direction we get from NASCAR, we will look at any modifications needed in our security plan."
   Bristol officials talked to NASCAR Tuesday afternoon regarding the upcoming race weekend at Bristol. Sunday's Food City 500 is expected to draw 160,000 race fans -- what would be the largest crowd ever to see a race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
   The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Homeland Security Council, raised the national threat level from an "elevated" to "high" risk of terrorist attack or Level Orange.
   The decision followed President Bush's order Monday night for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq within 48 hours or face possible military attack. That statement infers a deadline for 8 p.m. tonight.
   In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon by NASCAR President Mike Helton, NASCAR said it plans to continue with the current 2003 racing schedule while closely monitoring the unfolding situation in the Middle East.
   "We will do whatever is necessary to continue supporting our country's efforts, including schedule adjustments if deemed appropriate," said Helton in the statement.
   Trout said BMS heightened track security measures shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Those measures had only been strengthened during subsequent race weekends.
   "We have greatly enhanced our security operations since Sept. 11," he said. Trout said hundreds of individuals play a role in security at BMS. Law enforcement officers from the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department, Bristol Tennessee Police Department, and Tennessee Highway Patrol oversee security and traffic control around the track during race weekend.
   The U.S. Army National Guard and members of the FBI are also involved in the race weekend security plan, Trout said.
   The last NASCAR race to be postponed was the New Hampshire 300, which was moved after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. After the start of the Gulf War in 1991, NASCAR did not postpone the season-opening Daytona 500.
   Industry personnel, including merchandise vendors, concession and food vendors as well as a slew of media organizations started setting up shop near the race way on Tuesday.
   "In addition to a large number of fans arriving Wednesday, we will be seeing a large number of industry personnel that set up here on race weekends," said Trout.
   Busch Series racing teams arrive Thursday while Winston Cup teams will arrive on Friday morning. The Busch Series Channellock 250 will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The green flag is scheduled to drop at 1 p.m. Sunday for the Food City 500.
   Trout said race fans were permitted to bring beverage coolers and carry-on bags into the Speedway provided they comply with size limits and were prepared for searches by security.
   "We are still allowing coolers that fit in the 14-inch size regulation," Trout said. "We are cautioning fans to arrive early to make checking in their seats faster and easier. We have increased the number of inspectors that will be going through the coolers and backpacks of fans going into the race way."
   Individuals or concessions groups who set up on raceway property must receive official credentials from BMS officials to be on site, Trout added.
   "Due to some new NASCAR policies we've had to cut back on total credentials," he said. "We have issued 1,500 credentials for the media -- as well as industry personnel -- that will be working around the race weekend done."