BRISTOL, Tenn. (UPDATE) -- Bristol Motor Speedway, known as the "Last Great Colosseum", today announced plans to transform the legendary Speedway into the world's largest football stadium for the inaugural Battle at Bristol, College Football's Biggest EVER game to be held on Saturday, September 10, 2016. The event will feature a border battle between the Virginia Tech Hokies and Tennessee Volunteers and is projected to set the NCAA record for highest single-game attendance.
The announcement was made today during a press conference at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. Press conference attendees included Marcus Smith, president and COO of Speedway Motorsports, Jerry Caldwell, general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, Butch Jones, University of Tennessee head coach, Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech head coach, Dave Hart, University of Tennessee athletic director and Jim Weaver, Virginia Tech athletic director. Dr. Jerry Punch, auto racing and college football commentator for ESPN, served as press conference emcee.
With an estimated seating capacity of 150,000, the Battle at Bristol is on track to crush prior college football attendance records. The previous two largest-attended college football games drew 117,000 and 115,000 fans, respectively. *
"There has always been a desire by fans to see a football game at our historic Speedway," said Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports. "We couldn't be more excited to turn this long-time rumor into a reality and to provide sports fans with an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the biggest college football game ever."
Bristol Motor Speedway has a rich history of epic clashes and rivalries, so it's only fitting that the inaugural event will feature a border battle between the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Tennessee Volunteers. This is a "border battle" in the literal sense, as the state line runs through downtown Bristol, creating the twin cities of Bristol, Va. and Bristol, Tenn.
"We are looking forward to this opportunity to be a part of college football history," said University of Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones. "The chance to play in a great venue as Bristol Motor Speedway against a program the caliber of Virginia Tech is another illustration of how we are continuing to build upon our great and unique tradition here at Tennessee. Our players and everyone associated with our football program will have wonderful memories of being a part of such a historical event."
"To be able to play in front of a crowd that is the largest to ever see a college football game is a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech head coach. "With the great fan support that Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee have, it should be a great atmosphere."
"This is an unprecedented opportunity for our football program to play in front of the largest crowd in the history of college football," said Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics for University of Tennessee, Dave Hart. "Bristol Motor Speedway will be perhaps the most unique venue to ever host a college football game. Tennessee students, faculty, alumni, and fans will look forward to being a part of this great event."
"This event should be a very exciting experience for both universities and the fan bases of both teams," said Jim Weaver, athletic director of Virginia Tech. "We are very excited to be a participant in what should be the largest crowd ever to see a football game."
Over the course of a few weeks, the Speedway will transform from an iconic short track to a world-class football field. Key facts about the transformation include:
Immediately following the August 2016 NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, approximately 400 workers will immediately begin bulk cleaning, and then detailing, the Speedway
Next an estimated 10-12 crews will begin pressure washing - a process that is normally done in February prior to the March NASCAR weekend
Separate crews will clean all suites in seven days - a process that normally takes four-to-six weeks
Turf and field build will be completed in eight days
Approximately 8,500 tons of rock will be used to build the base of the field
The rock will be brought in by approximately 400 truckloads. The complete haul-in process will take three, 10-12 hour days
The base rock will be 3'-6" deep in the middle of the infield tapering to 1-1/2' on sidelines to create the proper sloping effect for drainage
Bristol Motor Speedway plans to unveil more exciting announcements between now and the big event in 2016. Visit BattleAtBristol.com for ticket and event information. #BattleAtBristol.
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
“We have so many things going on with this great event and a very talented top-10 opponent coming into Neyland Stadium this weekend in South Carolina. A lot of things going on today.”
(On discussions with Dave Hart about the game)
“We have been in discussions. Hats off to both administrations, Tennessee with Dave Hart. That is the vision that we talk about with our athletic program and our football program. Constantly that vision to move forward and now make this a reality and be a part of college football history is just another illustration and example of it going on at Tennessee.”
