BRISTOL, Tenn. — With a burst of fireworks and an explosion of confetti, the Bristol Motor Speedway officially announced what it dubbed the “biggest college football game ever,” a 2016 matchup at the racetrack between Virginia Tech and Tennessee called the “Battle at Bristol.”
Marcus Smith, the president and COO of Speedway Motorsports, and Jerry Caldwell, the general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, joined officials from both schools on the track’s infield to announce the game Monday, days after word leaked out that the matchup, after years of trying, will finally happen.
It will take place Sept. 10, 2016, with the racetrack likely able to hold 150,000-plus fans, which would shatter the college football attendance record.
“We’ve talked to other teams, but certainly the matchup is with the Hokies and Volunteers,” said Smith, son of the CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and owner of the track Bruton Smith. “That was kind of our dream scenario.”
Since attendance records have been kept since 1948, the largest crowd for a college football game was 115,109 fans for Notre Dame at Michigan this year. An estimated 120,000 fans attended a Notre Dame-Southern Cal game at Soldier Field in 1927.
Virginia Tech did not immediately provide a contract for the game, but both teams could earn up to $4.3 million from ticket sales and bonuses, according to a contract obtained by the Knoxville News Sentinel through an open-records request.
Each school will receive 40,000 tickets to sell to fans. If it sells that full allotment, it will earn $4 million. The figure is $3.5 million for 25,000 tickets and $3.75 million for 32,500.
There is an escalating bonus based on attendance that could be as high an additional $300,000 per school if the game sells out the grandstand.. The contracts states that five thousand tickets of the team’s allotment must not exceed $40 in price.
Tennessee will be the home team.
The game has been in talks for about 17 years, since Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver first took over his post in Blacksburg. Talks spanned three athletic directors at Tennessee before Weaver, Volunteers AD Dave Hart and track officials renewed talks in the spring to make the game happen.
“Dave and I said, ‘Why not?’ instead of, ‘We can’t,’” said Weaver, who called it “a reality that’s as big as has happened in the world of football.”
“It’s just a great idea,” Smith said. “So many fans over the years have said, ‘We’d love to see a football game at Bristol. Can you do that?’ And we finally have been able to pull it all together. All the people that needed to be on board, got on board. And really the stars aligned to be able to get the game on the schedule and make it a reality.”
The game is expected to take place only two weeks after the 2016 NASCAR race, which will require a massive effort to transform the racetrack into a football stadium.
Over 400 workers will begin bulk cleaning and detailing after the ’16 race. Separate crews will pressure wash the stadium and clean the suites in seven days, a process that normally takes 4-6 weeks.
The turf and field, which will be placed on the infield, is expected to be completed in eight days. Bristol will need to remove the scoring tower in the middle of the track, although the infield has no other buildings that will need to be removed.
Approximately 8,500 tons of rock will be used to build the base of the field, which will be brought in by roughly 400 truckloads. The speedway had a mock football field painted over the asphalt Monday.
Temporary seating will be brought in to allow some fans to be closer to the field. Video boards — which might be permanent or temporary — will be set up to provide for easier viewing from far distances.
“It’s going to be quite the choreographed event,” Caldwell said. “Thankfully we have 2½ years to plan it all, but there’s going to be a lot going on.”
Hokies head coach Frank Beamer has been to the race many times, serving as the Grand Marshall of the Food City 500 at the track in 2009.
“Next to Lane Stadium, this is my favorite sports venue, I promise you,” Beamer said.
Beamer will be nearly 70 when the game is scheduled to take place in 2016, the last year of his contract with Virginia Tech. Will he still be the coach by then?
“That’s the plan,” he said. ‘This is fantastic. I’ve been in this venue here a bunch of times. It’s a great place. It’s great to watch a car race here. And then to play in front of the largest crowd to watch a game, I mean, that’s a special thing for Virginia Tech.”
Three other notes from today:
– Beamer said he and Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin were supposed to drive on the track in a publicity stunt some years back before Kiffin’s wife stepped in because she was concerned about his safety.
“I said, ‘Well my wife is encouraging me to drive. What’s wrong with this?’” Beamer said to a chorus of laughs.
– Virginia Tech’s home game against Duke on Oct. 26 will start at 3:30 p.m. and be televised by ESPNU.
– Hokies kicker Cody Journell was named ACC Specialist of the Week after making 4 of 5 field goals against Pittsburgh, including a career-long 48-yarder.
Lastly, here’s the hype video for the game that’s already been put together: