Saturday, March 2, 2024

Bristol axes NASCAR dirt race for 2024

Bristol Motor Speedway had the honour of hosting the NASCAR Cup Series‘ first event on a dirt surface since before the modern era, but is ending that experiment after three races. On Friday, a day before the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, the track announced the Food City Dirt Race will revert back to being held on the concrete course and return to being called the Food City 500.

“As the motorsports world focuses on ‘America’s Night Race’ tomorrow, we are thrilled to announce Bristol Motor Speedway will host the return of the Food City 500 on the concrete high-banks of the World’s Fastest Half Mile in the spring of 2024,” said track president Jerry Caldwell. “We will revive a logo reminiscent of the first Food City 500s in the early ’90s and resurrect the track’s vintage trademark look and feel of the era. We’re looking forward to a great weekend of racing and what’s to come in 2024.”

Bristol introduced the dirt race for the Cup and Craftsman Truck Series in 2021; while the Trucks have had dirt dates since 2013, Cup’s last dirt race was in 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds Speedway. The change came in a hope to stimulate attendance as the Food City 500 had struggled to draw fans compared to the Bass Pro NRA Night Race. The short track had also previously hosted dirt racing for the World of Outlaws in 2000 and 2001, and the Bristol Dirt Nationals for late models and other dirt cars was conducted in support of the Food City Dirt Race weekend.

The switch has garnered mixed reception. Supporters viewed it as a welcome change for a race with attendance problems, while common criticisms included arguing that NASCAR should visit dedicated dirt tracks instead or not pursue dirt racing whatsoever.

The inaugural weekend in 2021 was plagued by rain and flash flooding, followed by on-track concerns such as dust that forced restarts to take place single file for the first time since 2009 out of safety. Such issues were rectified for 2022, only for rain to return again while the Cup race was overshadowed by scoring confusion and mud accumulating.

The 2023 weekend marked the first in which things went relatively smoothly, but the return to concrete makes it the only “clean” dirt race. Christopher Bell (Cup) and Joey Logano (Truck) are the final Bristol dirt winners; the latter also won the first Cup race in 2021.

Unless NASCAR introduces a new race for 2024, none of the three national tiers will have a dirt event next year. The Trucks previously raced at Knoxville Raceway as well as Bristol, but that was removed after 2022.