Speedway's failure could allow NASCAR's fairgrounds return

Friday, August 5, 2011 at 6:40pm

The closure of Nashville Superspeedway, combined with Nashville voters’ endorsement of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, might open the door for NASCAR’s return to historical Fairgrounds Speedway.

“I’ve been on the phone to NASCAR and I didn’t have to beg — they want to come back,” Hamilton said Friday. “That’s not the question. The question is, are we willing to do what’s necessary to make it happen? By ‘we’, I mean myself and the city of Nashville. I’m willing to put my own money up but I need some support.”

Hamilton said approximately $4 million is needed to secure a NASCAR Nationwide Series race and a Camping World Series truck race. That includes about $2 million in track improvements, such as installing NASCAR-mandated safer barriers around the existing concrete walls. The other $2 million would cover sanctioning fees and related expenses.

“You could trim about $1 million if you went with just a truck race,” Hamilton said.

On Wednesday Dover Motorsports announced it will not seek any 2012 NASCAR sanctions for Nashville Superspeedway, its 11-year-old track in Wilson County. The track, which struggled with attendance, is expected to be closed next year.

On Thursday Metro voters approved a referendum supporting the fairgrounds and its traditional activities: auto racing, the expo center, flea market and state fair.

That vote does not assure the long-term survival of the Metro-owned facility, but it forestalls any immediate redevelopment.

“The people spoke and they bought us some time,” Hamilton said. “And the timing couldn’t be better, considering what happened with the Superspeedway. I hate to see it go under, but it presents an opportunity for us that hadn’t been there before.”

NASCAR is in the process of finalizing next season’s schedules and Hamilton said there may be “too many loose ends to tie up” in time for the Fairgrounds to be included.

“But even if we miss out on 2012 there’s always next year,” he said. “I know for a fact that NASCAR wants to be in Nashville. They love this market.”

Fairgrounds Speedway opened in 1958 and began hosting NASCAR races the following season. Up until 1984 the track held two annual races in its premier Cup Series. The track over the years also held races in the second-tier Nationwide Series and third-tier truck series.

Long before the current track was built there was automobile racing at the Fairgrounds. The first recorded race was in 1904 – five years before the first race at Indianapolis. That first Fairgrounds race included celebrated driver Barney Oldfield.

“This place has an incredible history,” Hamilton says, “and it can have an incredible future.”

The track can seat approximately 16,000. That number of ticket sales, combined with TV rights and corporate sponsorships, is sufficient to make a NASCAR race financially viable according to Hamilton, who owns and operates racetracks in Ridgetop and Carthage.

Nashville attorney Gary Baker once operated the Fairgrounds track along with Bristol Motor Speedway, laying the groundwork to make Bristol the most poplar track in NASCAR. He said the Fairgrounds can recapture its glory days but it won’t be easy.

Baker said the track needs to expand seating to 40,000 and “essentially rebuild everything but the racetrack itself – the walls, pit road, the grandstands.

“That requires major capitol investment, and whether it’s private, public or a combination, a long-term lease is necessary. Unless the city will grant someone a long-term lease, you can forget it; it will be fiscally impossible to make the investment.”

As for the Superspeedway, Baker was skeptical about the track’s future from the start. He questioned the layout: a relatively flat 1.3-mile concrete surface that proved not conducive to exciting racing.

“Another problem was that Dover’s main experience had been with Cup racing,” Baker said. “With a Cup race about all you have to do is open the gates and watch the fans file in. It’s different with the lesser series. You have to work to promote those races.”

Baker, a partner with music mogul Mike Curb in a currently inactive NASCAR team, said the Gladeville track could be used for something other than racing. He noted the number of automotive industries in the area, and said the track might be suited for an R&D (research and development) and testing facility.

Given his past success as a track owner, does Baker have any interest in buying the Superspeedway (valued at around $50 million) or becoming involved in the future operation of Fairgrounds Speedway?

“I don’t know,” he said. “Right now I’ve got a lot going on, including trying to get my race team back on track. I’d have to think about it.”

8 Comments on this post:

By: TITAN1 on 8/5/11 at 5:19

Keep up the good work, Bobby!

By: dwight14 on 8/5/11 at 6:05

gooooo fairgrounds...this is a great opportunity to get the glory back..i hope bobby can get the help to land those dates on the nascar calender...oh what it will do for the nashville economy...now we will see how smart the ones that control the countys purse strings really r..a low investment for a very high return...hmmmm..if i had the money,i wouldnt blink an eye..but not until they are assured of a long term lease...but if they are smart,they will grant one to bobby...what an investment it would be...it would easily sell out 40,000.....but like bobby says..16,000 would be enough with the tv money..nashville,you dont need to let this one slip away...you allowed it to happen in the 80's and you were made a fool of...whats the old saying? fool me once shame on you..fool me twice,shame on me...dont turn this chance down..you have the chance to do something wonderful for the town and county,and for tn for that matter...dont screw it up this time...

By: capt4chris on 8/5/11 at 6:10

Here's the chance for Fairground supporters to bring to fruition what they've been fighting for. With the amendment approved they get a make it or break it chance to get racing to flourish again at the Fairgrounds. I see that as a deciding factor of whether the Mayor will push again for changes at that location or not.

By: TITAN1 on 8/5/11 at 7:04

Where is whitetrash who was running his mouth yesterday? Oh that's right, that was his trolling name.

By: las04 on 8/6/11 at 7:29

Nascar knows the history of the "Fairgrounds Speedway", I think they can and will be able to show Karl Dean what an opportunity this would be for the entire city. I'm trying not to get to excited but I can't keep myself from smiling every time I think about this being a real possibility. It's time for Nascar to get back to more short tracks. We race fans like to see the kind of races that doesn't come down to fuel and pit strategy.....we like to watch the racing and rubbing down to the last lap. Please come back.....!!

By: richgoose on 8/6/11 at 7:54

As long as Davidson County does not put any money into the Fairgrounds raceway I could care less what private money does. In fact if private money brings the reality this article expects then I think that is very good for the people who like small track racing.

By: wataboutbob on 8/6/11 at 1:15

There will need to be some major improvements to the racing venue before even thinking about hosting any NASCAR events.
I've been an out-of-town supporter for the fairgrounds and attended the July 2 Firecracker races with a group of friends but won't go back until they at least get a decent sound system. We listened to mumble jumble for five hours. There are several improvements needed but that is the #1 show-stopper.

By: whitetrash on 8/7/11 at 11:58

Gary Baker said in the Tennessean that it would take a minimum of 20 million dollars to make improvements to the Fairgrounds Speedway in order to attract the Nashville Super Speedway type of races back to the venue. Mr. Baker also stated that it would take a long term lease for someone to put that kind of money into the property. This will not happen over the next four years given the results of Thursday night's Nashville City Elections. Also, current council members Craddock, Crafton, Hollin, Gotto, and Coleman will no longer serve on the Nashville Metro Council.