KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football head coach Butch Jones, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace and Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Caldwell touched on the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol and Bristol Motor Speedway’s impact in college football at a joint press conference Thursday.
“It truly is an honor to be a part of the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol,” Jones said. “Like I told Jerry, it’s kind of surreal. It seems like this has been many, many years in the making since doing the first press conference. Now, it’s here.”
As the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol quickly approaches, Caldwell recalls the excitement he felt over two years ago when the event was announced but acknowledges that the long duration between the announcement and the event proved beneficial.
“When we first announced it, I thought, `Three years away. Can’t we do it next year?’ Now, I am so thankful that the Pilot Flying J was three years away,” Caldwell said. “It has presented a lot of challenges, but it has also been a great experience for everyone that works there.”
Prior to the press conference, Jones welcomed Wallace as a member of Team 120 and invited him to participate in Tennessee’s football practice. In exchange, Wallace honored Jones with one of his racing suits.
“This is a tremendous day for me to be here, to suit up, put the pads on and be a part of Team 120,” Wallace said. “I’m excited to be here. It’s a very blessed day.”
Wallace has supported the Orange and White for as long as he can remember. Wallace’s mother, Desiree, ran track at Tennessee and grew up in Knoxville while his father is from Nashville. With his uncle being a season ticket holder, Wallace has spent countless fall afternoons at Neyland Stadium.
“It’s really in my blood,” Wallace said. “It is such a great experience to be a part of.”
After Wallace took reps with the running backs and ran routes with the wide receivers, he was less than pleased with his showing, calling his ideal position waterboy.
While Wallace’s career between the tackles may not pan out, his performances on the track in the 2016 indicate he is on the rise. Wallace sits in eighth place in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series in part due to his third-place finish at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, Saturday.
Wallace stamped his mark in NASCAR after he became the first African American since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in 1963 to win in one of the top three touring divisions when he captured the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 26, 2013. Since the title, Wallace presented the gloves and shoes from this race to Jones.
The Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol between Tennessee and Virginia Tech will be held Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016.