Posted on: Wednesday - Aug 31, 2016

Although Tennessee’s 2016 college football season begins tonight against Appalachian State, there is only one thing on every fan’s mind.  In the words of Dale Earnhardt Jr, “It’s Bristol, baby!”

On September 10, the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” becomes America’s largest football stadium as the Tennessee Volunteers face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies.  As of today, the record for most fans attending a college football game is held by the University of Michigan with 115,109 fans packing Michigan Stadium for a 2013 matchup with Notre Dame. That record is expected to be shattered on September 10 as nearly 160,000 tickets to the Battle at Bristol have been sold. 

Not only is the venue “a football stadium on steroids,” as director of business development for Bristol Motor Speedway Jeremy Davidson put it, it is also located in the heart of both Tennessee and Virginia Tech fan bases. Depending on what side of the state line you reside in Bristol, your college football allegiance may be very different.

The logistics of turning one of the world’s most famous racetracks into a football stadium are mind-boggling.  450 dump trucks have been brought in to lay gravel to level the ground underneath the playing field.  A 700-ton, four-sided video board has been hung from the top of the stadium, each screen measuring a gigantic 1,900 square feet.  Additional stands lining the ends of the field are also being constructed, and crews are working nearly around the clock to get the stadium ready in time.

Even the trophy awarded to the winning team is measured on a giant scale. Weighing in at a staggering 88 pounds, it sits 26 inches fall and 22 inches wide. The trophy took more than 300 hours to make and over 20 hours to polish the football that sits on the top. 

But the Battle at Bristol is not just fun and games, it will have a lasting impact for the region.  From 2012 to 2014, Bristol Motor Speedway has had a total economic impact of over $1.4 billion.  The football game alone is expected to have a total economic impact of $439 million. 

As with many businesses today, the speedway is diversifying.  The exposure from the Battle at Bristol and the new video board are major first steps toward making the speedway a multi-purpose venue. 

In the college football era of super conferences, the Battle at Bristol may have another lasting impact: a new rivalry between Tennessee and Virginia Tech.  The matchup in Bristol is the first regular season game between the two schools since 1937. With two passionate fan bases side-by-side, this game could charge up a young rivalry between two geographically close schools. While an annual meeting in Bristol is unlikely due to already planned schedules, the buzz following this game could certainly carry over to future seasons.

The excitement felt by both fan bases is palpable, as secondary tickets to the game are more than double face value in many cases.  One thing is for sure: Bristol, Tennessee will be the center of the college football world on September 10.  

Photo Credits: Business Insider AKStafford Battle at Bristol