For Tom Altom, race week in Bristol is a big reunion.
Over the years, he’s met a number of other people while camping out before the races, and they’ve formed a friend group that stays in touch between races through texting and Facebook.
On Wednesday, Altom and four of his racing friends stood in a packed line on the Bristol, Tennessee, side of State Street, waiting for free food samples from vendors at Food City Race Night.
All of them hold season tickets at Bristol Motor Speedway and return year after year.
“We’re very passionate,” Altom said while eating a banana pop. Altom, 55, is a truck driver from Massachusetts who comes down to Bristol twice a year for races at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Altom’s friends are also from out of state.
“We love being able to drink our coffee and look at the mountains,” said Mary Charley, 56, who added that it’s flat in Michigan, where she’s from. Charley and her husband, Ray Wallace, 53, met Altom a few years ago. They use race week as a chance to explore the area.
Cathy Brown, 66, said she and her husband, David, 64, live in North Carolina and are closer to the Charlotte Motor Speedway but prefer the racing and camping in Bristol.
“It’s just a hell of an experience,” Altom said about the races and festivities.
The friends held plastic bags filled with goodies they picked up from vendors. They were just a few of the hundreds of people who filled State Street on Wednesday for Food City Race Night, which also featured live entertainment, costumed characters taking photos with families and drivers signing autographs.
Sue Parker, 65, of Piney Flats, Tennessee, said a highlight of Race Night was getting a picture with Grant Enfinger, who drives the No. 98 truck in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
Parker and her husband, Gary, 68, stood in a line for free food samples on the Virginia side of State Street.
“We jumped in line, and we don’t even know what we’re getting,” Gary Parker said.
Race Night is a tradition in the Bristol race week lineup, but it’s had some changes over the years. Last August, organizers moved Race Night to the Bristol Motor Speedway after a scheduling conflict arose when NASCAR changed the date of its UNOH 200 truck series race. This year, they returned the event to downtown Bristol.
Some additions this year included a Birthplace of Country Music stage on Piedmont Avenue and a Kids Zone.
Rhiannon Brienze, of Johnson City, however, said she was missing one major piece of her usual Race Night experience — the company of her son, Johnny, who is currently serving in the army overseas in Kuwait.
They attend race week events most years, and he’s a big NASCAR fan, Brienze said.
“I feel like I’m keeping his tradition up when he’s not here,” said Brienze, 58.
Next year, when he’s back from overseas, “we’re all going to go,” she added.