Truck racing to return to Bristol Motor Speedway

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- The return of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to Bristol Motor Speedway after a three-year absence and an update on construction highlighted a press conference held by track officials Wednesday afternoon at NASCAR Café.
   The O'Reilly 200 is set for Wednesday, August 20, 2003, as part of a racing doubleheader with the Goody's Dash Series. The truck race will take the place on the speedway's late summer schedule previously held by the All-Pro Series.
   In previous visits to the high-banked .533-mile oval, the Craftsman Truck Series showcased some of the best action the track had to offer.
   "Our fans continually have asked us to bring the trucks back to Bristol and as always, we try to give our fans what they want," said Jeff Byrd, BMS general manager. "Anyone who witnessed the truck races here in previous years, readily will tell you that the series provides some of the best Bristol racing there is to be seen."
   Getting a high-profile sponsor for the series return was a huge priority and Byrd was pleased to announce the involvement of O'Reilly Auto Parts. The retailer currently has 950 locations in 16 states, including 50 in the state of Tennessee. They hope interest in the race will help boost an aggressive expansion program scheduled that includes stores in the Tri-Cities area.
   "Bristol is a first class facility which draws some of the best race fans in the country," said O'Reilly promotions manager Kevin Greven. "We know the O'Reilly 200 will help solidify BMS as the fans' most popular track. We are excited to partner with Bristol as we continue to further our company's move eastward."
   The other big news was the update on the construction efforts at the speedway which Byrd described as on schedule. The track capacity should be around 165,000 by spring when the Winston Cup crowd will compete in the Food City 500.
   Officials were quick to point out that besides adding seats, concessions and restroom improvements were also being worked on.
   Excitement surrounding the new construction has track officials optimistic that they will add to a record set in August for the largest crowd to attend a Busch Series event. Early estimates are that 135,000 fans could witness the 2003 Food City 250. That's more people for a Busch race than attend Winston Cup races at all but a few venues.
   The truck race was strategically placed on the same week, with hopes that crowds to that event could grow around 70,000 to 80,000 over the next few years. With the popularity of the events and the huge turnout for the annual Food City Race Night held on the Thursday in downtown Bristol, the staff at BMS has deemed this NASCAR's most popular weekend.
   "We believe this will become the most popular Craftsman truck race on the schedule," said Byrd. "We worked really hard to get this in August. The Tri-Cities have become a vacation destination during the August Bristol race week. Fans like to go to Daytona for a week in February, they like to go to Charlotte for a week in the spring and now they come to Bristol for a week in August.
   "It's another reason to get there early in the week. It's a great line up with the truck race and Goody's Dash race on Wednesday night, Thursday with Busch Series qualifying, the Food City Race Night, Friday's Busch race and Saturday's Winston Cup race."
   Jack Sprague was the last winner of a truck series race in 1999, en route to capturing the series titles. Other previous winners include Joe Ruttman in 1995, Rick Carelli in 1996 and Ron Hornaday who dominated races there in 1997 and in 1998.