While Nathan Lynch is no stranger to racing, the third generation driver’s latest trip was a different kind of experience.
In March, Lynch joined 900 other dirt track racers in competing at the Bristol Dirt Nationals, held at the iconic Bristol Motor Speedway.
The concrete half-mile track was covered with more than 23,000 cubic feet of dirt for the NASCAR Cup Series race, but before Joey Logano became the first Cup Series driver to win on dirt in the modern era, the late models got the chance to compete at the track dubbed “The Last Great Colosseum” on March 15-20.
“There was a driver’s meeting in the infield and we went walking in there through the tunnel. I was just like, ‘Whoa.’ My heart dropped, my stomach got all queasy. I was just like, ‘This is insane,’” Lynch said of his first view of the track during a Saturday practice session. “You’re looking up to the top of the track and it’s two stories above you. It was just insane.”
With a 24 degree bank in the corners and a nine degree bank in the straightaways, the track looks more vertical than horizontal from the ground, but Lynch said that once you were in the car, the tilt didn’t seem as drastic.
In division where brakes are key at such tracks as Macon Speedway, Tri-City Speedway and Fayette County Speedway, Lynch’s normal haunts, Bristol was a completely different animal.
“You just had the hammer down the whole way around and hope nobody wrecks in front of you,” Lynch said of the track, which was last covered in dirt in 2001 for the World of Outlaws’ Channellock Challenge.
After a rain out on Monday, Lynch hit the track on March 16 and managed to avoid any wrecks in his Bristol debut. He ran sixth in his heat race to qualify for the third of three features in the 120-car sport mod field. Starting 21 for the 30-car feature, Lynch would work his way up to a 17th place finish.
Lynch finished tenth in his qualifying heat and missed the feature on March 17, but came back with a better showing at the last chance qualifier on March 19. Racing in the third of four B-Features, Lynch started 16th and jumped up eight spots to finish eighth in the 18-car field, missing advancing to the 24-car main by just a few spots.
In the end, Lynch finished in the top third of all the drivers who competed in the sport mod class, about where he expected going into the event.
NASCAR will be on the dirt again next year, but Lynch doesn’t know if there will be another late model race in 2022. He does know that if there is one, he’ll probably sit this round out.
“I don’t see myself going, but one of my brothers may. I’m not saying that I won’t go back, but my car won’t go back,” he adds with a laugh. “It was one of those, been there, got to do it, enjoyed it, and didn’t tear anything up things. That was a victory.”
And ultimately, that was what Bristol was about for Lynch, not where he finished, but the experience itself.
“I’d say it was a dream come true, but I don’t think I ever thought that I’d even have the option to race there.”