Bobby Allison’s Bristol Motor Speedway memories
By Taylor Goins
May 3, 2017
It’s rare that one can bring up the topic of “Bristol Motor Speedway” without someone interjecting a statement about which is better: “New Bristol” or “Old Bristol.”
These contrasting labels of the same track refer to pre- and post-configuration changes that altered the primary racing grooves. However, what needs to be included in the Bristol conversation is “Classic Bristol.”
Classic Bristol can now only be accessed through video footage, race reports from days gone by, and something more valuable than all of those things combined: the memory of those who made Bristol classic.
Classic Bristol is before the “New vs. Old” debate, before the asphalt gained its famous tan hue, and before millennials were ever born. Classic Bristol is Bobby Allison.
Allison is one of the utmost legends in Bristol’s storied history and is also a NASCAR Hall of Fame Member and 1983 premier series champion.
He took the time to do an exclusive interview with The Racing Experts to shed some light on what Bristol was like in NASCAR’s glory days, and how that compares to today.
Allison is, in so many ways, the perfect epitome of “Classic Bristol.” The leader of “The Alabama Gang,” Allison experienced much success at the half mile oval over the course of his storied career.
“I had a lot of good times,” Allison said about his experience at the track. “I only got to win [there] four times.”
Allison’s trademark modesty shines through in that statement, as there are few who could downplay such a significant achievement as winning four times at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Most fans today consider Bristol one of NASCAR’s best tracks, and Allison feels the same way. “The Last Great Colosseum” is a fan-favorite because there is a lot of contact on the .5 mile circuit and tempers usually flare.
For those lamenting how racing isn’t the same as it used to be, comfort can be found in the fact that what makes Bristol great today is the same as what made it great in the beginning hard-fought racing with a little bit of a mean streak.
The Bristol races were always exciting, and a great challenge,” Allison said. “All of the good stuff and all of the bad stuff…in one big pile. It certainly was one of my favorite places.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed from Bristol’s past is the noise. The same ear-splitting decibel levels that gave “Thunder Valley” its nickname were still present before the grandstands were enclosed around the track.
While reflecting on what stood out the most about Bristol, Allison said, “If you were trying to talk to somebody, you couldn’t hear them because of the noise the crowd was making. I’m glad to see a lot of excitement around here this time too.”
When asked about how the racing today resembles the racing in the past at Bristol, Allison said that while largely it is the same, there are some key differences.
“Racing has evolved to where it is not as identifiable to the cars we had,” he said. “I think that was a big part of it. People loved the Ford’s, Chevy’s, Dodge’s Mercury’s, AMC’s, and anything else that I might have drove along the way. The car is pretty generic now.”
As many are aware, Bristol has tried various configurations in recent years to try to bring the “perfect” racing configuration to the table for NASCAR. Even this season, Bristol has been applying a VHT compound to the inside lane to give it more traction and create the bump-and-run racing that fans seem to crave.
“There’s gotta be a magic formula out there somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet,” Allison said regarding the ongoing search to find the right way to balance multiple and single grooves and different track configurations.
“When I find it, I may try to bring it to NASCAR, but some of those guys are a lot smarter than me, so they might not want to accept it.”
While Bobby Allison is known for speaking honestly, there may be one flaw in his final comment: you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone smarter than him. He is, after all, the man who made Bristol classic.
Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images
Daniel Courson/The Racing Experts