A Nashville Fair Board commissioner said during Tuesday’s meeting that “there’s not going to be a NASCAR race at the (Fairgrounds) Speedway in 2022.”
Speedway Motorsports, through Bristol Motor Speedway, is working on a deal with the city of Nashville for a long-term contract to lease, manage and operate Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As part of the deal, Speedway Motorsports would assume financial responsibility for renovations and maintenance of the track. That is subject to approval by the Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners and Metropolitan Council.
Speedway Motorsports has a letter of intent with the city to finalize the agreement before July 31, 2021.
Speedway Motorsports has not stated a timeline for when it hopes to host NASCAR racing at Fairgrounds Speedway, a 0.596-mile track that dates to 1904.
Jason Bergeron, a Fair Board commissioner, raised his concerns Tuesday about the time period for details on the speedway project (expected to be revealed May 11 at a public meeting) and public input. He also addressed his doubts that there would be NASCAR racing next year at the track.
“I’m not clear why this isn’t a longer period (after the proposed May 11 meeting) after that for more public input,” he said. “I understand that there are goals here.
“The more I dig in on this timeline of urgency – we need to be honest here, there’s not going to be a NASCAR race at the speedway in 2022. There’s not. There’s no way that construction of basically an entirely brand new speedway facility is going to be complete between late summer 2021 and in time for 2022. I think we need to be honest about that.”
Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, said Tuesday in a statement: “We are very pleased with the continued progress we are making with all Metro Stakeholders surrounding the rescue efforts of the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. We aren’t at a place to predict specific timing for hosting major events, however, there is tremendous excitement among drivers, race teams, sponsors and fans about a long term future at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
“It is our desire to synchronize with the other construction schedules to maximize those activities while limiting disruptions to the community. We look forward to hosting racing events as soon as possible and welcoming fans to a revitalized Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.”
Bergeron suggested that after the speedway project details are revealed May 11, a period for public input should stretch through September.
“I want the board to know I had not anticipated how negative the public response would be on this,” Bergeron said. “For all the emails we all get from somebody, I’m getting 10 times that many calls and emails and texts from people who I’ve never talked about the Fairgrounds with, neighbors I know who are furious. Furious.
“I had not anticipated the amount of fury that would come from the public on this presentation. That’s really driving my concern that we need to have more robust public engagement after we have the full details of the plan presented.”
Dr. Sheri Weiner, a commissioner on the Fair Board, also noted the need for more details on the project.
“We don’t have enough information at this point to solidify a timeline,” she said.
Commissioner Caleb Hemmer stated: “I think the mayor has proposed this aggressive schedule, and we need to do our best to try to stick to that. I think having at least the information and starting point in May will help us at least get our heads around what the actual schedule should be after that in the public engagement.
“It’s hard sitting here today – there are several missing pieces here to try to think through all that out. Again, I’m putting my faith in the administration and the Bristol organization that they’re putting forth a complete picture for us to do that.”
The track hosted at least one Cup race a year from 1958-84. The Xfinity Series raced there in 1984, 1988-89 and from 1995-2000.
Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, said on a recent episode of the Dale Jr. Download about the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway project: “I’m super excited about it. I’ve been working on it for three years. I’m optimistic I just think it’s a great fit for NASCAR. The Fairgrounds Speedway is in Nashville. That’s just really unusual to take a NASCAR event into a venue that is 2 miles from city hall. That is pretty cool.”
Smith also shared some of his plans for the track with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download:
“Our vision is to restore it to the kind of venue that the community can enjoy everything from a NASCAR weekend to a music festival, Christmas shows in the holidays, the state fair, of course, and all sorts of events. Nashville is an event town.
“That facility needs to be brought up to the standards that it needs to be today to host a lot of events. It’s not just racing. We do this at our speedway in Las Vegas. Twice a year now we host NASCAR events, but 50 other weeks out of the year, we are hosting everything from a construction expo to a music concert, car shows, driverless car exhibitions, all sorts of special events there.
“We think that the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway can be this event venue that complements everything that goes on in Nashville.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper also sees the potential in a deal with Speedway Motorsports and Bristol Motor Speedway.
“The goal of the partnership is to bring our historic racetrack back to life as a valuable and exciting part of the Fairgrounds,” he said March 5 when the letter of intent was announced. “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 (letter of intent) 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.”