BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – Plenty of people were in the stands Saturday night to watch the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway and business leaders said that’s a welcome change after years of poor attendance.
While BMS could not confirm an official attendance count for the night race, it was obvious the stands were packed.
It was not a sellout by any means, but Discover Bristol Marketing Director Christopher Perrin said the track looks to be back on the upward swing.
“It’s really starting to feel like the old Bristol,” Perrin said. “There was a buzz all over Bristol. Everywhere you were turning you saw race fans.”
BMS and many NASCAR tracks struggled with attendance following the 2008 economic recession.
While Saturday night’s attendance fell short of the sell-out crowds of the early 2000s, Bristol Campground owner Bill Gaines said it did translate to an increase in campers on his property.
“We had 333 [campers] and that is up. It’s up from last year,” Gaines said.
Weather has often impacted Bristol races, and Gaines said the perfect weather experienced this past weekend helped attendance.
“The weather forecast was great and it played out to be great and it was just a beautiful, beautiful weekend for NASCAR racing,” Gaines said.
It was also the first race weekend with the Bristol Casino open about 15 minutes away from the track in Bristol, Virginia.
Perrin said the casino is a perfect fit for the NASCAR crowd.
“It put Bristol even further on the map for race fans,” Perrin said.
Gaines said the casino brought more people to the track, and it may play an even bigger role once the full Hard Rock Hotel and Casino opens down the road.
“I think it helped. I think when they get the casino fully open it’ll have a lot more impact on the numbers,” Gaines said.
A big turnout at the race also helps the local economy.
Perrin said it’s been a busy couple of weekends back-to-back with the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion festival and night race.
“It’s arguably the largest time period as far as visitation for the entire calendar year,” Perrin said.
Perrin said the strong attendance this weekend could be a sign NASCAR is on the rise again.
“I see NASCAR as a sport is trending in a very positive direction. We’re continuing to see people wanting to come to Bristol Motor Speedway,” Perrin said.
NASCAR returns to Bristol in the spring for the Food City Dirt Race once again.
While Gaines thinks the September NASCAR Playoff race will continue to improve in attendance, he has concerns for the dirt race.
“My campers tell me they come to see NASCAR. They like dirt racing, but they don’t come to see [NASCAR] on dirt,” Gaines said.
Perrin disagreed, saying the dirt race provides crossover appeal for fans of NASCAR and dirt racing.