Nashville Fair Board raises questions about details with Speedway plan


Nashville’s Board of Fair Commissioners raised concerns Tuesday night about not having enough details on Bristol Motor Speedway’s plans to renovate and operate historic Fairgrounds Speedway.

There were many questions throughout the four-hour session, which included more than 75 minutes of public comment. Questions ranged from sound and traffic worries for local residents to costs and benefits of having NASCAR’s premier series potentially return to the track for the first time since 1984.

Speedway Motorsports, through Bristol Motor Speedway, is working on a deal with the city of Nashville to lease, manage and operate Fairgrounds Speedway. As part of the deal, Speedway Motorsports would pay $1 million a year and assume financial responsibility for renovations and maintenance of the track. That is subject to approval by the Board of Fair Commissioners and also the Metropolitan Council.

Speedway Motorsports has a letter of intent with the city to finalize the agreement before July 31.

MORE: Read the letter of intent 

Jerry Caldwell, general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, gave a presentation Tuesday and took questions from the commissioners throughout the evening.

Caldwell stated how the track’s renovation could benefit all groups.

“If you’re a fan or participant, this allows your race track to be restored and modernized,” Caldwell said. “It creates a safer venue for participants and spectators with far more amenities.

“If you’re just a concerned citizen that may not care about racing, this still restores and modernizes a historic national venue. It creates a more user-friendly venue for the community and that fairgrounds property, addresses much-needed sound mitigation issues with a sound wall, creates certainty of events, fewer days with cars on the race track and it brings an organization to the table that has a history of working with the community to put on world class events.”

Conceptual rendering of Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville that Bristol Motor Speedway showed in a public meeting May 11, 2021. (Photo: Bristol Motor Speedway.)

Among details Caldwell shared:

  • The deal with the city is for 10 years with four five-year renewal options, making it up to a 30-year lease.
  • A curfew of 10 p.m. for racing events and 11 p.m. for NASCAR events.
  • How sound would be mitigated. Caldwell showed conceptual renderings that had a 20-foot wall stretch from the middle of Turn 1 continuously through the middle of Turn 3 on the 0.596-mile speedway.
  • Conceptual renderings also showed a tunnel added underneath Turn 3.
  • A new main grandstand because of the layout of the adjoining property made a new one necessary.

The commissioners set up Tuesday’s session to allow for a public discussion on the project, followed by its regular meeting.

MORE: Watch the meeting 

Commissioner Jason Bergeron, who has raised concerns about the timeline to complete a deal, questioned Caldwell extensively before the public offered comments and again during the regular meeting.

Among the details Bergeron sought was the cost of the renovations, stating it was his understanding that models being discussed for the facility ranged from $61-$95 million.

“There’s really as many levels as you want, it’s Nashville’s facility,” Caldwell said. “We have done some preliminary modeling with the engineers on what that is going to look like, but we’ve already started refining those numbers and those numbers are coming down.”

Caldwell said he and his group were working with the city’s design team on those plans. Those plans will impact costs.

Bergeron questioned Caldwell for more than 10 minutes before being reminded by Erin McAnally, chairperson of the board, that the section was set up for public comment.

“My concern is that, at the moment, we’re talking about a draft contract at the next meeting, which I think is completely unacceptable,” Bergeron said. “We have a lot of details that we need.”

McAnally said: “I agree, we need way more details. I’m concerned about June 8 (fair board meeting) as well, but I do want to make sure we hear from the people that showed up here.”

Those for the deal spoke for more than 30 minutes. Opponents, mostly residents who lived near the fairgrounds, spoke for about 40 minutes.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip was the first to speak, urging the deal be done.

“This is a golden opportunity,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for the speedway. This is a great opportunity for the fairgrounds. I don’t think it would be wise to ignore what SMI is bringing to the table.”

A number of residents who live near the fairgrounds expressed concerns.

“The thing that continues to be a reoccurring issue, and I’m going to echo what a couple of people said, is just a general lack of transparency,” one resident said. “On one hand, we hear this has been in the works for several years, but then when you ask specific questions, ‘It’s we don’t know. We don’t have that. We’ll figure it out later.’’’

