Chairman against new track at Bristol
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Speedway Motorsports chairman Bruton Smith says he never gave approval for Bristol Motor Speedway to be redesigned with progressive banking as was done in 2007.
Smith, who is seriously looking at returning the half-mile track to its original form after a strong outcry from fans following Sunday's Sprint Cup race, said on Thursday the decision to add progressive banking was made by an employee that still works for him.
He said a final decision on whether to return the track to its original design and get back to the beating and banging that made Bristol the toughest ticket in NASCAR will be made over the next few days after he collects all the data from engineers, fans and drivers.
(One of my engineers) made the decision without mentioning it to me. In my opinion, that is where we went wrong. I have never been a fan of progressive banking. I had never, ever liked it.” -- Bruton Smith on new Bristol track
"It was one of my engineers," Smith said without identifying the name of the person who made the decision to change the track. "He made the decision without mentioning it to me. In my opinion, that is where we went wrong.
"I have never been a fan of progressive banking. I had never, ever liked it."
Smith said he discovered the configuration had been changed a few weeks after the project was completed.
"The gentleman is a good man," Smith said. "He still works for me. We didn't shoot him or anything like that."
Smith began looking at returning the track to what it was after approximately half of the 160,000 seats were filled for Sunday's race, won by Brad Keselowski. A poll he started on the track website indicated earlier in the week that 75 percent of the fans preferred racing on the old surface.
"We do listen to the fans," Smith said. "We listen to the fans because they are the ones that pay the tab. We want to be fan friendly, the best racing. For years this speedway was voted No. 1. We respect the fans' opinions. It has a great bearing on what we want to do."
Smith said engineers can use computer renderings of the track before it was changed to return the surface to what it was when drivers had to bump each other out of the way to pass.
Since the change to progressive banking -- the degrees of banking change as you move along the track to allow easier maneuverability -- drivers can go two- and three-wide to pass.
Smith said a rebuild, if he moves forward, could be done in plenty of time for the Aug. 25 night race.
Although many drivers say they liked the new configuration better because it allows them to race instead of wreck each other, the fans have been adamant they liked the old style.
Keselowski said after winning his second consecutive Bristol race on Sunday that he didn't "get all the hate, old versus new Bristol."
"I'm very biased, I know," Keselowski said. "But to me this was one of the best Bristol races I've ever seen. We ran side by side for 20 laps. There was some good beating and batting, some wrecking. ... I don't know what's better than that, short of a 30-car wreck every week."
Jeff Gordon, based on what he wrote on Twitter, agreed.
"I understand where fans (are) coming from on new config of Bristol, but the racing is better now in my opinion," he wrote. "Just not as many crashes."
Kevin Harvick said during Wednesday's conference call he preferred the old Bristol racing and is happy Smith is listening to fans.
"I'm all old," Harvick said. "Any time you run 200 laps at Bristol with no cautions, it's going to get boring fast in my opinion.
"I feel like the old-style track brought what the fans want to see, and whether it's what the car owners want to see or the drivers, and whether you've got to run into each other or you don't, the old-style racing was more to the appeal of the fans."
Bristol general manager Jerry Caldwell applauded Smith for polling fans.
"He's one of the most progressive thinkers in all of sports and somebody who is passionate about giving the race fans what they want," Caldwell said. "As these numbers are starting to show, we're hearing loud and clear from the race fans what they want to see. You've got to listen to the race fans."