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Bristol Motor Speedway gives progress report on dirt track

From road courses and dirt tracks to old favorites, the 2021 NASCAR Cup season will be full of thrilling races.

Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt configuration is starting to take shape.

The half-mile Tennessee bullring will host the NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series on dirt during the March 27-28 weekend.

Before NASCAR arrives, the track also will host the inaugural Bristol Dirt Nationals for short track racers during the week of March 15-20.

It marks Bristol’s first foray into dirt racing since hosting the World of Outlaws in 2001 - and it has quickly proven a box-office hit with grandstand capacity already reached for the March 28 Cup race.

In a Q-and-A released Thursday, Steve Swift, the senior vice president of operations and development for Bristol’s parent company, Speedway Motorsports, said that the track build remains on schedule.

“So far we’ve been blessed,” he said. “We started Monday and we are way ahead of where we thought we would be with the weather and we are on schedule and pushing forward.

“We are really just getting the bugs worked out this week, which is what we had planned for this week and we are moving along a lot better than we thought, so everything is going really well.”

Swift confirmed that the final track will be banked at 19 degrees, noting that to simply put dirt down on the concrete high banks would be too steep and create too much speed. The thickest fills will be at nine and 10 feet, and the smallest fill will be at one foot.

Additionally, with those lower speeds in mind, the track’s regular SAFER Barriers will be removed for the dirt events.

As for the research that has gone into creating the track, SMI had some notes to fall back on with its own dirt venues at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

However, Swift said that they’ve also relied on many other dirt venues, both locally and elsewhere, to help guide them.

“None of (the SMI dirt venues) have concrete underneath them at a world famous half-mile race track ... so that has made this a little more difficult to tackle that animal in lieu of just plain dirt racing,” he said.

“We have been fortunate. There have been a lot of people who have been more than willing to help, especially a lot of the local tracks around here like Bulls Gap, Marysville, Seymour and Wytheville, all have been more than helpful to give wisdom and tell us what type of dirt we are dealing with and what they deal with when they run their events.

“We’ve done a lot of research. We’ve reached out to California, Iowa, Missouri and so many others, the list is really long. They are all happy to help us and see this as a big win for the dirt world. To see the big series racing on dirt is exciting for the dirt world as well.”

That knowledge has led Swift and SMI to source a new surface dirt for the upcoming events at Bristol.

The dirt that’s already on track - which, according to Swift, was the actual dirt used back in 2001 - will serve as the base layer.