By Brian Rice BRISTOL, Tenn.
BRISTOL, Tenn.- It is not uncommon to see orange at Bristol Motor Speedway for a NASCAR race. In fact, it is hard to miss it.
Orange tents and Power T flags dot the landscape of the expansive campgrounds and parking areas that surround the half-mile speedway. Orange t-shirts and polos are plentiful in the fan hospitality areas and souvenir trailer villages set up just outside the track's gates.
Walking around in one of those orange shirts will get plenty of exclamations of "Go Vols" thrown your way. In the college football melting pot that is a NASCAR race, you'll also get a few jeers from other schools' fans also enjoying the festivities.
One of those fan interactions stood out a little more than the others, not because of the "Tennessee Football" that adorned the shirts or the volume of the "Go Vols!" It was the accent that accompanied it. And how the people with the accent came to love the Volunteers is a story as fascinating as the miles they traveled to see the race.
Condredge Holloway was known at Tennessee and throughout college football for breaking down barriers as the first African-American quarterback in the Southeastern Confernece. But in the Canadian Football League, he was best known for leading a team with a proud history out of a long title drought.
That's how Holloway and the Tennessee Volunteers came into the life of Ed Sikkema. The Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup in 1952, but did not so much as make the final for the 31 seasons that followed. I was a drought long enough to be known as the "Dark Ages" of the franchise. That is, of course, until 1983.
"I'm a Toronto Argonauts fan, and Condrige Holloway won our first Gray Cup in over 30 years," Sikkema said while proudly displaying his newest Tennessee shirt at Bristol. "I've been a fan of him and Tennessee ever since."
In the years since, Sikkema contacted Holloway, who was happy to provide a tour of Tennessee's facilities for Sikkema and his family on a previous visit to the area.
Two of his traveling companions from Toronto, Tom and Barb Neidema, fell in love with UT football by chance.
"20 years ago, we rented a cabin in the mountains and followed a bunch of Tennessee flags to the game," Barb Neidema said. "We said, 'let's go,' and we did and we were in love."
The group made the trip from Toronto for the race weekend to celebrate Barb's 50th birthday. A return trip will be in order in September 2016 for the combination of two of their favorite things, Bristol and Tennessee Football.
Standing under the sign on the track's exterior with the giant Battle at Bristol logo, Sikkema said they hoped to be a part of the largest crowd in football history.
"We'd love to be here," he said.