Craig Murto: Short track U.S. Nationals

If you’ve never been to Bristol Motor Speedway, this weekend is the time to go.

The Short Track U.S. Nationals, expected to be the largest pavement Late Model event in history, will be held Friday through Sunday at the Bristol, Tennessee, track. Tickets and pit passes are now on sale for the event, with different purchasing options available at www.bristolmotorspeedway.com.

The big race day is Sunday, with racing beginning at 2 p.m. Following last-chance qualifying races, 100-lap features will be run for three different Late Model divisions. NASCAR-style Late Model Stock Cars are featured in one race, and the fast offset-chassis Super Late Models compete in another. “Pro Late Models” – offset chassis cars with crate engines – have their own feature. Hundreds of cars from all corners of the country are expected to attempt to make the features.

“Everyone at Bristol Motor Speedway is looking forward to this new event for 2017,” Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, stated in a news release. “The Short Track U.S. Nationals is going to be an outstanding event and we look forward to welcoming racers and their families to the Tri-Cities region and encourage race fans to tune in following the conclusion of the NASCAR All-Star event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.”

Grandstand tickets are available individually for Saturday and Sunday or as part of a two-day combo ticket. The two-day combo ticket starts at just $45 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under, while a Saturday general admission ticket is $20 and a Sunday ticket is $30. Both single-day tickets are $5 for children. Grandstand access will not be available on Friday.

Those interested in a VIP experience can purchase the VIP combo, which includes a grandstand seat and a pit pass for $85. Individual pit passes (available for ages 14 and up) are available for $30 on Friday, $35 on Saturday, $40 on Sunday, $70 for a Saturday/Sunday combo and $85 for a three-day combo.

Camping for both drivers and spectators will be available. Full hook up camping is available for $250 while non-hook up will cost $100.

There also should be plenty of hotel rooms available nearby, but you’d better call ahead.

This will be the biggest pavement Late Model show ever run. There aren’t too many paved tracks in the region opening their doors this weekend, as they know their cars and fans will be at Bristol. If you’ve never been to Bristol and want to see some great racing without dealing with the crowds that attend NASCAR Cup races, this is your chance.

The crowds at Cup races may be smaller this year, but the racing has been great, and I’m not referring to the new points system or the stage racing. The actual cars, with less down force and less grip, make the drivers have to drive.

Other than the accident that left Aric Almirola with a fractured T5 vertebrae, the race at Kansas was fantastic. But the hard crash that left Almirola injured proves that racing will never be safe.

This weekend, other than the big races at Bristol, local fans will have to go to Pennsylvania to find a paved short track show. But Winchester and Hagerstown Speedways will have their weekly programs for fans of dirt racing who don’t want to travel too far. Hagerstown will also have a demolition derby at the end of the night’s racing.

With Memorial Day weekend fast approaching, the racing world keeps its eyes on Indianapolis, where Formula One driver Fernando Alonso attempts to run in the Indy 500. He will be in a car fielded by Michael Andretti, but painted in McClaren livery. It’s said that this is a test to see if McClaren will enter the IndyCar Series next season. Qualifying for the 2017 Indy 500 begins this weekend.

Competing at Indy means that Alonso will miss the Monaco Grand Prix. Jenson Button will fill the seat. He is under contract as a reserve driver for McClaren, but with the car’s terrible performance this season he may not be excited about the opportunity. Last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix was the first race all season in which Alonso actually got the car to the finish.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.