The Battle At Bristol was the biggest spectacle I have ever seen. I have been to national championships. I have been to too many bowl games to list. As far as spectacles go, the Battle At Bristol is number one in my book. To be honest, I had a healthy home field advantage. My parents are both retired teachers, and picked Bristol to spend their golden years. Gobbler Country was able to secure credentials to the game, and it was only an eleven hour car ride. I happily packed the kids and headed north to the biggest football game ever played. My brother was heading in from Roanoke, and I was just as jazzed as seeing him as the actual game. To me, that’s what Virginia Tech football is really about. It can kind of get lost in the stats, the recruiting, and wins and losses, but Virginia Tech football is about the relationships and opportunities to spend time with fellow Hokies. My mom cooked better than Martha Stewart, and the entire city of Bristol was transformed into the epicenter of college football.
Bristol has an amazing downtown, and it really put its best foot forward. All the shop windows were decorated in Virginia Tech or Tennessee colors. My stepfather informed me that the local high school kids were enlisted to decorate State Street to welcome the deluge of fans. I took my kids to a parade, and listened to Phillip Fulmer and Frank Beamer give their score predictions on a concert stage (take a guess which school they picked). I saw old friends, and met new ones. I went to fill up my rental the night before the game, and the advert above the pump had a choice between the Tennessee Smoked Sausage Biscuit and the Virginia Tech Fried Turkey Biscuit. The game had officially reached ludicrous level. It had advertising at the Sheetz gas pump. The day of the game, my brother was epically hung over. He fought the noon, yes noon, wake up call. After a big country breakfast, we headed out.
The traffic heading in was severe. I expected that, but looking at the packed campgrounds, I knew I was in for something special. There was parking for $20 all the way to $150. Funny thing was, those two “lots” were 20 yards apart, and in someone’s front yard. We got parked and situated, and I headed to the press box. I had a preconceived notion of the view, and she did not disappoint. It was like looking at a 747 from the runway. The pic at the top of this article is of the empty stadium when I arrived. The kind folks at Bristol Motor Speedway had a really nice set of binoculars at the work station of every media member. That’s the number one question I get about the game. “How was the view?” Or, “Could you see anything?”. My brother and stepfather got tickets from the mayor of Bristol, and were boasting about their sightlines. I guess it depended on how much you were willing to spend to see the field. Admittedly, the press box was two par fives from the actual playing surface. To me, it didn’t matter. I was part of something. The beat writers and the national guys were all offering up their best one liners about the layout, but I was smitten.
“It was like looking into the Grand Canyon and looking at a mobile home parked at the bottom.” -Roy Hatfield
I was really anxious to get down on the field, and as soon as that was an option, I made my way. Ava Wallace from the Washington Post was my running mate, and we made it down to the field in about ten minutes. When it’s something new, like the Battle At Bristol, there are many unknowns. “Can we go here?” “Do you think anybody would notice if...”, you get the idea. There wasn’t anything truly off limits. I had a security talk to me for ten minutes explaining how the turf was a nightmare, and the game would be a travesty. I had equipment guys (from both teams) offer me a Gatorade. Hell, I even had time for a vanity shot:
I met up with another reporter and kind of tried to look inconspicuous. That’s when things got really interesting. Sean Labar is a very good writer, and a friend of the Gobbler Country. We were watching warm ups and snapping pics. We started over to the Virginia Tech bench, and the King of England came by on a golf cart. Frank Beamer IS Virginia Tech royalty, and talking to him at turn 3 at Bristol Motor Speedway firmly qualifies as “shit I can’t make up”. He is everything you would want him to be: kind, gracious, self effacing. I have been fortunate enough to interview some legends in my career. Beams was on the bucket list. Unfortunately, the audio was so bad it ended up in the scrap heap, but I will always have this:
The game didn’t turn out as we had hoped, but the majesty of that game will never be forgotten. My biggest two takeaways were this:
- Man, we really should have won that game.
- Bristol Motor Speedway will totally do this again. It makes too much money.
I do predict this will happen again. I’m not sure Virginia Tech and Tennessee will be the dancing partners, but imagine Ohio State and Alabama...Notre Dame and Miami...Clemson and Texas. The first rule of business is supply and demand, and boys in Bristol have plenty of supply.