September 9, 2016
Notable faces set to be in attendance at Battle at Bristol
Once-in-a-lifetime event draws many former Tech alums and will be talked about for years

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Eighteen years ago, Bruton Smith came up with this crazy notion to play a football game inside of a racetrack.

The owner/CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., never shies from taking a risk and now, 18 years later, Smith’s idea is coming to fruition, as Virginia Tech and Tennessee will kick off in less than 30 hours right in the middle of the 89-year-old’s beloved Bristol Motor Speedway.

The crowd is expected to be in the 150,000 range, which comes as no surprise considering the schools haven’t met in the regular season since 1937 – and they’re separated by only 236 miles of asphalt known as Interstate 81. The crowd figures to be the largest ever to watch a college football game, surpassing the 115,109 fans who witnessed Michigan and Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium in 2013.

The uniqueness of the game and venue has attracted a “Who’s who?” listing of former Virginia Tech players who plan to be in attendance. Tech officials expect Michael Vick, André Davis, Chad Beasley, Kendall Fuller, Kyshoen Jarrett, Jim Druckenmiller and others to be there. Also, game officials already have announced that Bruce Smith will be a part of the coin toss, along with former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.

Steve Johnson, a former Tech player in the mid-1980s whose contributions led to the Hokies’ practice fields being named after him, will be a part of several pregame events as well. Johnson will have the shortest commute of any former player attending the game – he owns a real estate development company in Bristol.

Tech coach Justin Fuente appreciates all of this. He wants former players to be involved with the program and he certainly loves seeing them at the Hokies’ games. He enjoys the publicity that comes with playing in a game like this at a venue like this. He understands the recruiting implications.

But he spent all of his time this week getting his team ready for what they’ll face on the field.

“I don’t know if you can control the awe other than focus on the task at hand,” Fuente said earlier this week. “To me, that’s the biggest thing. It’s the same for both teams. We have to focus on understanding that it’s just a different stage. It’s still a game. The stage shouldn’t determine the way we prepare or the way we perform.

“With that being said, obviously, it is going to be pretty cool. There is going to be a lot of people there.”

Many expected this game to take place sooner. In 1998, Smith proposed the idea to then-Tech AD Jim Weaver and then-Tennessee AD Doug Dickey and offered to pay a rather handsome guarantee to both schools to make the game happen. Weaver was receptive to the idea. Dickey was not.

The idea simmered for years. Finally, Smith was able to piece together this memorable event. Weaver, who passed away last year, played an instrumental role in making it happen.

Actually, this game – this event – is more than memorable. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Tech fans, like Smith and many others, are ready to be a part of it.

For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter and on Instagram @vthokiefootball Instagram

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