Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Bristol GM cites ‘first and foremost, safety’ in decision for Sunday postponement

NASCAR waited nearly 51 years for its premier series to return to dirt-track racing. Mother Nature ensured Sunday that one more day would be added to the wait time, and striking images of a deluge at Bristol Motor Speedway underscored how that decision was made.

Significant rainfall during a four-day span caused flooding at the Tennessee track and its surrounding areas, pushing a NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series doubleheader to Monday starts. The Food City Dirt Race for the NASCAR Cup Series is now set for 4 p.m. ET (FOX, PRN, SiriusXM), right after the twice-delayed Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt (noon ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM).

RELATED: Rain, flooding postpone Bristol | Revised weekend schedule

Jerry Caldwell, BMS executive vice president and general manager, said the difficult decision was reached early after consultation with NASCAR officials, weather experts and local authorities. When Beaver Creek, which partially circles the speedway, began to overflow its banks and submerge parking areas and bridges, the priority for hosting a historic stock-car racing event quickly shifted.

“First and foremost, safety,” Caldwell said by phone Sunday afternoon. “We had received an inch of rain on Thursday night and then in the past 24 hours, we’ve gotten about an additional three inches of rain, which has caused some flooding in the area and surrounding properties. We’ve just got to make sure when we welcome people on our property that we’re doing it in a safe way so people can come here and know they’re going to have fun. That’s first and foremost, safety always.”

Another high priority was getting the dirt half-mile in a race-able condition — a challenge considering the rain that had already fallen, plus the pop-up showers forecast for the Tennessee hills Sunday. A flood warning was to be in effect until 7:15 p.m. ET Sunday, which photos and video from the track on social media seemed to verify. Caldwell says that both fans and staff were diverted from the areas most affected.

The weather outlook is far more promising later with overnight clearing leading to a cooler but sunny Monday. Track prep is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. ET Monday. From the facilities side, Caldwell says he’s looking forward to the speedway property and neighboring areas drying out, allowing fans to safely return.

MORE: Full race-day guide for Monday

“It’ll be just like normal for us — we’ll gear back up for another race,” Caldwell says. “We’ve got a great team here in Bristol and we’ll make sure we get cleaned up from this because we have some debris on the property and will need to clean up some parking areas and bridges so that we can welcome fans and have our facility beautiful as always. We’ll gear up.

“Obviously we’re working with our great partners at NASCAR and other partners that help operationally here with the race and look forward to welcoming fans. It’s making sure we can get folks parked and that we have proper gate attendants and concession stands and all those things, but we’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”

As for the extra day of waiting, that presents another challenge — especially after the weeks and months of build-up and then the surreal sneak preview from Friday’s practice sessions for both series.

“My anticipation is high,” Caldwell says. “I really am looking forward to it. My greatest anticipation is really for the fans. I love that our fans are so excited; they are so hyped up for this event and it has gotten so much attention and I know it’s going to be a great show tomorrow. Can’t wait for the sport as a whole to experience that. I wish it had been today, but I know we’re going to have a beautiful day tomorrow and still be able to get this in.”