It’s a big week for little Bristol.
Folks from 50 states and over 20 foreign countries will make the trek to Bristol Motor Speedway to experience a spectacle dubbed as the Night Race.
In the NASCAR world, this has long been a must-see event.
Only the most fearless and finest drivers have emerged with the big trophy in Bristol’s Saturday night showdown.
For months, residents in Northeast Tennessee, far Southwest Virginia and beyond have seen the newspaper advertisements, television commercials and billboards with flashy images of past Bristol races.
For diehard fans, the melodrama surrounding the 1999 Night Race event ranks as one of the most memorable moments in the history of the track and sport.
In a scene straight out of a pro wrestling main event storyline, the sport’s ultimate tough guy, Dale Earnhardt, wrecked low-key Texan Terry Labonte on the final lap to win the Goody’s Headache Powder 500.
That final act, and the subsequent passionate reaction of fans, exposed a new wave of fans to the Bristol thrill ride.
Bristol, the second-smallest marker in the sport, was profiled in countless articles while BMS became the backdrop for the popular 2006 animated film, Cars.
Meanwhile, the speedway had an unmatched streak of 55 sellouts from August 1982 until March 2010.
For various reasons, sellout crowds of around 162,000 no longer pack the seventh largest sports venue in the world but the stories of triumph and travail remain just as golden.
This Saturday main’s event is vital for the Bristol region and for NASCAR.
Following a lackluster gathering for April’s Food City 500, the spotlight and scrutiny will be more intense in terms of the style of racing at the .533-mile concrete oval and the overall health of a sport that badly needs an infusion of younger fans and new sponsors.
With a downtown revival, continued expansion at The Pinnacle shopping, dining and entertainment complex, and the possibility of a grand casino, Bristol is on a roll.
To continue that progress, the city and region needs a return to the glory days at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Night Race is about more than fast cars and motorsports stars. It’s a major league event featuring festivals, military flyovers, fireworks, concerts and more.
For those folks who take pride in their community, now is a good time to make a vote in the future of the city by backing a sport that helped to place Bristol on the national stage.
To borrow a phrase from ace detective Barney Fife, this is big.