(On being a part of football history)
“I think to be a part of not just college football history, but football history. What a great experience for our fan base, our universities but also our student athletes. This is why you come to institutions, and this is why you come to Tennessee to be a part of something as big as this. Obviously this is a few years down the road but we are looking forward to it. As you can see, it is pretty special.”
(On what it means for the program)
“I think it adds to the momentum. Already people around the country can see that we have a lot of work to do but they can also see the progress that we are making. In all areas. With our current players, with recruiting. Anything and everything. It is an illustration of where we are going at Tennessee.”
(On when Dave Hart approached Jones)
“He came to me and it has been in the works. There are so many logistics in making this a reality, but they made it a reality. I am looking forward to being a part of it.”
(On Jones’ first reaction)
“The individuals at Bristol were very serious about it and they had a great plan. They came to Knoxville and we met with them and liked what they had. We had some areas that needed to be addressed and they were addressed. There is a lot of effort and thought that has gone into this, and we made it a reality.”
(On when he first met with Bristol)
“I lost track of time. It was a few months ago.”
(On this being a selling point for student-athletes)
“Anytime you can be a part of football history I think there is a big selling point. Again, we have to focus on the process. It is just another illustration of where this football program is going, this entire athletic department and the vision at the University of Tennessee. It is a chance and opportunity to be a part of something extremely special that will be with you for a lifetime.”
(On what he thought about the game)
“I was on board. There were some logistical things that needed to be addressed and to make sure that everything was in the benefit for our fans and student-athletes moving forward. I think it is a great thing for our institutions and our football program and I think it’s a great thing and a monumental thing for college football as well.”
(On sorting out the details)
“Just some things that go into putting on a football game. The field, the field conditions, logistical questions in terms of housing for your football teams, making sure the accommodations are appropriate for your fans. Everything that goes into putting on a football game. The individuals at Bristol Motor
(On his expectations for the game)
“We expect to break the world record. It is going to be the biggest ever and two passionate fan bases and we are looking forward to it.”
(On the history of the game)
“I had done my research with the history. But I don’t think it ever got to a point in the magnitude of it and the seriousness of it. It became a reality and moving forward. There have been a lot of long hours and work behind the scenes and the individuals behind the scenes deserve a lot of credit to making this a reality.”
(On his Bristol experience)
“You heard it coming here in March, well it would be great to have a Tennessee-Virginia Tech matchup. People spoke about it and that is what got my mind wandering a little bit. There weren’t any negotiations, just conversation at that time.”
(On his experience in Bristol in March)
“Absolutely. It is one of the greatest sporting events that I have ever been to and been a part of and the passionate fan base here, the excitement, the energy. It was electric.”
(On the Nebraska game previously scheduled for that week)
“The scheduling is always an important component. The Nebraska game has been pushed back to a later year because of just the uncertainty of scheduling as we move forward. I am not sure, I know there is a specific date, but my focus is on this week.”
(On what the team thinks)
“I haven’t spoken to our football team about it because it wasn’t official until today. I want all of our focus to be on the great challenge that we have ahead of us with South Carolina.”
(On detail discussion)
“Very specific. Every detail was covered. We talk about the small details and the attention to detail and all three parties, Bristol, Virginia Tech and Tennessee, we have gone through all that.”
(On the commitments)
“I haven’t been able to speak with them yet, but we will shortly.”
(On the atmosphere)
“I think it has three years to build up. The building up process, being a part of college football history, football history, it is going to be very special to us. I am excited for our student athletes to be a part of something like this that will live with them forever. For Tennessee, to be at the forefront of breaking the attendance record is exciting as well. To be able to participate in it, whether you are a fan, whether it is the band, the coaching staff, our administration or our players, it is a chance to be a part of history.”
(On its impact on recruiting)
“Everything is about making an impact. More so than just this game, it is and illustration of how we are continuing to grow and elevate our football program, the vision that we have, the relentless approach that we are taking on and off the field. It is just another illustration of what is going on at Tennessee.”
