Pinty’s Wingman Weekend in Bristol Contest Winner, Todd Aitchison, gives us an insider’s look into Bristol Motor Speedway Weekend in this guest blog post. Read on for Todd’s weekend highlights and what it was really like to be the Wingman Weekend Winner at Bristol! This is part two of a two-part series. Click here for part one!
Day 3: Saturday August 18th – Bass Pro Shops NRA 500 – The Legendary Bristol Night Race!
The big RACE DAY has finally arrived! After another late, but very fun, night out in Johnson City, I awoke and opened the blinds to see grey skies and rain in the mountains. This actually made me happy because my weather app said it would arrive early in the day and clear by late afternoon, and sure enough, by 5ish the clouds parted, patches of blue sky began to be seen, and finally the sun broke through just before race time!
We started off getting to the track around 3pm and the atmosphere was amped up – it was obvious it was the Cup race day. The crowds in the Midway/Souvenir hauler area were huge in comparison to Thursday and Friday. (Tip to those who go to a race: buy your souvenirs the first day or two, not the day of the cup race!)
I spotted Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Richard Childress DOW Chevrolet, at his souvenir hauler signing autographs and taking pics with fans. He commented to another Canadian fan that he thought half of Canada must be in Bristol, because he’d talked to more Canadians today than anyone else!
From there, we dropped off our last souvenir purchases in the Pinty’s Suite, grabbed a snack, put on our scanners and headed down to pit lane to watch the action build as race time approached.
We got past security in Turn 4 to walk up the track and feel the banking, and also the PJ1 (Track Bite) they sprayed on the exit of the corner. It literally stuck my shoes to the track! It was pretty cool – it gave me an idea about how that would add grip in the lower line come race time especially once it got some heat to it from the tires.
There were many former drivers roaming the pits on their way to hospitality area in the infield, including two-time Winston Cup Champion Texas Terry Labonte and 1990 Daytona 500 Winner Derrick Cope.
We went back up to the Pinty’s Suite to cool off and have a cold Budweiser or two, and as the pre-race ceremonies approached, we headed back down through the tunnel to pit road so we could be there for all the action.
You could tell it was almost race time as pit lane was jammed with people! Everywhere I turned I saw a crew chief, driver, or driver’s wife that I recognized. Kevin Harvick hopped the wall to be by Delana and Keelan for the anthem as the drivers’ kids were getting ready to sing it. Jimmie Johnson jumped the wall and lifted his two daughters and wife Chandra over. The feeling was electric and the crowd was full of energy!
This is when Krista from TSN walked over to us and said, “Come on over here.” I looked ahead and got goosebumps – we were heading right for the #22 Shell Penzoil Ford and Joey Logano! I suddenly realized that this is why she insisted we be down here at a certain time. Pinty’s Vice President Tony Spiteri had coordinated a one-on-one meet and greet with Joey through his manager, Warren!
We walked up and Warren introduce me and Curtis to Joey. We chatted for good ten minutes! I had met him last year in Martinsville for a pic, and briefly at the Xfinity Drivers Meeting yesterday, but this was different. It was just two guys who loved racing standing there talking. He couldn’t have been more down to earth and friendly. He smiles just like he does on TV. I was just blown away that I was here talking to my NASCAR idol like I see people do on TV right before the Bristol Night Race!
He laughed when I told him I traded away some solid pool entries in the Pinty’s Suite earlier so that I would end up with his #22 Ford – I told him that he better not let me down! Haha! I asked him how his car was, he said he knew they were starting back in the pack (19th) but that initially the car was good on the long run, so they were going to try to get on front and then get it good on the short run too.
We said our goodbyes, I wished him good luck, and told him I hoped to see him again in Martinsville this Fall!
When I went to bed Friday night, I did not think that it would be remotely possible to top the day, but here Saturday was, and boy was I wrong! This meet and greet was the icing on the cake – I was on such a natural high that I just about floated out of the speedway.
I then cruised up and down pit lane to get some pics of my daughters’ favourite drivers – Ricky Stenhouse and Chase Elliott – it wasn’t easy getting close to Chase!
As I was winding my way back through the crowd to find Curtis and Krista from TSN, I found them chatting with Cole Pearn! We talked a bit about Waterloo (my hometown and where he went to university for engineering) as he is, of course, a good Canadian boy.
The invocation was about to happen, so there we stood for it and the US National Anthem with Canadian Crew Chief Cole Pearn…I still can’t believe all of these interactions actually happened.
After the anthem, we were ushered off pit road quickly by track officials and sheriff deputies. We headed up to the Old Smoky Rooftop viewing area in Turn 4 to watch the green flag drop on the race!
On the way, I ran into Rutledge Wood at the end of pit road at the NBC pit box! I took a selfie and it was bad – it made me look like I had three chins. We laughed and took another photo together.
We grabbed a pint and watched as Richard Childress came through to his own viewing area on the corner of the roof facing the back stretch. After the initial start and the large wreck on Turn 2 at the start finish line that involved Kyle Busch, we headed down into the pits for the upcoming restart after the clean-up.
We stood at Joey Logano’s Pit and watched the first pit-stop and then the restart. The cars look even faster at pit road level as they scream as you look between two pit-boxes.
After all this excitement, it was time to head back to the Pinty’s Suite to get settled into our front row seats along the glass with a plate full of chicken wings to really pay attention to the race.
It turned out to be, as many in the industry are calling it, the greatest Bristol night race that they’ve ever witnessed, and Curtis and I were lucky enough to take it in with so many other memories attached to it.
Listening with our scanners on added to the drama. Even though we didn’t really need them, it was nice to to be able to listen closely and pick and choose drivers in car radio transmissions, and go between the TV broadcast (on the TVs in the Suite) and the track announcers calling everything we’re seeing with our own eyes.
Stage #1 ended with a photo finish between Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick, with Blaney winning by an inch. Stage #2 ended with Joey Logano winning (YAY!) holding off a hard charging Chase Elliott who, given another lap or two, might have got past him.
The final stage was just as wild as the first two and when the dust cleared from Kyle Busch spinning Martin Truex Jr. and a few other incidents, Kurt Busch held the lead. The final restart left Joey Logano restarting 10th which finally put him on the outside line and he rocketed from 10th to 4th in a matter of laps; it wasn’t enough, as Kurt Busch won the race making it his 6th Bristol win and first since March of 2006.
We all cheered and watched the fireworks, victory lane celebrations, and post-race interviews and just relaxed with a few more drinks. After an hour or so we said our goodbyes and just then the rain started. How perfect that the skies cleared for us in time to get in this incredible race. It was meant to be and keeps my run of rain-free races going!
With the final race of the weekend done, Curtis and I boarded the elevator down from the Pinty’s Suite to the main concourse to keep the fun going with a visit to downtown Bristol, Tennessee.
We wound down our Epic Weekend with hundreds of other race fans and danced the night away!
I cannot thank Pinty’s and NASCARonTSN enough for this incredible opportunity and the absolute best NASCAR experience I’ve ever had or could have dreamed having! The hospitality by all parties was unparalleled.
My advice to next year’s Wingman Weekend Winner? Get ready for the absolute BEST NASCAR experience of your life – it cannot be topped! Make sure you get lots of rest before you go because you’ll have action packed days full of things to see and do, plus a lot of walking at the track. Hydrate when you’re there because it can be very hot, especially if it’s in the south again. Lastly, pack light so you have room to bring home lots of souvenirs and swag. And don’t forget to buy a good pair of ear plugs!
Again, thank you to all the great people at PINTY’S. You’ve got a customer for life in this WINGMAN!