It's an off weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series -- well deserved after a great race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

No, it wasn't the Bristol of years past. But "the new Bristol" is showing that it has personality, too. Saturday's race went down to the last lap, with Mark Martin and Kyle Busch putting on a great show.

But the show at Bristol began long before the checkered flag flew. The staff of the historic track has a knack for knowing what NASCAR fans love, and for giving it to them. There's just no match for the pre-race festivities before Bristol's August night race.

If you've never seen it for yourself, it may seem like a lot of hype, but I've attended the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500 and many other races, and I can vouch for how special Bristol's presentation is.

What is so cool about Bristol? Start with it being a half-mile track, completely surrounded by grandstands stretching high into the night sky. Then fill it with 160,000 screaming fans, and you begin to get the picture.

Celebrating perennial favorite Mark Martin's 1,000th career start, the crowd participated in a card trick between turns one and two honoring the racing veteran: "The 1,000 Mark." Three skydivers swayed above the crowd before safely landing on the backstretch while Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." played. And of course, there were flyovers, one by the Super Stallion heavy helicopters and one by the Fighting Bengals F-18s.

The military, always heavily represented at NASCAR Sprint Cup races, was honored in a way that gave me goose bumps.


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A five-minute video piece consisting of photos submitted by race fans showed the service men and women in their lives, interspersed with live shots of members of the military in attendance. When the live shots were shown, the crowd cheered so loudly that it sounded as if Dale Earnhardt Jr. had just won the race.
But one of the most unique things at Bristol was the driver introductions. Each driver selected a song to be played as he walked out, which showed a side of the drivers that we rarely see.

Tony Stewart chose the Kid Rock song, "Bawitdaba," before making a pit stop in the media center. Emerging from the rest room, Stewart paused to watch the rest of the introductions on a monitor, standing next to me. As a plump Ryan Newman introduced himself to Big & Rich's "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," Stewart joked: "That's one guy I look good compared to. That's why I hired him."

Stewart also commented on rookie Joey Logano's song selection, Jerry Reed's "East Bound and Down," the theme to the movie "Smokey and the Bandit."

"That song is older than he is!" Stewart said. "I love that movie."

And I love Bristol. Get there next year if you can.

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at esiska@yorkdispatch.com.