Bristol Legends: Earnhardt, Wallace, Yarborough, Waltrip and the Track Itself
The 160,000 seat stadium is one of the best sights a NASCAR fan will ever see when the massive construction peeks through the hills on highway 11 in Tennessee.
The track is known for the sold out crowds, close racing, deafening sound of engines, high banked turns and its unbelievable structure.
Bristol Motor Speedway is known throughout the sport as “The Coliseum of NASCAR.”
Nearly every NASCAR legend has had the chance to drive into victory lane at Bristol. Nineteen of the 21 Cup Champions have won a race at Bristol since the track entered the circuit in 1961.
The names Petty, Pearson, Allison, Waltrip, Earnhardt, Yarborough and Wallace will echo throughout Thunder Valley for all eternity.
If Bristol Motor Speedway is the “Coliseum,” then Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and Rusty Wallace have been its rulers.
In the 50 year history of the track, these drivers have won 39 races between them. In fact, from 1973 to 1989, in the 34 races run at Bristol, only five of those races were won by another driver (Benny Parsons, Richard Petty (two), Terry Labonte and Bill Elliot).
Ironically, in the years these other drivers won their races at Bristol, they also won the Championship.
The driver with the most career wins at Bristol Motor Speedway is Darrell Waltrip.
Winning 12 races in 52 career starts does not explain the dominance he reined in Bristol. Waltrip did not run well in the latter part of his career and that really distorts his history at the track. Between the years 1975 and 1992, Waltrip captured 12 wins, tallied an average finish of 6.5 including 23 top five’s and 28 top 10’s in his 35 starts at Bristol.
In this run, Waltrip also completed one of the most unbelievable feats in NASCAR history, winning 7 straight races at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The other three drivers were not ones to look past either.
Earnhardt, Yarborough and Wallace won nine races each in the Bull Ring. Earnhardt and Wallace have both started over 40 races at Bristol and have an average finish under 10.0, with Earnhardt edging Wallace 9.3 to 9.6. Yarborough’s career average finish of 10.5 at Bristol is not something to discount either.
Cale was also dominant leading a total of 4,305 laps at Bristol, beating Earnhardt by over 550 laps. Yarborough was able to be the lap leader by starting up front, having nine poles out of 29 career starts at the half mile.
These drivers have also been involved in the most epic finishes in Bristol history.
Earnhardt and Terry Labonte hooked up in the unforgettable 1999 Goody’s Headache Power 500, where Earnhardt spun Labonte on the last lap to take the victory. After the race, Earnhardt gave arguably the most infamous quote in his career, saying: “I was just trying to rattle his cage”, describing the last lap altercation.
Bristol was the type of track where Earnhardt earned his nickname “The Intimidator.”
Rusty Wallace was not immune to these epic finishes either.
He was involved in two memorable finishes at Bristol with Jeff Gordon alone. In the final turn of the last lap of the 1997 Food City 500, Jeff Gordon bumped Wallace, moving him aside for the win. This result was replayed again in the 2002 Sharpie 500. In the closing laps, Wallace was the victim of the bump-and-run again giving Gordon the win.
These two races sparked a couple of unforgettable post race interviews involving an unhappy Wallace.
Bristol Motor Speedway has its share of nicknames. Whatever you want to call it: The Coliseum, The Mecca of Motorsports, Thunder Valley, The Bull Ring or The World’s Fastest Half Mile, Bristol is arguably the most famous track in NASCAR.
The history at the speedway is one that will never be forgotten and will continue to be written about for years to come.
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