(On playing neutral site games early in the season)
“I think it is healthy. It is healthy for the development of your football team. Learning how to go on the road, what it takes to play winning football on the road. Exposing it to like a bowl game atmosphere. There are a lot of positives that go into that. And the excitement, it is healthy for college football as well.”
(On what this means for recruiting
“Everything is about appealing to the prospective student-athlete. To have marquee games at marquee venues are critical as we continue to elevate our football program.”
(On the negotiations)
“Each negotiation has been different in its own respect. Dave Hart and our administration has done a tremendous job of making this a reality and making the small details that go into the logistics, like I spoke about. They have been outstanding and hats off to them for making this a reality.”
(On his thoughts on Bristol Motor Speedway)
“Impressive. The magnitude of it. The excitement, the pageantry of it. This is truly a special place. We have a great following here, it is a part of our great fan base. To be a part of it in a few years is exciting.”
(On taking a spin in a car)
“I am looking forward to that. I would like that. I would like to take a spin in the orange car.”
(On this press conference altering practice)
“No absolutely not. We had a bye week, we had a work week. We practiced Sunday so with the NCAA rules and regulations you have to give them a day off and Monday is their day off. This schedule in terms of practicing on Sunday and having Monday off has been in the works since the middle of January. This has absolutely no effect on preparation in terms of getting ready for South Carolina.”
(On South Carolina)
“It is going to be a great challenge. We welcome another top-10 opponent. I think their results speak for themselves. I think they are a extremely complete football team when you look at physicality, when you look at size, speed. They are coming in with a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence. It is going to take our best effort to compete on Saturday. Our players realize that. It is going to be a great opportunity for us. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their football team. Everything is result oriented. You look at their results. They speak for themselves.”
(On the off week)
“I thought we had a productive work week. But now it is what we do with it. I thought we started the week off in the right way with a good practice on Sunday. But at the end of the day it is guys making plays in critical situations, possessing the ball, third downs, turnover battle. All of the things it takes to play winning football.”
(On playing against VT Head Coach Frank Beamer)
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Beamer. I had the opportunity last year when we were at Cincinnati to play Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C. This will be the second time playing a Virginia Tech football team at a neutral site. What he has done building that football program into one of the elite programs in the country. I know a lot of their coaching staff and there is a tremendous amount of respect on our part with their football program.”
(On South Carolina’s offense)
“They have been very impressive offensively. Connor Shaw has been as good of a quarterback as we have seen. He has the ability to extend plays with his legs, his accuracy, he is very poised, calm and in control of their offense. They have weapons, great speed, great running backs, very strong, physical offensive line and they are deserving to be a top-10 opponent. It is going to be a great challenge for us.”
ATHLETIC DIRECTOR DAVE HART
(On what got the Battle at Bristol conversation going)
"Jerry [Caldwell] came to Knoxville back in early March and he brought with him some schematics and some other things. But the history of this, it's been talked about for a long, long time. We really wanted to make it happen. We were going to do all we could to bring it into fruition within reason. Any time you are in negotiations of this magnitude it does take a long time to finalize and it certainly did. We just finalized all of this in the last few days. There were persistence and intense efforts to get it done.
"As Jim [Weaver] said, I've known Jim for a long, long time when I was in the Atlantic Coast Conference with him. He is a terrific person and we had a lot of conversations to get this game moving forward."
(On if the schedule series with Nebraska has been pushed back)
"It has been. We announced that today as well. It has been pushed back to 2026 and 2027. We've got to see what we are going to be. We have to see where we are going in the SEC relative to what we need like are we going to play nine games is the most important part of that. So I've been in conversation with the people we have on the schedule. We are going to play that two game series. But beyond that, I've been in conversation with my counterparts and those institutions just explaining our position in wanting to have some flexibility on what we do."
