Open since 1904, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway is one of the oldest tracks in the United States, but has not seen major NASCAR racing in decades. However, Bristol Motor Speedway and owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) hope to change that in the coming years. On Monday, the two parties revealed they have started discussions with the Nashville city government into restoring the speedway for NASCAR with a return coming as soon as 2022.
“We have an obligation to maintain the track, so it’s smart for Nashville to engage a strong, long-term partner from the auto racing industry to operate it successfully,” said Nashville mayor John Cooper. “Modernizing the Speedway brings the track back to its historic prominence. It also brings us another step closer to a Nashville that values its unique assets and uses those assets to build a greater city.”
The .596-mile speedway hosted the Cup Series from 1958 to 1984. The lower-tier Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series have also raced at the track, doing so until it was replaced by the newly-opened Nashville Superspeedway in nearby Lebanon. Although the NASCAR national series has not returned to the Fairgrounds in over two decades, the ARCA Menards Series and its East counterpart continue to race there.
In recent years, NASCAR has taken steps to return to the city of Nashville. The postseason Champion’s Week and Awards Banquet have taken place in the city since 2019 (though the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), while Nashville Superspeedway will once again host races in 2021 after a decade-long absence. The return to the superspeedway, which will stay on the schedule through 2024, raised questions from fans and industry members about the Fairgrounds’ future. Newly-crowned Cup champion Chase Elliott tweeted in June that a “snooze fest” at the superspeedway would “put the nail in the coffin of the fairgrounds, bummer.”
Despite doubts about the Fairgrounds, SMI intends to continue working to keep it alive, though the effort has been marred by political tensions surrounding a Major League Soccer stadium’s construction in the area. Autoweek’s Matt Weaver wrote shortly after the superspeedway’s addition to the schedule that Dover International Speedway had surrendered one of its two races to Nashville Superspeedway “at the request of Speedway Motorsports in the hopes of convincing Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to approve the legislation of a ticket tax to cover the costs of renovating the Fairgrounds Speedway.”
In accordance with Monday’s announcement, SMI set up a website RestoreNashvilleFairgroundsSpeedway.com, which features a statement headlined, “Mayor Cooper’s Vision: Revitalize the Legendary Speedway, Generate Revenue for The Fairgrounds”. Among the topics for the Bristol/SMI duo and the city to deliberate are to allow Bristol, a fellow Tennessee track, to assume management and financial duties, while the city can generate revenue from events.
“The racetrack can stop being a financial drain on taxpayers,” added Cooper. “Instead, it can generate positive cash flow and help fund community improvements at the racetrack, at the Fairgrounds and at Fair Park. This historic site can be a great, long-term asset for the community and the city.”
“Bristol Motor Speedway and Speedway Motorsports are thrilled to take this step forward with Mayor Cooper, the Fair Board, Metro Council and the neighborhood stakeholders,” SMI president Marcus Smith said. “We can work together to transform Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway into an amazing multipurpose entertainment destination. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and go to work to fully restore the speedway, recruit national events and breathe new life into a venue that has a legendary status in auto racing history.”