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NASCAR Star Greg Biffle Turns Laps and Heads at Bristol Motor Speedway

Greg Biffle prepares to press the Mustang through the high banks of Bristol with one hand on the wheel.
Greg Biffle prepares to press the Mustang through the high banks of Bristol with one hand on the wheel.

I wasn’t sure I was ready for this and certainly had no idea what to expect.

That would be the best description for last Thursday’s media day events at the famous bullring known as Bristol Motor Speedway.

The racetrack, which held its first NASCAR Cup series race in 1961, underwent changes after owner Bruton Smith ordered the racing surface returned to the ‘good old days’ of Bristol with hopes of bringing back the rock ’em, sock ’em style of racing that had made Bistol one of the toughest tickets on the NASCAR circuit.

Things changed in a hurry last August when the Irwin Tools 500 saw Denny Hamlin pick up his first Bristol victory. The big story for the elated spectators was all about the bumping and banging that had returned to the 1/2 mile oval.

Tony Stewart brought a lot of what had been missing when he fired a two-handed toss of his helmet at Matt Kenseth’s car after the two got tangled and wrecked while racing for the lead.

Same for Danica Patrick, making only her fourth Sprint Cup series start, angrily wagging her finger at driver Regan Smith after contact from him ended her night with a wreck.

“Even though it was really tough to pass, it just reminded me of old school Bristol,” popular NASCAR driver and five-time Bristol winner Jeff Gordon said at the time. “I think it was a success and I had a lot of fun.”

Smith had the top groove of the track ground down, forcing drivers to run around the bottom and use their bumpers to move other cars out of their way. Excitement was back, and even the top of the track attracted plenty of action as the new top groove gained grip as it picked up rubber as the race progressed.

Looking to expand their media coverage, Bristol invited additional media outlets, including The Roanoke Star, to the special event last week. It was quite the show.

After a brief introduction to the colossal Bristol Motor Speedway that seats 160,000, and has a 40-foot wide track with banking up to 30 degrees, we were ready to tackle a little racing experience that guest NASCAR driver Greg Biffle said wouldn’t be for the faint of heart.

The first was racing the ‘NASCAR Experience’ Legend Cars in a five-lap timed competition. Only seven members of the media decided to put on the helmets for this one and our own Chief, Stuart Revercomb, took the checkered flag for the top prize and a trip to victory lane. Revercomb handled his car like a pro and won the competition going away by 4.5 seocnds.

For the record, I finished firmly in seventh after being disqualified for not being able to fit in the car. When I signed up, I pictured easily sliding into the driver’s seat-not having to fit into a space the size of a Gemini space module. My gaffes did draw a few chuckles from the pit crew.

The second event was clearly the highlight of the afternoon for everyone. We each got to take laps on the 1/2 mile oval with Biffle behind the wheel.

After I climbed in and told Biffle, a 19-time NASCAR winner, that I needed redemption after my Legends Car disaster, he laughed and asked, “You wanna win this thing? ”

We rolled onto the track and Biffle told me to hold on. The solid black 2014 Ford Mustang GT Premium pace car took off with the tires screeching. After the first lap, we were already approaching 90 mph and the 420 horsepower car with 390 pounds of torque was making the outside walls of Bristol and the 160,000 seats look like nothing more than a blur.

Biffle asked how I was holding up after the second lap, and when I answered, “This is awesome,” he grinned and floored it. I don’t know the mechanically technical aspects of 420 horsepower and 390 pounds of torque, but it translates to very, very fast. During the NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Bristol, speeds routinely top 150 mph.

When I exited the car with a high-five to Biffle I was hooked and ready to return for race week in August when Bristol will be the site for four exciting races from August 21st through 24th.

A pair of truck series races open the action on Wednesday with the Whelen Modified Series Titan Roof 150 and Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 and on Friday night, August 23rd the Nationwide Series Food City 250 races under the lights with the Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools 500 Night Race following on Saturday.

The excitement has returned to Bristol. Racing weekend will assuredly bring the bumping, banging and tempers that make the Bristol bullring one of the most popular tickets on the NASCAR circuit.

– Bill Turner

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