JOE BIDDLE: Bristol is Vols home

(Photo: WKRN)

State Street runs through downtown Bristol. A painted line is in the middle of the street.

You can straddle the line on State Street and one foot will be in Bristol, TN. The other foot will be in Bristol, VA.

Bristol is one of the cities tabbed Tri-Cities. Bristol and Kingsport are in Sullivan County. Johnson City is located in Washington County.

The Tri-Cities will be abuzz this weekend, highlighted by the Tennessee-Virginia Tech football game at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It has been quite a project to transform a good ol’ boys race track where they excel in swappin’ paint into a college football stadium.

They are expecting 150,000 fans Saturday. That is not a misprint. They’ll be coming from across the state of Tennessee and Virginia Tech has gobbled up nearly 50,000 tickets.

The racetrack grandstands will be Big Orange Country for at least three-four hours.

It’s rare for a college football game to be played at a NASCAR track.

I profess to be one of the few sports media to cover one of the first, and I would venture to guess it was the first time a superspeedway hosted a college football game.

I was working in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Bethune-Cookman College Wildcats faced off with the Florida A&M Rattlers. It was in the early to mid-70s.

It was a fierce rivalry between two Historic Black Colleges from the same state.

They had been alternating home fields between Daytona Beach and Tallahassee, but Daytona Beach’s Memorial Stadium had become too small to accommodate the overflow crowds.

It was Daytona Beach’s turn to be the home crowd. Someone had the idea to play the game at Daytona International Superspeedway, a tri-oval track with high banking in the turns.

They had to use the infield to place a regulation football field, a lined off field with goalposts and end zones.

Fans sat in the grandstands. Half of the space was dedicated to FAMU, the other half to BCC. Now that was the most weird of the weird idea, but both sides agreed on it.

Unlike an artificial surface that Tennessee and Virginia Tech will play on Saturday night, such was not the case for the BCC-FAMU rivalry game. The infield was all grass.

It looked good from the press box and the grandstands.

I went down on the field to interview players after the game. I noticed players with bloody arms and legs. Both teams’ players were bloodied.

I asked one player what had caused all the bleeding.

“It was those blankety-blank sand spurs,’’ he said. “The field was full of those blanket-blank sand spurs.’’

It was the last time a football game was played at the speedway.

That won’t happen in Bristol. Officials have gone the extra miles to ensure the record-breaking number of fans will be feel at home and players will have no fear of sand spurs.

It is a big game for both teams, but Tennessee has more to lose than the Hokies.

Coach Butch Jones can’t afford to lose this game. Blame it on preseason magazines to barbershop talk. This is supposed to be the year for the Vols. They were preseason favorites to win the SEC East and to land in the conference Championship Game.

They failed to impress anyone, although the Mountaineers were not chopped liver. Give them credit.

That doesn’t mean the Vols don’t have a lot of work to do to earn a top 10 ranking going forward. They do.

They are playing in the Volunteer state. What better place to put the season opening shortcomings behind them? The stage is set.

The last thing the Vols need to do is lose to Virginia Tech, and in the process lose the Battle of Bristol.

It will be a night 150,000 fans will never forget.

Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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