BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL)- The field beside Bristol Motor Speedway was supposed to be full of campers, RVs, and die-hard NASCAR fans in town for race week. But empty stretches of grass around the track show a different reality created by coronavirus.
In downtown Bristol, State Street is quiet on what’s normally one of the busiest weeks of the year.
“It’s a shock. It really is. It’s a shock to the system, it’s a shock to financial,” said Keith Yonker, owner of The Angry Italian restaurant.
Yonker is adjusting to the lack of race fans and not being able to serve dine-in customers. Take-out and delivery service are the only options to sell his Chicago-style pizzas.
“Business is way down. Way down. But we’re persevering. We’re going to stay going until they tell us ‘no more,'” said Yonker. “We’re going to be here for the public as long as they want pizza and good Italian food.”
Without NASCAR crowds descending into Bristol, staying in hotels, and eating in restaurants, the loss of sales tax revenue from race weekend could affect city budgets beyond Bristol’s.
“Bristol Motor Speedway and the events held there affect the entire Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region,” said Bill Sorah, city manager of Bristol, Tennessee. “So that’s a broad issue. Hopefully as time moves forward, there will be an opportunity to reschedule the spring race. Those issues remain to be determined by NASCAR and Bristol Motor Speedway.”
NASCAR has announced the postponement of all races through May 3rd. A communications spokesperson for Bristol Motor Speedway sent News Channel 11 the following statement on Thursday:
With the Food City 500 race weekend being postponed for a later date this year, we’re all still working towards hosting that event and others. We’ve also been fully engaged with the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway this Sunday at 1 p.m. E.T. on FOX (where available), FS1 and on the FOX Sports app.
Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said the Bristol race annually marks a significant boost in the county’s March sales tax revenue. But a trend of lower revenues generated from the race in recent years means the degree of economic impact is still to be determined.
“The revenues have been declining in years. I think we could look at last year and get some direction on that,” Venable said.
But for restaurants near the track, a constant stream of customers has been taken away. Down the road from Bristol Motor Speedway, Mad Greek Restaurant has also transitioned to serving delivery and to-go orders.
“It’s kind of like a ghost town. Our sales are down 60 percent,” said Abigail McBride, a manager at Mad Greek.
But everyone expects the pandemic to pass, and NASCAR to return.
“Of course we miss our race fans. But we’re looking forward to them coming back in the fall hopefully,” said McBride.
While the rescheduled date of the spring race is still in question, Mayor Venable said he’s optimistic the fall race will occur as expected.
“I think we can reasonably project that we’ll have the Night Race in our 2020-21 revenue stream,” Venable said.