BMS announces big plans for '04


Photo By Rick Harris
Food City President Steve Smith (left) and Gene Cox,, promoter for the USAR sanctioning body, announce a new race being added to the BMS August racing lineup.

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com
BRISTOL -- The sign hanging in Jeff Byrd's office is a good reminder of how the Bristol Motor Speedway vice president feels about resting on your laurels. Simply it states, "Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered."
Despite being the only track on the NASCAR circuit to have both Nextel Cup races already sold out this season, BMS has put forth an ambitious plan for improving fans' visits during the 2004 season.
Gone is the Goody's Dash Series preceding the Craftsman Truck Series in August and in its place is the USAR Hooters ProCup Series. These cars, which are almost identical to Busch Series machines, promise to give that Wednesday night kickoff to the biggest sporting weekend in this area even more fireworks.
"We're excited about running with the Craftsman Truck Series at Bristol," said USAR President Gene Cox. "We've seen what the trucks can do. Together we feel we will have the most exciting night of racing all year at an economical price."
Stepping up to the plate to sponsor the 150-lap race for the USAR is local grocery chain Food City, who already sponsors Cup and Busch Series races at the speedway.
As track spokesperson Ben Trout pointed out in Wednesday's press conference at the Bristol Holiday Inn, they are one of three major sponsors whose name adorns eight events at BMS. The others are Sharpie, also sponsoring Busch and Cup races, and O'Reilly, the Truck race backer and sponsor of the increasingly popular NHRA Drag Racing event at the adjacent Bristol Dragway.
Those events alone bring in a total of 675,000 fans to the speedway complex. Speedway officials aren't sounding cocky when they spread news of not having to sell fans on coming to Bristol.
However, there is still Byrd's commitment of not becoming lazy and constantly reaching that next level. The expansion of seating capacity at the speedway has been the focus of recent years spending. This season SMI chairman Bruton Smith approved $10 million in funds to make it more enjoyable once fans come to Bristol.
The BMS staff will receive new offices and the fans will have an interactive amusement on the first floor in a complex being built on the hill above the track's current offices. One of the most popular displays promises to be a history of BMS in the museum-like attraction.
Inside the racing stadium, a new state of the art scoreboard with a four huge video screens on top is under construction.
Other big news included the introduction of two new major events at the facility. The Tennessee-Kentucky chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is putting together an outdoor expo in June that will encompass the whole BMS grounds.
Both the speedway and dragway will be utilized as hunters, fishermen, hikers, atv riders and other outdoorsmen transform the racing facility into the largest display of its kind anywhere in this region of the country.
The other major addition is the UARA-STARS short track racing series making its debut on the speedway's high banks. Local asphalt Late Model racers from this area and others will attempt to conquer the concrete surface.
It is a dream come true for short track racers as the idea was originated by a couple of local promoters. Former Kingsport Speedway managers Harold Crook and Brian Vance approached Byrd and communications department chief Wayne Estes about bringing the tour to the half-mile track. Byrd was cool to the idea at first.
Attendance levels were below expected the second year of a dirt racing experiment so the track had been sticking with the tried and true Cup, Busch Series formula. In no way, were they actively pursuing another race weekend.
"It's very big for me growing up around Bristol," said Vance, who was a champion driver at Kingsport before getting into management. "I always dreamed of racing at Bristol. I've got the opportunity to be there. It's just on the competition side.
"It's big for the series to take our local racers somewhere they wouldn't have a chance to ordinarily go."
The action will be compacted on Saturday, September 25 in an all-day show starting with qualifying and heat races before finishing up in a 150-lap feature.
The usual suspects will also be back with big news for the pole day in March. Charter Communications has returned in a role they held three years ago as the time trials sponsor.
Popular events at the drag strip like the Super Chevy and Mopar Mania will also return. The all-Harley drag racing weekend is another very popular returnee on tap. Local bracket racing and the surprisingly popular Thursday night Street Fights with people taking their everyday car down the quarter-mile is also back.
The York Ice Skating Rink and the popular Speedway in Lights display are two of the attractions to end the year.
As for the two biggest weekends, the Food City 500 in March is all sold out, but tickets remain for the supporting Busch Series race. Likewise the Sharpie 500 always voted the fans, favorite race in several well-known publications is a sold out affair. All the races building up to that event including the Food City 250, the most popular Busch Series race in the country still has tickets available.
Even with the weather as cold as it's been the last few days, an aggressive approach to 2004 means there's no hogs to be slaughtered at BMS anytime soon.