BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – In just six days, some of the best stock car drivers in the world will descend upon Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City Dirt Race on Sunday night.
But, the unique circumstances surrounding this year’s spring race have conjured up a unique level of excitement from locals and out-of-town fans, alike.
“Being born here and always going to the race since I was little – it’s so exciting,” Bristol native Lexie Lunsford said.
“Very excited, glad they’re doing the dirt race again,” Gail Stansell said, having made the trip from North Carolina.
For Lunsford, the thrill of increased traffic and activity at Bristol Motor Speedway creates an atmosphere all its own.
“Just like driving by the race during race week, it’s just a whole different type of happiness,” she said. “Seeing all the race people walk in and knowing people come to your hometown for a big old race, it’s pretty cool and exciting.”
This year’s race will be unlike any before at Bristol, as drivers and fans will pack into the venue on Easter Sunday for the first time. It will be the first NASCAR Cup Series race held on the holiday since 1989, when Rusty Wallace took the checkered flag in Richmond.
Lunsford is an employee at Mad Greek Restaurant in Bristol, a spot usually popular with racing fans throughout the week. However, because of the holiday, the dining room will be closed before the race on Sunday.
“It’s a night race so people usually come here on their free time and eat and everything,” she said. “But, everybody is going to be with their family, so I think it’s going to be totally different.”
For some racing fans, not even a race set for Easter Sunday could keep them away.
Cathy Manning didn’t even give it a second thought.
“No question,” she told News Channel 11 on Monday afternoon.
Manning and Stansell formed a friendship after meeting at the speedway years ago. Now, every year, the two return to see each other and watch their favorite drivers round The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.
“I’ve never seen such friendly people and I don’t think it’s because they know you’re here for the race,” said Manning, a Virginia native. “I think they’re just naturally nice.”
“You know at one time they had ‘Welcome back to Bristol – you’re coming home’ and that’s exactly the way I feel when I come up here,” Stansell said. “Everybody is friendly, you know people, it’s all familiar so it’s great.”
Both ladies were in attendance for last year’s dirt race and remember it well.
“The dirt race last year was kind of…dusty, even though it was flooding the night before,” Stansell said. “It was still kind of dusty.”
This spring, she’s hopeful that the new addition of an evening start will help with the visibility.
“I’m hoping the night race will hold down the dust,” she said.