Bergeron later made a motion that the board consider only a detailed proposal at the June 8 meeting to allow time for feedback.

During the discussion that followed, McAnally said: “I share a lot of your concerns Mr. Bergeron and all my fellow commissioners. We are working really hard to get answers to be able to present to you all and to the public. We’ve been asked to perform in this timeline. We’ve been transparent since the beginning, we think it’s really aggressive and it makes me, personally, very nervous, and you all know that.”

The commissioners defeated Bergeron’s motion 3-1.

Bergeron then resumed his questioning of Caldwell. During the session, Caldwell confirmed that a NASCAR weekend would be envisioned as a three-day event for the track. Bergeron raised questions about parking plans, naming rights for the speedway, NASCAR’s TV contract and also questioned Caldwell on the funding of Speedway Children’s Charities, which has a chapter at each track Speedway Motorsports operates.

At one point, this three-minute exchange took place between Bergeron and Caldwell:

Bergeron: I’m trying to understand the funding for the children’s charity. Is that funded through donations made at the track or does that have a dedicated revenue source coming from Bristol seeding that or both?

Caldwell: It’s both.

Bergeron: OK. Can you break that down a little further on each side?

Caldwell: Break it down?

Bergeron: Provide a little more color on each side of that.

Caldwell: We have a children’s charity at every one of our speedways …

Bergeron: Yes

Caldwell: … that we host events. When we’re having race events, we have staff that are out raising money for children so that we can help local organizations that are in that community. It’s a really important piece of what we do.

Bergeron: I’m trying to get down to that, the modeling a little bit. So you’ll have charities running a fundraiser on the site selling things to attendees that then all the proceeds go to charity, correct?

Caldwell: Correct

Bergeron: Does Bristol also just put in its own money that’s not coming from attendees into the charity?

Caldwell: Yes

Bergeron: How does that split usually work at other chapters. How much money is Bristol bringing to the table, if you can give me any examples.

Caldwell: I can’t answer that off the top of my head. I would have to guess, and I don’t want to do that.

Bergeron: I would love to get some more information on that, so that I could understand the breakdown on that.

Caldwell: Help me understand what you’re after there.

Bergeron: Well, I’m just trying to understand the model.

Caldwell: We are trying to raise money for children, what’s wrong with that?

Bergeron: I want to encourage Bristol …

Caldwell: We typically give away a million dollars a year in Bristol.

Bergeron: That’s great.

Caldwell: I’m not understanding why that is an issue.

Bergeron: I’m just curious how much of it comes from, you know, the fundraisers held on the site that attendees are being very generous in donating to and then also ensuring that Bristol is bringing money to the table itself from its revenues that it makes back to charity as well. I want it to be from both sides. That’s all I’m trying to get to. Does that …

Caldwell: OK. Alright.

Bergeron: I think you are telling it does. Like all the charities are not just funded by attendees at the races giving money out there. That’s all. Right?

Caldwell: Yeah. There are lots of events that we put on. We do lots of things to raise money for kids. Yes. We put money in.

Bergeron: OK. That’s all I was trying to get to. That’s it. I’m just trying to make sure it was from both sides because I wanted to encourage that if it wasn’t the case. That’s all. I appreciate that.

Caldwell: OK. Thank you.

Bergeron: I don’t have any other questions right now.

Smokin’: Winston fueled NASCAR for 33 years


Ranking historic moments in any sport is a risky business, but it’s difficult to deny that one of the biggest items in NASCAR’s 75-year history was the 33-year sponsorship of its top series by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and its Winston cigarette brand.

When federal legislation derailed cigarette advertising on television, RJR moved its millions from the tube to the racetrack, transforming NASCAR forever and adding layers of financial strength to its teams, drivers and promoters.

From 1971-2003, NASCAR and RJR enjoyed one of the most powerful sponsorship relationships in the history of professional sports, each entity feeding off the other as stock car racing grew from a regional curiosity to a national phenomenon.

Although giant superspeedways had opened in several states in the late 1950s and 1960s, as the calendar turned to the 1970s NASCAR’s Grand National schedule remained frozen in another time. For an organization that hinted at joining the big leagues of pro sports and longed for television exposure that might take it there, NASCAR’s 48-race schedule was far too unwieldy and tied to shorter, smaller tracks with little or no national impact.

