It’s Bristol baby!
An excited cry that was made mainstream by NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jnr as he exuded energy and approval for the City of Bristol and its rich place in the motorsport calendar.
Often referred to as the birthplace of country music, but so much more than just a musical genre, the city of Bristol Tennesse in 1961 proudly opened the doors to the now national treasure that is the 533-mile oval amphitheatre Bristol Motor Speedway which several times a year reverberates to the thunder of the NASCAR series.
Then the track had the chance to innovate and become the first NASCAR race to take place on dirt, an exciting and pioneering time for one of the nation’s favorite sports. But hold up, surely someone must have noticed the loose surface race against the clock that was already happening just in the shadow of the great Bristol Motor Speedway?
Why yes I mean Bristol Forests Rally, which has for a number of years been providing the great chance to race in the sinuous trails of the famed Appalachian Trail which crosses the Cherokee National Forest just a short distance east of Bristol.
In 2022 the Bristol Forests Rally has been added to the American Rally Association roster such is the quality of the event and stages. I was lucky enough to sample the event with Seamus Burke in 2021 riding in a Ford Fiesta R5, and while we didn’t only turn left like our NASCAR colleagues or perhaps not reach the same terminal velocity as the drag racing regulars, we more than put on a show on the challenging exciting stages.
Last year’s rally was as enjoyable as it was worthwhile to drive. The stages are so flowing with long radius corners sweeping rewardingly into wide open hairpins that you can push into and exit smiling, and the area was a joy to behold.
I am sure the locals have motor racing in their blood and it is a familiar beat of the local heart but rallies would not be the most identifiable of motorsport to many curious onlookers, yet the resounding welcome and the local hospitality were an exciting new experience for a crew new to the rally and to the area. Bristol is a nice place with hospitable people and establishments.
The rally service area had wonderful views on both sides, firstly of the imposing and impressive tall structure of the Bristol Motor Speedway and then out over the green-carpeted valley was the vista to the Appalachian Mountain range.
I thought it was a proud moment for our sport, as small as it is in relative terms of USA motorsport, to have the service area in the complex of such a powerhouse NASCAR venue. For me there was a gravitas to having our sport welcomed into the facilities even though you had to imagine how raucous the spectacle must be on a NASCAR or NHRA weekend.
The stages were just sublime – nine tests with almost 70 stage miles made for a good solid day’s competition to grab and enjoy and we were fortunate enough to take an overall victory which will remain memorable for both Seamus and I in our long record on the stages together.
Bristol Forests Rally already has the makings of a very special annual event on our calendars and I know in years to come I will be proud to see my name on the list of previous triumphant attendees, I doubt I will ever win the NASCAR race so I will happily settle for this.
Yet seriously I do say, the sport we love has an excellent capable foothold and a shop window right in the heart of dedicated stock car land, and it is an event worthy of representing the very best that our sport has to offer.
If you get a chance to experience the event in any capacity be it as a competitor, a volunteer or a spectator then I recommend that you do, I can promise you won’t leave disappointed. As I left the city last year I began to understand why Dale Jnr coined that powerful catchphrase: it’s Bristol baby!
Bristol Forests Rally runs on May 13-14 and you can enter the event here.