How To Make the Next Bristol Dirt Race Better Than The First
The Bristol Dirt Race will return in 2022 and the focus will now shift towards how to make the event better next year and beyond after the inaugural race was won by Joey Logano on Monday afternoon.
Everyone involved in the first NASCAR Cup Series race on dirt since 1970 will agree that it wasn’t a perfect event, nor did anyone expect one, but there were countless silver linings buried amongst the learned lessons from such an ambitious effort.
The race checked numerous competitive boxes from an underdog team leading the second most number of laps, a back-and-forth battle for the lead during the final stage and late-race dramatics set-up by a caution with four laps to go.
A rare sight in NASCAR these days, cars were sliding all over the surface, allowing for passes and door slamming action.
It was objectively an entertaining race.
On the other hand, the track dried out too quickly, and the weight of the Stock Cars produced bumps, potholes and divots. The track kicked-up a considerable amount of dust, prompting NASCAR to call for single-file restarts for most of the final stage, amidst visibility concerns for competitors and fans alike.
The NASCAR Cup Series will also debut a new car next season, which due to its lower profile tire and independent rear suspension, might not even be immediately compatible with dirt.
That’s to say brainstorming will immediately begin on how to make the second Food City Dirt Race better than the first.
Here’s where NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Inc. should start.
There were a lot of things out of NASCAR’s control over the weekend and most of it surrounded the weather. Mother Nature after all, is undefeated. The decision to run the Food City Dirt Race during the day was a choice. Most of what challenged track preparation would be mitigated by simply running the race under the lights.
That’s because nothing draws moisture out of a dirt track like the sun. How quickly the track slicked off, kicked up dust and chewed up tires all comes back to the sunlight to various degrees. Run the race at night. After all, how many daytime dirt races in the summer can you actually think of?
Regardless of asphalt, concrete or dirt, Bristol Motor Speedway has struggled with both rain and snow during the spring event. That challenge is tenfold with a clay surface, and probably made the difference between a Sunday race and a Monday race.
Based purely on the 2021 schedule, Speedway Motorsports Inc. could swap out Bristol with the dates currently held by Circuit of the Americas (May 23) or Raceway Sonoma (June 26) to get Thunder Valley off its rainiest period. That will also allow NASCAR to run the race at night without the risk of near-freezing temperatures as was the case this past weekend.
It’s still up for debate how compatible the Next-Gen car will be for dirt racing with its independent rear suspension and 18″ wheel. The solution is to simply run this car back next year for Bristol. There is no shortage of them lying around and there’s no need to junk up a pristine Next-Gen car for a dirt race.
And since they won’t need the Gen-6 car for anything other than dirt racing, NASCAR needs to R&D the bracing needed to remove the windshield. Remove as much lead weight as possible because a 3,300 lb. stock car is what contributed to tearing up the racing surface. The car doesn’t need the weight, the windshield or the limited rear travel of the current regulations. A Cup car doesn’t need to be as nimble as a Late Model, but it could stand to be closer.
An element of dirt racing in the Blue Ridge region is a red clay that contains a high amount of sand. They call it Bluff City Clay. It’s well known to the teams that race at nearby Bulls Gap, Maryville, Seymour and Wytheville. The sand makes the racetrack more abrasive than those found elsewhere in the country. It’s fine for series like the World of Outlaws or Lucas Oil Late Models that run shorter features and allow for up to an hour to rework the track between races, but that’s not feasible for NASCAR.
The Bristol Dirt Track contained multiple layers of dirt. The foundation was built upon a layer of sawdust, then the racing surface from the 2000 and 2001 dirt races held at the speedway. The second layer was lime treated clay from the campground across the street. The racing surface was found at three sites within a 35-mile radius of the speedway.
Perhaps, for a less abrasive surface, SMI could import clay from central Pennsylvania or the Midwest, widely praised as some of the best racing surfaces in the country.
One way or the other, Goodyear is going to need a different tire. The tire it initially brought this year began to show cords and blistering 20 laps into a run. Granted, some of that was mitigated by the additional competition cautions on Monday, and the track certainly needed the reworking time, but is that sustainable moving forward?
Beyond that, running the Next-Gen car would mean producing an 18” bias ply and if they can’t, what would a radial alternative be like?
So, one way or the other, Goodyear will probably have to bring something different. If NASCAR does retain using the current generation car for the 2022 Bristol Dirt Race, perhaps they can build a tougher tire that doesn’t wear as quickly on top of the Bluff City Clay.
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