When RJR signed the dotted line to become the top-level series’ primary sponsor in 1971, the name changed from Grand National to Winston Cup Grand National (and later to simply Winston Cup), but the evolution of the title barely scratched the surface of the shifts to come. Working with ideas suggested by RJR officials, NASCAR did major surgery on the Cup schedule for the 1972 season, abandoning outposts like Beltsville, Maryland and Macon, Georgia to concentrate on a streamlined “national” schedule that emphasized big events and a year-long march toward a driving championship.

So the 1972 season opened with 31 races on the schedule, dramatically downsized from 48 in both 1970 and 1971. The RJR/Winston effect was on.

Great things were ahead. Reynolds dumped millions into speedway improvements, from the biggest of tracks to the smallest. Red and white (not surprisingly, Winston’s colors) paint was slapped on speedway walls and buildings, adding spice to tracks that had fallen on hard times. Billboards and other signage promoting races went up in communities near racetracks.

Purses at Cup Series tracks grew, and RJR added incentives, boosting season-end points money and designing programs like the Winston Million, which paid $1 million to a driver who could win three of what then were considered the sport’s biggest races: the Daytona 500, Winston 500 (at Talladega), Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500.

The Winston, a rich all-star race, was added to the schedule. It continues today, although its name and format has changed over the years.

Perhaps most importantly, however, RJR invested millions in widespread and business-smart promotion of NASCAR, which, at the start of the 1970s, had a very limited – both in personnel and in dollars – public relations and communications presence. RJR unleashed dozens of public relations and marketing individuals into its NASCAR operations, bringing a professionalism and thoroughness rarely seen in such circles prior to the company’s arrival.

“I’ve been in this sport 50-plus years, and there have been some big moments,” team owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports. “R.J. Reynolds coming in was certainly one of the biggest. They brought in paint and built buildings and brought in media from all over the United States. And the billboards. I remember going to North Wilkesboro, and there was a big billboard about Winston and the race. That was a big deal back in the day – stuff that we never had before.”

Sports Marketing Enterprises, the sports arm of RJR, in effect became NASCAR’s public relations headquarters. SME employees produced annual NASCAR media guides, usually working through the Christmas holiday break to have updated editions ready for January distribution. Winston introduced weekly media phone press conferences with drivers, lobbied media outlets with little interest in NASCAR to cover races and developed fan experiences like the Winston Cup Preview, an annual January event in which drivers signed autographs for fans in a Winston-Salem, North Carolina, arena.

RJR also was instrumental in moving NASCAR’s annual Cup Series end-of-season awards banquet to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, a change that put the sport and its drivers in the media capital of the world for a few late-autumn days.

Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott celebrates winning the Winston Million bonus Sept. 1, 1985, at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

“Anybody at NASCAR recognizes the role that Winston played in helping promote the sport from so many different angles,” Chris Powell, a former RJR employee and now the president of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, told NBC Sports. “There was no question that the sport was a great vehicle to advertise the product. So many other corporations recognized the possibilities of promoting their products through the sport. It all made it grow and grow.”

Steadily, as RJR’s influence in the sport grew, NASCAR tracks (from the Cup Series down to weekly tracks with NASCAR affiliations) were splashed with Winston red and white. Women wearing Winston outfits offered fans entering tracks a free pack of Winstons if they would trade the brand they smoked. Red and white Winston “show” cars appeared in on-track parades prior to races and at events in towns hosting races.

The Winston name and colors were seemingly everywhere in and around tracks. If you weren’t a smoker entering the facility, you might be converted being there all day; and if you were a smoker but used a competing brand you might consider switching. The Winston presence was commanding.

As a former RJR employee put it, “It was about moving the sticks,” in-house vernacular for cigarettes.

“We were always in a tussle to outdo Marlboro,” Powell said. “There was data to show to executive management in the company that adult smokers who were NASCAR fans were more likely to be Winston smokers.”

RJR involved NASCAR drivers in all manner of activities. Race-week golf events sponsored by the company brought together drivers, NASCAR and track officials and others with track tie-ins. Winston representatives invited drivers and their team members to dinner gatherings during race weeks, with the check often reaching into four figures.

