Regardless of the inspiration behind “Thunderstruck,” the song is easily one of the band’s most recognized tunes. Ironically, the song never reached the top spot on any of the musical charts, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard charts in 1990. It’s a fairly surprising fact given the role the song plays in a variety of television shows, films and sporting events, making it a song that has become more appreciated with age. The fact that the song has become the anthem of various sporting events and teams through the years has only added to its popularity.
“Thunderstruck” isn’t the official song of any tracks visited by the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but the venue at which the hymn most aptly applies is the sport’s very own Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Nicknamed “Thunder Valley,” Bristol plays host to the Sprint Cup Series for Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race. Scoring a win at Bristol can be a daunting task given the high-banked concrete oval’s tough reputation. Any win at the Sprint Cup level is an incredible accomplishment. But, doing so at Bristol takes the sense of accomplishment to another level, particularly when that win is scored during the highly regarded annual night race.
Racing under the lights at Bristol always seems to add to the drama that unfolds at NASCAR’s shortest track. For the second time in five years, competitors will travel to Thunder Valley facing a bit of the unknown. In an effort to restore Bristol to the bump-and-run type of racing for which it has become notorious, track officials worked to reconfigure the track’s surface and make it less conducive of the side-by-side racing action that has become associated with the track in the last several years.
One driver who enjoyed the old rough-and-tumble nature of the “old Bristol” is Kurt Busch. The driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing is a five-time winner at Bristol. Busch scored each of those five wins prior to the night race in August 2007, the first Bristol race after the track’s repaving project earlier that season. In fact, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion experienced the majority of his Bristol success during the 2002 through 2007 seasons. In the 12 races run during that six-season stretch, Busch scored his five wins in addition to nine top-10 finishes. He led at least one lap in nine of those 12 races for a total of 562 laps led from 2002 to 2007. While Busch has continued to perform at a high level when it comes to Bristol, he enjoyed his greatest success prior to the track’s repaving.
It remains to be seen whether the efforts extended by track officials will restore Bristol to the former glory many drivers and fans used to enjoy. Whether it is “old Bristol” or “new Bristol,” the track remains a force with which to be reckoned. To best the half-mile bullring offers the conquering hero that rare chance to be in awe of the accomplishment. As such, Busch hopes to be “Thunderstruck” in Bristol, once again.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing:
Is there a sense of excitement for you when you think about Bristol? “Yes. Bristol is one of those tracks that I get a little extra pumped up for. For me, I think that feeling gets a little stronger when you’re talking about the night race at Bristol. There’s just something special about that race. I knew it before I ever made it to the big-league level of the Sprint Cup Series but, the first time I was able to experience the night race as a competitor, it’s almost indescribable. It’s a place that gives you a big adrenaline rush. You can literally feel the energy around the track from the competitors and the fans that are just excited for 500 laps of racing at Bristol. There’s really nothing quite like it.”
What do you think we’ll see with the changes the track made since the series last visited Bristol? “I think everyone is kind of anxious to see how the changes will affect the track and how these Sprint Cup cars will respond. You have to applaud the track officials for being proactive and trying to make it a better show for the fans. For so long, Bristol – and the night race at Bristol, in particular – was a must-see event. I think the fans enjoyed the way Bristol used to be and the track is just trying to give the fans what they want.”
Which do you prefer – the old or new Bristol? “I’ve been on record as being one of the guys who liked the track before it was reconfigured. It was just a tougher, grittier place to race than it is now and I liked that. It was mean and you kind of had to let the rough edges drag. I think you had to really get up on the wheel more and race as hard as you could every lap. I don’t know why, but it was a racing style I thrived on and, if you look at past performances there, it’s that type of racing where I’ve had the most success. All five of my Bristol wins were on the old surface. So, I know I am for sure one who hopes the changes they made gets it back a little closer to the way it was before. Aside from being something I liked better, I also think it lent itself to racing that was more exciting for the fans.”
With the way Bristol has been the last few years, what has been the most difficult part? “For me, the most challenging aspect is getting into those long, green-flag runs. It’s about being able to settle into a steady groove and making the best lap times you can. It’s tough at that place because it’s so fast for a short track and you can get dizzy there pretty quickly. It’s a physical track but it’s also mentally taxing, and you really have to be on your game when it comes to the concentration that is required to run well at Bristol.”
Source: Phoenix Racing