NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell praised the series after the inaugural Bristol dirt event, but also admitted it learned plenty for the future.
Both the Camping World Truck and Cup Series events ran Monday after heavy storms washed out all activity on both Saturday and Sunday. A 150-lap Truck race ran Monday afternoon, followed by an approximately two-hour break (and track preparation) before the green flag for the first dirt Cup Series event in 50 years.
O’Donnell, the executive vice president and chief racing development officer, couldn’t deny it was a “wild” few days at the Tennessee bullring. Officials faced storms that not only washed out the weekend and created plenty of work, but flooding around the racetrack resulted in speedway officials having to evacuate and relocate campers.
“When you think of the challenge of coming into this weekend just to race on dirt, how much went into that, but then you add on the fact that we experienced flooding, hail, a day race with unbelievable sunshine, and more laps with a Truck and a Cup race then you’d ever put on a racetrack normally if you were conducting a dirt event,” O’Donnell said.
“So, all in all, really proud of the industry for setting this up, for getting the racing in for the race fans, knowing it was a challenge for our fans sticking around on Monday; an incredible crowd turned out here today, and we’re really proud of that.
“Certainly (we) learned a number of things throughout the race and throughout the week that we can apply as we go forward in 2022, but all in all, I’d give it a thumbs up with some things to learn. The fans had asked us for years to look at innovation around the schedule. In fact, we’ve been taking to task for not making some moves, and we were bold and aggressive this year, and I’m proud of the team for doing that. I’m proud of the industry for taking a chance here.”
Both races sold out their socially-distanced grandstand tickets. And before the race concluded, Bristol officials announced the Cup Series spring 2022 weekend would again be on dirt.
What other series will join the premier series that weekend is to be determined. But O’Donnell said officials never looked at the debut dirt weekend as a one-off.
“Our hope was this would be a success, something we could repeat, become really a staple of the schedule going forward,” he said.
There were challenges, though. NASCAR had to adjust its stage lengths and added two competition cautions because of excessive tire wear. The race’s distance (250 laps) required track work during caution periods, and officials even decided to go to single-file restarts at lap 170.
The decision of single-file restarts came after numerous drivers and spotters complained over the radio about not being able to see because of the dust. O’Donnell cited the common practice of going to single-file restarts in dirt racing to help alleviate the problem, and once NASCAR decided to do so Monday, they stuck with it for the remainder of the race.
“I think no matter how much you put in from an industry (standpoint), to think about the what-ifs, there’s always going to be some variables thrown at you, be it weather, Goodyear,” O’Donnell said of the weekend. “I applaud Goodyear for bringing a tire that the drivers have always asked that we want a tire that wears. In this case, we based that on what the trucks had done in Eldora.
“You saw the trucks were able to run upwards of 100 laps. Not the case for Cup, so we made some adjustments to the format of the race, which I think everybody did a really good job with in terms of the industry, looking at those adjustments and making it happen.
“That’s another learning for us, is how do we work even closer with Goodyear. Now that we’ve been on this track surface, what can we learn, and what can we continue to apply from a tire standpoint.”