I finally made my first trip down to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Jeff Byrd 500 on Sunday. There was one major difference between this trip and the dozens of other Cup Series races I have been to over the last 14 years. I was attempting to do the impossible: go to a NASCAR race without spending a single penny.
As a 21-year-old recently unemployed college student, there is not any money available to be spent on entertainment. I had been wanting to go to a race at Bristol for as long as I can remember. Being in southwest Virginia for college, the track is just a short drive down to the Tennessee border. But with tickets being at least $100, it was out of my price range.
Aside from purchasing tickets, there needed to be enough money left over for food, drinks, parking, and gas. Luckily the college is close enough that I knew I would not have to pay the ridiculous race weekend motel prices in the Bristol area.
After adding up the costs, I decided that the only way I could justify a trip to Bristol was to find a way to do it for free.
In the words of How I Met Your Mother's Barney Stinson, "Challenge Accepted."
The first task I looked to tackle was finding a way into the race. The college always sends athletes to work as ushers at the track to raise money for the sports program. I figured being the main sports writer for the school's newspaper would be enough to get me a spot. But when I asked, I was turned down. There was not enough extra room available on the buses.
As a journalism major I have made a few connections within the local media. I figured the radio stations would have tickets to give away. I looked into to it, but with no luck.
It was now the week of the race, and I was down to an option I did not want to resort to: the girlfriend. My girlfriend is a townie (a person within a college town that does not attend the college, but associates with the campus community). One of her best friends is the daughter of a man that owns a big GM car dealership and several other businesses in town and they always have tickets to the races at Bristol. I got her to check for me, but all of the tickets had been spoken for (and from what I heard they did not actually get used).
By Thursday I was running out of options and the race was only a few days away. I came into my dorm room and opened my Twitter account to check on the running commentary from college basketball writers about the games that were on television. Buried within the hoops talk there was a tweet from Kenny Wallace.
It read, "My sponsor UNOH 'University Of Northwestern Ohio' and myself, are giving away 8 tickets to Sundays Bristol Cup Race! 2 per person!"
This was my chance. I sent a response and waited.
He posted the first winner. Not me. The second and third winner. Still not me. Then the fourth and final winner.
I was disappointed, but I knew winning a pair would be a long shot.
I sat on my bed and started watching some basketball. Just as I dozed off my phone buzzed. It was a notification from my Twitter app from Kenny Wallace. It read, "@treywilson757 You Win!..Final 2 tickets."
As it turned out, the final winner could not actually attend the race. I was PUMPED.
Now that I had obtained tickets I had to look for a way to fund the gas. I drive an old Silverado that gets around 8-10 miles per gallon. Not ideal with gas prices on a steady rise. It is about 90 miles from our campus in Bluefield to Bristol. It was going to take about $60 to cover the gas costs.
One of my friends over at Virginia Tech agreed to pay for the gas in exchange for the second ticket, but on Saturday he found out he had to be on campus for a mandatory meeting on Sunday. I found someone else late Saturday night that wanted to go and would cover the gas.
Ticket: check. Gas: check.
Parking was the next issue. I talked to one local resident that goes to every race at Bristol. He told me that the limited free parking fills up very fast, and the rest of the parking around the track runs anywhere from $25 to $100 (Ouch).The only option was to leave Bluefield by 4 a.m. to get a spot in a free lot.
We departed early and made the drive through through the mountain roads of southwest Virginia and arrived at the track around 6:00 a.m. Sure enough, the lots were filling quickly. We parked and got in a nap before heading up to meet with Kenny Wallace to pick up the tickets.
Naturally we got pretty hungry as lunch time rolled around. We scouted out a few vendors before finding the Tornados representatives passing out free samples. They were glad to give us as many samples as we wanted. After numerous trips to mooch food, we found some kids handing out free Pepsi Max samples to wash it down.
Free samples and promotional giveaways ended up being necessities. I got free sun screen from the Nationwide display. When the heartburn from all of the Tornados hit, I headed over to the Tums display for more free samples.
We settled into our seats as the race was about to start. I was shocked at how empty the track was. As the race went on it did not live up to the Bristol hype. I felt like I was watching a race at Fontana. There was some decent side-by-side racing for some portions of the race, but it lacked the aggressive, temper igniting racing that made Bristol the hottest ticket in NASCAR. Resurfacing that track was a horrible idea. They should probably change the nickname from 'Thunder Valley' to 'Slumber Valley.' I enjoyed the few laps that Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch fought hard for the lead near the end. Back to the experiment...
I started getting hungry again. As good as the Tornados were, they were not very filling. I figured I had to break my experiment and get some food. I headed to the only concession stand I could find that took debit cards and ordered two hot dogs. Lucky for me, the machine quit working when they tried to swipe my card and they let me keep the hot dogs for free.
After the race we grabbed a quick nap while traffic cleared and headed back to Bluefield. With a little bit of mooching and a lot of luck, my experiment was a success. Aside from the less-than-thrilling race, it was a good time and I can not wait until the next time I can make a race.
Pictures I took throughout the day can be viewed here.