Bristol track surface changes coming

Updated: April 3, 2012, 4:15 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The fans have spoken. Bristol Motor Speedway will undergo a facelift before the August night race.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith announced on Wednesday that he has ordered the "go ahead to make changes to the track surface."

Smith did not specify whether he would return the half-mile track to the way it was before progressive banking was added in 2007. But he has said repeatedly since the 160,000-seat facility was half-full for the March 18 Sprint Cup race that he would return it to its original form if that's what the fans wanted.

Track surveys indicated early last week that about 75 percent of the fans wanted a return to the surface that created beating and banging instead of the two- and three-wide racing the new surface promotes.

"The race fans have spoken," Smith said in a prepared statement after spending the day at the Tennessee track. "We had input that included a wide range of opinions. But the majority we heard from said they wanted to see changes made.

"As a result, I have ordered the equipment and work will begin within the next two weeks to allow time to have everything ready for August."

Smith said an announcement regarding the entire scope of the project will be made soon. He has estimated costs would be approximately $1 million, and the changes would take about 90 days.

"The question we wanted to answer as quickly as possible was, 'Is something going to be done?' " Smith said. "The answer to that is, 'Yes.' We will have the details in two weeks as to what that 'something' is.

"Bristol Motor Speedway has been voted the most popular race track in the country more than a half-dozen times, even one of the 10 things you need to see before you die. We aim to keep the status as the fans' favorite."

The changes are coming even though drivers have been outspoken about prefering racing on the new surface. Brad Keselowski, who has won the past two Bristol races, is among those that support the new surface.

Smith The race fans have spoken. We had input that included a wide range of opinions. But the majority we heard from said they wanted to see changes made. As a result, I have ordered the equipment and work will begin within the next two weeks to allow time to have everything ready for August.

-- Bruton Smith

"I don't see all the hate for new Bristol versus old Bristol," Keselowski said after leading a career-best 232 laps two weeks ago. "I'm biased, I know. But to me this was one of the best Bristol races I've ever seen."

Kevin Harvick was among the drivers that favored the old surface.

"In all fairness, everybody in Bristol was trying to make the racetrack better, and in the end it didn't work for them," he said last week. "The telltale sign of that was standing in the infield and looking at the crowd. It used to be years upon years of waiting lists.

"When you take a risk like they took on changing the racetrack with engineers, you're taking a big risk. Now they're going to pay probably the ultimate (price)."

Smith told ESPN.com last week that the 2007 decision to switch to progressive banking that created the side-by-side racing was made by an SMI engineer without telling him.

He said he didn't learn of the change until two weeks after the project was complete.

Now, with the track no longer the toughest ticket in NASCAR, he plans to correct the mistake.

"In my opinion, that is where we went wrong," Smith told ESPN.com. "I have never been a fan of progressive banking. I had never, ever liked it."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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