(On what made the Battle at Bristol happen now and what were some of the hang-ups previously)
"That's a fair question, but I don't really know having only been involved in this negotiation. I really don't know where the breakdowns occurred that were insurmountable might have existed. But again, there was a collective willingness to prioritize this and to make it happen. It wasn't an easy trip that we took. There were times when you said no wonder this has never happened. But we got through those rough spots and this is a great day. A great day for both of these universities and a great day for Bristol Motor Speedway."
(On Butch Jones being on board for this game)
"Butch was immediately on board, not only for this game because he understands fully the value of recruiting. Butch is always about recruiting which you have learned. His first response was, 'that would be unbelievable for recruiting, Dave, if we can get that done.' He is on board. We are trying to get into markets and venues that are important to us for a recruiting perspective."
(On if he consulted with donors prior to decision)
"No, not really, there were some people I talked to in this area that would be excited about it. We charted the course and we new what the destination was. Because everyone worked so hard collectively through that, we are where we stand today."
(On the amount of time it has taken to have this game)
"I heard about this when I was at Florida State, I am not so sure it wasn't East Carolina. It has been talked about a long time. If you are a player, you have an opportunity to play at a venue, potentially the largest crowd to ever watch a football game. You can talk about that for the rest of your life. It is going to be exciting across the board, prospects, players, alumni, faculty, staff, it is an exciting time."
(On ticket prices)
"We are going down that road. We are pretty far down that road actually."
(On what it means to play in the Battle at Bristol)
"Number 1 - it is a one time shot to be a part of an event that may never be duplicated. that is number one. Number two - I am a big proponent for the neutral site. I feel there are so many advantages in playing a neutral site."
(On the challenges of the Battle at Bristol)
"There were a lot of challenges, hence the 17 years that it took to get to this game. A lot of challenges in terms of logistics. These are great people here. THey know what they are doing and they know how to do it. They have invested. They have invested in this game being a success."
(On the Nebraska series)
"We moved what would have been the current series to 26 and 27."
(On the attendance possible)
"All along, we've been talking about 150,000. Comfortably, they could get 150,000, but they're still in talks about doing some other things to get more people. And then you've got great boxes here. It's hard to beat this venue"
(On when the plan was presented)
"We went through several iterations and long discussions relative to that plan, and we came to a feasible agreement really just a couple weeks ago."
(On a chance to make some money)
"You can't put a value on the exposure, but certainly it will be significant guarantee as well as incentives built in there depending on what that capacity looks like at the end of the day, which we could receive bonuses from that as well. That's one element of it and that's all well and good, but the hidden value is what you can't put your finger on."
(On feeling confident about getting people to attend)
"I do... No. 1 you have to look at the proximity of the place - it's two hours for each fan base. Nobody is getting on a plane relative to Knoxville and Blacksburg. It's easily accessible. Both fan bases have a lot of existing NASCAR fans - NASCAR is important to a lot of people in our two respective fan bases.
"I think we'll have a lot of students. If you're a student, you want to be a part of this and you want to say `I was there when that all-time record was set.' I feel very good, and we have time. It's not next season. So that was strategic in nature as well. We have a lot of time to get to that point."
(On a nine-game SEC schedule)
"Well you know where I am on that - I'm one of the very strong proponents for nine game. It's important for all of us to know what we look like from 2016 on. That's why we've left flexibility - and this happened months ago - in our scheduling. We knew where we wanted to go with that."
(On if he thinks it's heading towards nine games)
"I have no idea... Until I get to the next meeting, I don't know where everybody else will be on that."
(On negotiations for this game being ongoing for 7 years)
"I was aware, but didn't know the number until we got into all this. I knew that it had been a long, long time. The most impressive thing I heard was Marcus (Smith) say he was going to buy us some tickets. I guess that means there's no comps because if he can't get comps, then I suspect they don't have any."
(On the exposure)
"You can't put a value on the exposure of this. And that's important to us as we rebuild this football program. That's a staple in our strategy. We want to maximize the exposure for our program. We have all the history and tradition necessary to do that, and as we rebuild it, and Butch (Jones) is well-about that task, these kind of announcements are important. That's why we were so focused on doing all we could to make this happen"