I’m gonna just be frank right off the bat: I’m a NASCAR fan.
I first fell in love with the sport (and yes, it’s a sport,) while living in South Carolina, the home state of The Lady in Black, Darlington Motor Speedway.
There’s just something about the roar of the engines and the brash personalities behind the wheel that lend a rugged attraction to this thing called stock car racing.
I grew up watching watching Brad Keselowski flip Carl Edwards into the catchfence to win his first career race, Clint Bowyer chase down Jeff Gordon after a wreck that caused their pit crews to tussle on pit road and watching Jamie McMurray win a race by the smallest possible margin of .0001 sec.
I also grew up watching Trevor Bayne win the Daytona 500 as a rookie in his first race, watching Jimmie Johnson win six Sprint Cups back-to-back and watching Brian Vickers recover from life-threatening blood clots to race again.
There’s such a beautiful chaos on a racetrack; forty cars with 700hp engines whip around beautifully-scupted and unique asphalt stadiums, reaching peak velocity at sometimes 221 MPH. Drivers can experience as much G-force on a turn as an astronaut launching into space. They have to repeat that experience hundreds of times.
The style of racing is tough and hard-edged. Drivers can use many different styles to get to the same goal. Some, like Ryan Newman, are aggressive and will push you out of the way to gain a spot, even if you wreck. Others, like Jeff Burton, prefer to pick cars off one at a time with clean, elegant passes. Yet more, like Kyle Larson, will shift between lanes to find a groove and simply outwork you.
So it is with football.
See, Tennessee and Virginia Tech are set to play football at the immortal Bristol Motor Speedway, the pantheon of short-track stock car racing. The World’s Fastest Half-Mile is known for its mercilessness; cars don’t come out unscratched, if they survive at all. The banking is dangerous, the straightaways are narrow. The track features two different surfaces. It drives racers insane, having to turn 500 or more laps and execute a gameplan. Often, they give up around lap 450, resulting in massive carnage.
Football itself is a bit like motorsports; it’s a fusion of brute force and intelligent grace. It can be fast and hard-hitting all at once. It can produce moments of bone-shattering grit and inspiring awe. Teams can outskill opponents or simply run them over into submission.
The personalities are just as vivid; each team has a personality, whether from a strong footballing tradition (like NIU,) a strong fan support base (like Ohio,) or a culture-shifting leader (like WMU.) There are blood rivalries and a certain mutual respect that can make teams feel like individual representatives of their institutions.
That’s what makes Bristol the perfect place to have a football game. This Last Great Colosseum that sits 160,000 people has a unique way of amplifying sound. It produces an audible buzz that can be heard for miles into the Tennessee air, carrying the sound of pure adrenaline and American ingenuity across Appalachia, known as Bristol Thunder.
The collision of the values of motorsports and football is sure to happen here, where the world’s largest outdoor crowd for an athletic event is expected to gather. The pairing is Americana at its finest: excessive, brash and unapologetic.
I’ve advocated in the past to have a MAC game played at Michigan International Speedway, due to its wonderful in-field and sheer amount of room that could be made for a football field. Throw some bleachers in and BAM, perfect fit.
For now, I’ll have to settle with NIU-Toledo at the old U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, which I’m sure will in and of itself have a very interesting atmosphere that I could talk about at length another time.
Maybe someday, #MACtion on the Track will happen, whether at Indianapolis, MIS, or Chicagoland. I mean, two FCS teams are going to play in Bristol later this year, for crying out loud.
A fan can dream, at least.