Big names in the world of auto racing came to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Saturday afternoon not to compete for trophies, but to try to show high-speed racecars don’t have to be so noisy.
Sterling Marlin was among those taking laps at the city’s much-disputed racetrack, testing mufflers to demonstrate how the devices limit sound from the cars. For decades, drivers at the fairgrounds haven’t used mufflers. But with the fate of racing at the 117-acre property up in the air, track advocates now are willing to install the mufflers to appease agitated neighbors.
“Mufflers were something that should have been done long ago,” Metro Councilman Duane Dominy said, watching the cars whiz by. “This demonstration has proven that they can make the cars a lot quieter. The track is an asset of the city. I think it should be used to its fullest extent possible.”
The muffler showcase came in advance of Tuesday’s fair board meeting when commissioners will consider two separate proposals to hold racing events at the speedway. The track’s most recent promoter Tony Formosa turned in one proposal, and former NASCAR greats Chad Chaffin and Bobby Hamilton Jr. are behind the other. Both groups have agreed to use mufflers.
On Saturday, drivers first circled the track using a single car without a muffler. They then performed the same exercise but with an attached muffler. A Knoxville-based company set up decibel-reading devices at different areas surrounding the track, results of which will be released later.
Naturally, mufflers reduced the noise of the stock cars, but neighbors are skeptical nonetheless.
“It’s quieter one car to one car,” said Colby Sledge, who chairs South Nashville Action People. “The question is when 28 cars get out here, is it going to be any quieter? That’s an answer we don’t have.”
Several fairgrounds neighbors were among the 75 or so who attended Saturday’s test. A few said they received text messages during the event from friends who claimed they could still hear the cars from their houses.
“Of course the car with the muffler is going to be quieter than the one without,” said Lauren Flaherty, a neighbor. “But really, at the end of the day, it just comes down to what it sounds like when I’m actually living in my house and barbecuing in my backyard.”
Councilwoman Sandra Moore, who represents the neighborhood, said she wants to review the decibel tests before offering a judgment.
“It was interesting,” Moore said of the demonstration. “I’m still in the informative stage.”
Fair board chair James Weaver said commissioners would review the decibel tests before Tuesday’s meeting.
Formosa, who conducted demonstrations separate from Chaffin and Hamilton, said mufflers have become the norm for racing in the Northern United States. The South, he said, is just late to the game.
According to Formosa, the majority of his proposed racing events would feature between 15 and 25 cars. One race would have 35 cars racing at one time. He said most drivers don’t already have mufflers, so adding the auto park would be a requirement.
Council members Michael Craddock, a candidate for mayor, and Robert Duvall were also in attendance.