Football stadiums and race tracks have a lot in common. Facilities both large enough to house a medium-sized city, yet they sit empty all but a handful of days a year.
Bristol Motor Speedway solved that problem — for a day at least — with Saturday’s Battle at Bristol. In addition to setting the college football record with 156,000-plus fans, the game pushed the race track onto ABC in prime time on a Saturday night, thereby increasing Bristol’s brand awareness somewhere between five and five million times over on an otherwise empty weekend.
And now Richmond wants in on the action.
Speaking to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond International Raceway president Dennis Bickmeier said his venue is “wide open” to hosting non-racing events, which includes college football.
“I think that could be the next progression,” said Bickmeier. “I think it ties in nicely. … This facility turns 70 years old this year. Our job is to get it ready for the next 70 years.”
Noting that the planning process would take multiple years — Bristol announced its game half a decade in advance — Bickmeier did acknowledge multiple hurdles Bristol did not have to clear.
For one, Richmond hosts a race in September, which makes the earliest the track could turn around to be football-ready is, most likely, October. “(Someone) would have to give up a home conference game, and that’s tough,” Bickmeier said.
Second, Richmond holds only 66,000 seats, a fraction of Bristol’s 160,000. That size allowed Bristol to collect a purse — $4 million for each team — that enticed Tennessee and Virginia Tech off their respective campuses.
Given those obstacles, Bickemeier noted a bowl game at Richmond may be more likely.
“We’re in the sports and entertainment business,” he said. “We are (year-round) focused on our NASCAR business. That’s who we are. These other opportunities are that: They’re opportunities. We’d be crazy not to explore them.”