NASCAR

Mayor John Cooper signs letter of intent to renovate Nashville Fairgrounds for NASCAR return

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Credit: Metropolitan Government of Nashville

The historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway has not hosted a NASCAR Cup Series race since 1984 and has not welcomed the Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series in over two decades, but the city of Nashville hopes to take steps toward bringing the sanctioning body back. On Thursday, city mayor John Cooper signed a letter of intent to renovate the track alongside Speedway Motorsports (SMI) and Bristol Motor Speedway.

SMI head Marcus Smith and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr., the latter’s father being a two-time Cup winner at the Fairgrounds, were also present at the letter signing. Should the plan be approved by the Board of Fair Commissioners and Metropolitan Council, Bristol Motor Speedway would assume management and operational responsibilities of the track, which includes paying the city $1 million every year to host races and taking over the Fairgrounds’ land outside of certain areas for four weeks annually to conduct races. As NASCAR has not visited the track in decades, it will obviously also need to be upgraded to meet the sanctioning body’s current regulations.

“The goal of the partnership is to bring our historic racetrack back to life as a valuable and exciting part of the Fairgrounds,” Cooper stated in a release from his office. “We have an obligation to maintain the track, so it is smart for Nashville to engage a strong, long-term partner from the auto racing industry to operate it successfully. The business terms in this LOI protect Nashville, with multiple revenue streams to make this a financial success. We can put this landmark back on the national stage. I look forward to working with the Fair Board and the Metro Council in the months ahead.”

“Pretty special for me to be invited to attend this meeting yesterday,” Earnhardt tweeted on Friday. “We also stopped by the track and took a lap. The entire property has an amazing future and the racetrack fits neatly into that vision.”

Fairgrounds Speedway’s existence predates NASCAR, having opened as a dirt track in 1904; it is the second-oldest motor speedway in America behind the Milwaukee Mile which opened the previous year. The .596-mile oval hosted the Cup Series from 1958 to 1984, while what is now the Xfinity and Truck Series respectively raced there in the 1980s and late 1990s. The lower series dates were eventually replaced by Nashville Superspeedway in nearby Lebanon in 2001; Nashville Superspeedway hosted the two series until 2011, and after a decade-long dormancy, it was revived for all three national series in 2021. While NASCAR has not returned to the Fairgrounds since, the ARCA Menards Series raced there from 2015 to 2019.

Although efforts were made to improve Fairgrounds Speedway over the years, they hit various snags due to political drama involving noise complaints and the planned construction of a Major League Soccer stadium in the area. When the superspeedway’s return was announced last June, some like reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott expressed worry about the Fairgrounds’ future, especially in the event of poor racing at the Lebanon circuit. In December, SMI and Bristol announced their intention to restore the Fairgrounds with an aimed NASCAR return by 2022.

Credit: Metropolitan Government of Nashville

The letter of intent outlines plans such as an “integration with the soccer stadium” and the hope to generate revenue from non-motorsport events like concerts and conventions. Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation CEO Butch Spyridon commented, “The Historic Fairgrounds Speedway deserves an opportunity to rekindle its great reputation. The relationship with BMS racing is an incredible opportunity to restore this track and bring top tier racing back home.”

At most, $50 million in bonds will be issued for renovations, while Bristol’s four-week Fairgrounds control does not include the stadium and commercial property. The letter also addresses the noise concerns by noting “noise mitigation would be an integral part of the redesign and track improvements.”

“We can work together to transform Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway into an amazing multipurpose entertainment destination,” Smith added. “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.”

Besides the speedways, the city of Nashville has seen an influx of racing activity in recent times. With the exception of the cancelled 2020 edition due to the pandemic, the NASCAR Champion’s Week and Awards Banquet has been held in Nashville since 2019, while the IndyCar Series will race on a downtown street circuit in August.

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