ON THE FAST TRACK

Catamounts, Buccaneers to renew football rivalry at Bristol

By DANIEL HOOKER ’01

Catamounts, start your engines! Western Carolina football’s road game against East Tennessee State University will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway, hailed as the “Last Great Colosseum,” when the Catamounts battle ETSU on Saturday, Sept. 17, for the Buccaneers’ first Southern Conference football game since 2003.

ETSU, which is coming off its first football season in 12 years, played as an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Independent last fall. In 2016, the Bucs will play a full SoCon schedule, with the meeting with WCU representing their first league game.

Mascots

“We are, first of all, very excited about the renewal of the Southern Conference football rivalry between Western Carolina and ETSU,” said WCU head football coach Mark Speir MAEd ’95, who has guided the Catamounts to consecutive seven-win seasons. “We’re looking forward to being the first SoCon team to welcome Buccaneer football back to the SoCon – and to be able to do so in such a storied American sports venue like Bristol Motor Speedway is an awesome opportunity for both of our programs.”

Bristol is an iconic emblem in one of America’s most popular sports, Speir said. “It’s especially cool for me, a guy from Kannapolis who grew up in the heart of NASCAR country and has been a fan all my life, to have our team compete on that stage in what will be transformed into college football’s largest stadium. This is a great opportunity for our program and our fans.”

ETSU head coach Carl Torbush echoed Speir’s thoughts on the historic event. “We are very excited about this opportunity to play at Bristol Motor Speedway,” said Torbush. “Not only will this be a historic event for the schools, but also our fans, the conference and FCS Football. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players, coaches, staff, university and fans.”

Bristol Motor Speedway is less than 20 miles away from the ETSU campus, and is approximately 127 miles – or two hours and 15 minutes of drive time – from WCU’s Cullowhee campus. East Tennessee State is playing its other home football games at nearby Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee, until its new football stadium is finished.

The Buccaneers will host the Catamounts at the 165,000-seat speedway one week after the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech are expected to set a record for most fans at a collegiate football game.

WCU and ETSU have played a combined 45 times in the head-to-head series with the first meeting being held in 1932. The Catamounts hold a slim 23-21-1 edge in the all-time series, which has lain dormant since 2003. WCU won the most recent game, 28-21, in Johnson City, and has victories in three of the last four series meetings.