BRISTOL, Tenn. – Virginia Tech and Tennessee announced plans to play a nonconference football game at the Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016 at a joint news conference held Monday morning at the speedway – a game that will be dubbed as the "Battle at Bristol."
The game, scheduled for Sept. 10, will be played on the infield of the speedway, where NASCAR racing teams and their haulers reside, and could draw a record crowd for a college football game. The speedway, which ranks as the fourth-largest sports venue in America according to Wikipedia, possesses enough seats for approximately 160,000 people. The current attendance record for a college football game is 115,109 set last month when Notre Dame and Michigan played in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It’s very special to be here on this day that the announcement is made,” Tech Director of Athletics Jim Weaver said. “Seventeen years ago, I just came to Virginia Tech, and I remember talking to Doug Dickey [former Tennessee Director of Athletics] about the possibility of the game.
“Then, Dave Hart [current Tennessee Director of Athletics], a great friend for many years, and I engaged in some dialogue this past summer. We worked together with Jerry [Caldwell, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Bristol Motor Speedway], and it’s a reality that’s as big as anything that’s every happened in the world of football.”
The idea for this game is not something new. In fact, 17 years ago, Bruton Smith, the chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., wanted to do this and reportedly offered both Tennessee and Virginia Tech a guarantee of $20 million each to play the game. Virginia Tech officials were interested in doing it at the time, but Tennessee officials reportedly were not. Scheduling dates and logistical issues also presented problems.
“It really is amazing and fantastic to be here today to talk about making this game a reality because I remember being in Jeff Byrd’s office [the former President of the Bristol Motor Speedway], along with my dad, Bruton Smith, and Jerry, and we talked about this idea and thought it would be awesome if we could ever do that,” said Marcus Smith, President and COO of Speedway Motor Sports. “And like I said, at the time, it was just a crazy idea, but if you know anything about Bruton Smith, he has a habit of making dreams a reality, and that’s come to fruition today.”
A matchup in Bristol between these two programs makes sense. Geographically, the two schools each sit roughly two hours from Bristol.
Despite residing four hours from each other, Tech and Tennessee have not played football in the regular season since 1937, though the two programs did meet in the 1994 Gator Bowl (a 45-23 Tennessee victory) and the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl (a 37-14 Tech win). The Volunteers own a 5-3 advantage in the series.
“First, let’s talk about driving this track because, when the van driver came in around the track, I asked him to move over and let me drive because I am a veteran of this track. But he didn’t do that,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer joked. “Next to Lane Stadium, this is my favorite sports venue, I promise you.
“But this is a great place, and I grew up not far from here. I’ve kept up with the Tennessee Volunteers. My uncle taught there. I know a lot about that school and their great fans. So this is just big. I think two great programs, two great fan bases. And now that it’s official, I think tickets are going to take off, and I just think it’s going to be a great, great night, and we are really proud to be a part of something that’s just special and Virginia Tech is proud to be a part of it.”
A spot opened up on Tech’s 2016 schedule when a home-and-home series with Wisconsin was pushed back to 2019-20. Tech’s other nonconference games that year include home contests against Liberty (Sept. 3) and East Carolina (Sept. 17) and the school’s first ever matchup against Notre Dame, which will take place in South Bend, Ind., on Nov. 19.