BRISTOL, Tenn. — When asked what it was like to race at Bristol Motor Speedway in August, NASCAR legend and nine-time Bristol winner Rusty Wallace famously said, “When they turn the lights on at that place, all hell breaks loose.”
The lights will come on and stay on long after the checkered flag falls on the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race next Saturday. After the race, the last NASCAR hauler typically climbs the banks and exits the stadium around 2 a.m., leaving a skeleton crew behind to shut everything down.
This year, the crews, including more than 30 vendors, will be ready to storm the infield, flowing in and out of the stadium in a tightly choreographed effort comprised of heavy equipment, cranes and hundreds of workers.
“It’s like a Gantt chart for a construction site or a minute by minute that we use for our pre-race,” Caldwell said. “But it’s a two-and-a-half week minute by minute.”
After the crowd leaves the race, stadium cleaning experts Can Do Enterprises, based in Gray, Tennessee, has enlisted a crew of more than 200 workers. Once the infield is scoured, the crew will move on to the nearby buildings, then the grandstands, all of which are power-washed for the race, and then cleaned again afterward.
The first step in building up the field is installing a heavy-duty fabric barrier.
The speedway’s infield is normally slightly concave, allowing water to drain to the middle, Caldwell said. A football field must drain to the edges.
“So it kind of has that crest in the middle,” Caldwell said. “We have to raise the middle of it to get it that high so it will drain on the edge.”
To prevent tons of material from disappearing, the barrier must first be rolled over the infield.
Once that’s in place, Baker’s Construction Services, of Bluff City, Tennessee, will bring in 450 truckloads of rock and manufactured sand for the field base, which will weigh in at more than 10,600 tons.
Chad Baker, the company’s president, said BCS has worked with the speedway for many years. It also assisted with Colossus.
Stone for the project will come from a local quarry, Baker said.
“We’ll be placing the material with a dozer and a grader and run a robotic total station,” Baker said.
They’ll use Universal Total Station UTS site-measurement technology provided by SITECH Mid-South. Crews will place and compact the field base. When complete, the base will rise to a height of more than 3 feet and will be measured in 10 different locations, three times each, before being approved for use.
At the same time, T&B Equipment of Ashland, Virginia ― which specializes in event seating — will build the first series of risers. Overall, multiple seating companies will add more than 5,000 seats to the infield.
Builder J.A. Street and Associates, of Blountville, Tennessee, will also be on site, clearing out the Goodyear Tire Building, the lower level of the Infield Media Center, and Victory Lane areas for transformation into team and referee locker rooms and meeting space.
Jim Street said the lockers have been pre-manufactured and work will take about two weeks to complete.
“It can be done,” Street said. “It can be a 24-7 project. We’ll have the lights on.”
Street added that the entire project is a challenge, but it will be ready by game time.
Advent, a sports branding specialist from Nashville, Tennessee, will then step in to “create a fresh, modern look” with signs, Caldwell said.
Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol branding will also start to appear around the infield as Express Signs, of Kingsport, Tennessee, and Foster Signs, of Jonesborough, Tennessee, begin their work.
By Thursday, Aug. 25, according to a construction schedule, tons of rock and sand will be in place for inspection and ready for AstroTurf to install the field green.
The company will begin that Thursday to complete a grid survey, to make sure it’s NCAA-compliant.
“We’ll work with him [Baker] on that last day doing the final touches on it and we’ll be putting up the field goal posts,” said Mitchell Truban, director of construction at AstroTurf. “Chad has already poured some concrete pads for us and they’re custom field goal posts that are, most of them are 10-foot high, this is 14-foot high, because we have to go down a lot more than normally. It’s unique for this field.”
The field goal posts will be placed as Baker’s crew completes the stone drainage base.
Once the grid survey is signed off, the turf will be installed, Truban said.
AstroTurf will employ its 3D3 playing surface, which boasts a shorter, denser turf carpet that provides more fiber and requires less infill, Truban said.
The field also features the RootZone infill stabilization system, a texturized layer of fiber that curls down into the surface, creating a net-like matrix that stabilizes infill. This reduces “splash” during play and provides grass-like traction for players.
In all, 15 AstroTurf staff members will install more than 100,200 square feet of surface to a height of 1.5 inches, using more than 180,000 pounds each of silica and rubber infill. The process is scheduled to be completed by Sunday, Aug. 28.
