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Bristol Motor Speedway
Can you picture Bristol's infield as a football field? Credit: Autostock

Smith hoping to lure college football to Bristol

SMI chairman offers Tennessee-Va.Tech $20M each to play at track

By B. Duane Cross, NASCAR.COM
August 26, 2005
08:59 PM EDT (00:59 GMT)

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Bruton Smith is putting his money where his mouth is. Literally. Again.

The chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. said Friday that he again formally has offered the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech $20 million each to play a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Bruton Smith
Bruton Smith is always thinking outside the box. Credit: Autostock

"It would be the most exciting thing we've ever done in football," Smith said Friday at the track. When asked if he was trying to "conquer the world," he quipped: "Absolutely. We're looking for something bigger.

"The world of racing has already been conquered," he said. "We want to move on to something else."

Track officials said they had contacted both schools about the proposition, and UT athletics director Mike Hamilton will be a guest of Smith for the Sharpie 500 on Saturday night.

Smith said the game would have to be played in November, allowing time for workers to raze the infield of several buildings and the scoring pylon.

"We won't schedule a [game] date," Smith said. "That would be up to the universities. But it would have to be in November, when we could take the time to scrape the infield, take everything out."

The playing surface would be artificial turf.

Playing host to a football game would not be a first for the facility. Washington and Philadelphia played an NFL exhibition game at the track in September 1961.

"It would be expensive," to make the changes to the track's infield, Smith said. "I don't know [how expensive], but we'd take some bids when the time comes."

Smith said the prospect of BMS playing host to Tennessee and Virginia Tech is "very exciting," and added that the 160,000-seat "stadium" would set the record for the largest crowd to watch a college football game.

The current record is 112,118 on Nov. 22, 2003, at Michigan Stadium. UT's Neyland Stadium is the nation's second largest venue, seating 104,079.

This is not the first time Smith has broached the subject of having the Vols and Hokies play at the track. In January 1999 the idea was floated -- at about $3.5 million per team -- but nothing came of the talks.

Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver said he spoke in September 1998 to his Tennessee counterpart, then-AD Doug Dickey, about scheduling a home-and-home football series between the schools. The earliest dates would have been 2010 and 2011, however, and no deal was made.

More recently, Texas Motor Speedway, another SMI track, tried to lure the annual Oklahoma-Texas game from the Cotton Bowl to the infield of the modern racing facility in Fort Worth.

Smith noted that Bristol could be expanded by about 12,000 seats. Even with a capacity of 172,000, and at $50 per ticket, the gate would generate $8,600,000. Smith would not elaborate on how he would make up the difference, but added: "I enjoy making money."

If you do the math, tickets would have to sell for more than $232 each to account for the $40 million. Obviously, television rights would be a large factor in the equation.

Smith said he won't beg the schools to accept his offer. "They either like the money or they don't," he said.

By comparison, the BCS title game paid an estimated $13 million per team last season.

What remains to be seen is whether the NCAA would allow the game to be played at the racetrack.