NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Shakedown Session: August 3rd, 2011

“Nashville SuperSpeedway’s Closure Leaves The Music City Singing The Blues”

Back in 2001, the Nashville SuperSpeedway opened to a sold-out crowd of 55,000 enthusiastic NASCAR fans. There were plans for the facility to include a 5/8 mile asphalt short track and a dirt track on the complex as well. Yes, everything seemed fine and dandy for NASCAR fans in the Music City. But fast-forward ten years and the once-bright outlook had become gloomier than Johnny Cash’s final music recordings. The stands were less than half-full for both Nationwide races this year and the less said about the attendance of the Camping World Truck Series races, the better. Which begs the question what could have prompted the track to decline NASCAR dates in 2012?

The first thing that worked against the SuperSpeedway was the fact it was not in the metropolitan Nashville area like the Fairgrounds had been. NASCAR fans in Davidson County have never entirely forgiven the sanctioning body for removing the annual NASCAR dates at the beloved Fairgrounds Speedway for the SuperSpeedway that was located in-between Lebanon and Murfreesboro. That ruffled a few feathers from the get-go.

Another things to consider on why the track met what appears to be its ultimate demise was the lack of exciting action at the track. The 1.33 mile concrete oval differed very little from all the other different “cookie-cutter” tracks such as Kentucky, Gateway International, Kansas, Chicagoland, and others that had popped up within a 10-year span. Most of the races featured Cup drivers spanking the Nationwide regulars to Kingdom Come and fans found it hard to get excited over the racing there compared to the Fairgrounds. Plus the unbearable heat of the June and July dates in recent years certainly did little to help the track’s cause.

But perhaps the biggest reason the track did not succeed lies squarely on the shoulders of Dover Motorsports management. Dover Motorsports opened Memphis Motorsports Park, Gateway International Raceway, and Nashville SuperSpeedway all around the same time in an attempt to build a miniature empire of their own along the lines of the International Speedway Corporation (owned by the France family) and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (owned by Bruton Smith). The initial ventures into these markets went well thanks, in part, to the fact that NASCAR was on an upward trend.

But when the sport started suffering its recent woes on and off the track, those problems hit the Nationwide and Truck Series head-on and nowhere were these problems more evident than at the Dover Motorsports Inc. tracks. The fact that these tracks had to survive on stand-alone races for their revenue and all the problems associated with the Nationwide Series in particular caused each of the Dover Motorsports tracks, one by one, to all fall by the wayside. Of course the fact that Dover Motorsports did very little, if any, promotion for their tracks and failed to follow through with the original grandiose plans for the SuperSpeedway did little to drum up support for the track in the long run.

Now the big question is where does this leave the city of Nashville with its rich NASCAR heritage dating back to the 1950’s in terms of its future in motorsports? The ideal solution everyone would like to see happen is the Nationwide Series returning to the recently re-opened Fairgrounds Speedway. But even with former NASCAR drivers Bobby Hamilton Jr. and Chad Chaffin leading the track, the fact remains that after the severe flooding that hit Nashville and factoring in the facilities not being up to date, that dream is still a bit of a long-shot, even with prominent Nashville-area citizens Darrell Waltrip and Sterling Marlin leading the charge for the Fairgrounds to be put back on the NASCAR schedule.

However, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has seemingly done everything he could possibly do to make sure the roar of race engines is never heard again at the Fairgrounds. He has tried to pass several ordinances against the track and done everything short of driving a wrecking ball to the facility itself. In the end, the future of NASCAR in Nashville is highly leaning on whether the Fairgrounds can be brought up to current NASCAR facility standards and whether or not the wrecking ball can be stopped long-term from tearing down one of racing’s most historic land-marks.

But even if this is the swan-song for NASCAR in the “Music City”, the fans of Nashville should try to remember the positive things that came out of the Nashville area. The Waltrips cut their teeth at the Fairgrounds, along with Sterling Marlin and his son, Steadman (even his daughter, Sutherlin, raced some at the Fairgrounds), the late Bobby Hamilton Sr., his son Bobby Jr., Chad Chaffin, Joe Buford, the late Andy Kirby, and Willie Allen, just to name a few names that got their start racing in the Music City. That is the one thing Nashville has going for it is the rich history that helped spur the growth of NASCAR into what it is today.

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