BRISTOL, Tenn. — Buckle up NASCAR Cup Series race fans, because the top series in American stock car racing is going to get dirty next spring.
Revealed Wednesday as part of the unveiling of the 2021 Cup Series calendar, Speedway Motorsports will lay down dirt atop the .533-mile concrete high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway on March 28 for the first NASCAR Cup Series race on a dirt surface in 50 years.
The most recent NASCAR Cup Series dirt-track race was held Sept. 30, 1970 at the half-mile North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C., won by Richard Petty.
“As everyone knows, Bristol Motor Speedway is the home to big events and we feel like this will be one of the most anticipated races in the NASCAR Cup Series in quite some time,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. “We have proven in the past that we know how to transform Bristol Motor Speedway into one of the most pristine dirt facilities anywhere around, so we can’t wait to see how the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series will perform on the high banks at the World’s Fastest dirt Half-Mile.”
This won’t be the first time that Bristol’s concrete banking has been covered in dirt. Speedway Motorsports made a similar move in both 2000-’01, bringing in dirt late models and the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series to the track in back-to-back years for critically-acclaimed events.
Now, following a seven-year stretch of successful NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series racing at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway from 2013-’19, Bristol hopes to provide similar action with its own dirt race.
“We are blessed here at Bristol Motor Speedway to have held some really captivating events in the last 60 years,” Caldwell said. “Hosting the tradition-rich Food City race on dirt is certainly an event that will immediately jump on the list of some of the most compelling events that have taken center stage at Bristol Motor Speedway.”
Bristol’s upcoming dirt race will take the place of its traditional spring weekend, which is annually headlined by the Food City 500 for the NASCAR Cup Series.
It’s a move that Jerry Caldwell, the track’s executive vice president and general manager, noted wasn’t necessarily an easy decision.
“I’ve got to give credit to NASCAR for being willing to step out and try things for our sport,” Caldwell told SPEED SPORT. “In a lot of ways, we’re returning to our roots. This is really just returning to the roots of racing. The short-track focused, dirt racing atmosphere is something we’re thrilled to be able to do.
“This has been talked about for a while, and shared through all of the different (industry) parties involved, Caldwell added.” “The other thing that has been so apparent within our sport – this year especially – is the amount of cooperation and collaboration between the sanctioning body, teams and stakeholders. This took input from all of those to make sure that we could pull this off, but having done it before allowed us to know that we could do it again and we can do it better than we did before.
“We look forward to that as we approach our race weekend next spring.”
The race distance, format, start time and broadcast details for the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track event will be announced at a later date.
The dirt-covered Bristol becomes the fifth new venue announced on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule, joining Circuit of The Americas in Texas, Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway, Wisconsin’s Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
It will be interesting to see what other dirt-track events may be scheduled at Bristol in the days — or perhaps weeks — around the March 28 Cup Series race.
Caldwell wouldn’t divulge exactly what other events might race in addition to the Cup cars while Bristol is a dirt track next spring, but he did allude to the possibility of other races in response to a teleconference question from SPEED SPORT.
“Once the dirt is down, then it’s going to make sense for us to explore some other options of how we can use that,” Caldwell said. “We’ll see what comes about there.”