Baker said there is “good coordination” between his company and AstroTurf in preparing the field.
By Monday, Aug. 29, many of the central elements will be in place. During the second week of construction, according to Caldwell, facets like lockers and sideline greens will go into place. Work also expands outside of the stadium.
Many pre-produced field components, including the sidelines, hashes and yard markers, will be installed over a two-day period, readying the field for the final touches from university artists and World Class Paints of Leland, Mississippi.
Other components to be added include play clocks. Concession stands and restrooms will be installed on the track surface for all of the sitting areas in place on the infield.
On Thursday, Sept. 1, BMS staff will move beyond the coliseum to prep the track’s three adjacent campgrounds, which are being centrally managed for the event. According to BMS, the work on the campgrounds requires laying fresh gravel, adding around 130 light towers and generators, striping spaces, and mowing more than 220 acres, in addition to the track’s own 500-acre grounds.
By Friday, the build-out of locker rooms, along with the grooming of the field and infield, will be complete.
Final touches and some more heavy lifting will take place during the final week before the game.
On Sunday, Sept. 4, Virginia Tech’s Casey Underwood and Darren Seybold from the University of Tennessee will be on hand to stencil and paint end zones and team logos. World Class Paint will supply the materials for crews to christen the 50-yard line with the game logo.
Heavy steel trucks will also move in as work begins on the construction of the massive stage for Bristol’s Tailgate Party. The concert will feature headliner Kenny Chesney with the Band Perry and Old Dominion.
The roofed structure is planned at 140 feet wide, 100 feet deep and over 40 feet tall, according to the speedway. It will require the help of three cranes to build. Once complete, it will extend from the infield, out over the backstretch pit wall, and onto the apron.
Campgrounds will officially open on Tuesday. Then by Thursday evening, all structures will be complete and all supplies will be in for the start of Friday’s celebrations.
Festivities will include multiple concerts on several stages, fan zones packed with rides, tailgate games and more than 55 vendors, the speedway reports. The grandstand gates will open Friday at 5 p.m. for the Tailgate Party. When the party ends, crews will then dismantle the stage and ship it out in 12 hours.
On game day, more than 1,000 workers will be on site to park, guide and shuttle the crowd around the grounds. Seventy employees will help coordinate park-and-ride locations in Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport, and multiple third-party vendors are bringing in more than 240 tour buses to keep the crowd flowing.
Unlike the races, the game will have a security perimeter that roughly follows the paths of Beaver Creek and Volunteer Parkway. Any guests seeking entry to the grounds must display their tickets or credentials to get in. The perimeter will feature fencing and metal detectors, which have not been used at the speedway in the past.
Like the races, BMS Guest Service locations, including Guest Welcome Villages, will be located on the grounds.
Thirsty fans looking for a cold one can check out two on-site Anheuser-Busch locations, which will go up during the construction phase. The Bud Light Down South Tailgate Tour will feature a climate-controlled bar with Bud Light, luxury tour bus with roof deck, food trucks, and traditional tailgate games. The Budweiser Country Club, an open-air, three-level build-out featuring elevated views, two 20-foot bars and Budweiser Signature Draught towers, will also be on grounds.
Once the game is over, the winner will receive the 88-pound Battle at Bristol trophy, designed by a fan from Nashville and constructed by MTM Recognition. The trophy stands over 2 feet tall and is nearly as wide.
One week later, East Tennessee State University and Western Carolina University will play on the field. Once that game’s over, crews will begin transforming the football stadium back into a race track.
Truban, who will attend the Battle at Bristol game, said AstroTurf will remove the field and prepare it for storage.
Those unable to see the makeover in person can watch the Battle at Bristol on television during ABC’s Saturday Night Football, starting at 8 p.m.
Other venues around the world will be watching the speedway as it transforms the coliseum into a football venue. Caldwell said he’s heard from a number of officials asking how it’s being done.
“It’s been a decades-long offensive drive to make this game a reality,” Caldwell said. “After so much time it’s exciting to see everything coming together, and there’s no other crew in the world I’d want to tackle these challenges with than the team at Bristol Motor Speedway. We can’t wait to welcome our guests on game day.”