The Metro Board of Fair Commissioners has turned to a familiar face to operate auto-racing events at the fairgrounds speedway next year, a move that follows a turbulent season of racing at the city-owned track.
The board voted 5-0 Tuesday morning to contract racing promoter Tony Formosa, who held races at the track in 2010. In doing so, commissioners tapped Formosa over a star-studded group led by NASCAR greats Sterling Marlin, Chad Chaffin Jr. and Nashville businessman Bill Freeman.
Formosa — who after the vote is set to operate the track in 2012 under the title Fairgrounds Speedway Racing Association — had vied to hold additional races for the recently concluded racing year. But the board instead tapped NASCAR driver Bobby Hamilton Jr., who offered the board more money.
That was a decision commissioners likely regretted after they learned this fall Hamilton had breached his contract when his check payments to the board bounced. Financial troubles forced Hamilton to cancel the season’s final race.
Now, however, fairgrounds racing is back in the hands of Formosa, who has agreed to pay $53,500 to hold seven night races next year. Helping make the case for Formosa’s application Tuesday was former Metro Councilman Jamie Hollin, an attorney and lobbyist.
“I think we made a mistake last year,” fair board commissioner Ned Norton said before casting his vote for Formosa, noting that the board back then selected Hamilton because his proposal offered greater dollars to the board. He suggested such decision-making backfired.
In addition to the guaranteed $53,500 payment, the fair board will collect $1 for each auto-racing ticket sold, as well as fees from renting out the facility’s office, operating the track’s lights, and opening the track up to practices, among other revenue sources.
Marlin and Chaffin’s proposal, dubbed Tennessee Racing Association, would have guaranteed the board $62,500, which exceed Formosa’s offer. But board members said they could make up the difference through the other guaranteed fees.
In opting against Marlin’s proposal, commissioners like Charles Sueing referenced feeling “more comfortable” with Formosa, who has worked with the board in the past.
A third group seeking a total of 10 races withdrew its proposal after the board made it clear it would entertain no more than seven.
Moving forward, an important issue for fairgrounds racing will be its relationship with the surrounding neighborhood, which includes many residents who have complained about the track’s noise over the years.
Unlike this past year, races are to be held at night, not the day. As part of the contract, racing is to be subjected to constant sound monitoring.
“The change from day races to night races will create an additional impact on the neighborhood, and it’s something that we’ll discuss as neighbors,” said Colby Sledge, who chairs the organization South Nashville Action People.
“The important thing that we’ve gained from this contract is that there will definitely be sound monitoring and data that we can see and use for the next racing season,” he added.