Jimmy Spencer #23
In April 1999, Jimmy Spencer runs practice laps at Bristol Motor Speedway in a Ford sponsored by Winston. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Allsport)

RJR often scheduled events pairing drivers and media members with an eye toward enhancing relations between the two. During a Talladega race week, a Winston skeetshooting competition resulted in Jeff Gordon, not particularly known as an outdoorsman, defeating big-game hunter Dale Earnhardt, who was so shocked by the result that he was seen closely examining his rifle in the aftermath.

Winston employees became involved in almost every official operation – and some not so official — related to race weekends. At Pocono one year, several Winston operatives, quite aware of the traffic difficulties associated with exiting the track after races, basically created a new exit route through a nearby wooded area.

The RJR ties to NASCAR included sponsorship of drivers and teams. Long-time Cup driver Jimmy Spencer ran for teams carrying Winston and Camel cigarettes sponsorship.

“They were probably the best sponsor I ever drove for,” Spencer told NBC Sports. “They knew what it took. They were all about promoting and all about the fans. That’s what made the sport grow. It will never be as big as it was with them. I remember (late NASCAR president) Bill France Jr. telling me it would change the sport forever.”

The key RJR officials involved with NASCAR were Ralph Seagraves, who started the Winston racing program, and T. Wayne Robertson, who directed operations through years when the Winston presence expanded significantly.

“T. Wayne was a hell of a visionary,” Spencer said. “Everybody around him learned so much. I remember him saying that they weren’t coming into the sport to take over, that they were there to help. ‘We don’t want to be bullies,’ he said. ‘We want to move it to the next level.’ ”

Some insiders predicted that Robertson, who was widely respected across motorsports and sports marketing, eventually would move into a management role with NASCAR. Tragically, he died in 1998 at the age of 47 in a boating accident.

RJR’s talent pool produced leaders who moved on to more prominent roles in racing. In addition to Powell becoming LVMS president, Ty Norris moved from RJR to lead Dale Earnhardt’s racing team and now is president of Trackhouse Racing. Curtis Gray worked at RJR before becoming president at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Grant Lynch, who directed sports operations for RJR, became president at Talladega Superspeedway and a key lieutenant for NASCAR and its ruling France family. Jeff Byrd, who was involved in media operations at RJR, became president at Bristol Motor Speedway.







Dr. Diandra: Data points to speed as key to breaking Blaney’s losing streak


Richmond Raceway presents a chance for Ryan Blaney to break a losing streak that started after his win at the regular-season-ending Daytona race in 2021. A fast scan of his stats suggests Blaney is off to a good start to do just that in 2023.

Despite a poor showing at COTA, where he failed to run any higher than 16th all race, Blaney has a season average finishing position of 12.8. He’s tied with Kevin Harvick for fourth-best average finishing position among full-time drivers.

Blaney finished second at Phoenix, where the new short track aeropackage debuted. But he has not won.

Things look good on the surface

Before getting too worried by Blaney’s drought, remember that the season is only six races old. Two of those six races were superspeedway events, and a third was a road course where running through other cars has become the norm.

With 30 more races in the season, it’s far from time to hit the panic button.

Basic statistics suggest that Blaney is matching (and sometimes beating) his teammate, defending champion Joey Logano. I’ve included the statistics for sophomore driver Austin Cindric in the table below, as well.

A table comparing wins, top-fives and top-tens for Penske drivers

Logano won Atlanta and has two top-five finishes. No driver has more than three top fives thus far. Despite Logano’s win, Blaney’s average finishing position beats Logano’s.

Cindric has two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 16.5. His best finishes are sixth-place finishes at Las Vegas and last week at COTA.

After the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty assessed to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team, Ryan Blaney occupies eighth place in the season points standings.

Things would appear to look good for breaking Blaney’s losing streak this year.

Digging Deeper

But a different pattern emerges upon diving into the loop data. The next table compares more detailed statistics for all three Penske drivers. I’ve highlighted the lowest-scoring driver’s numbers in red for each metric.

A table showing some of the metrics that must be improved for to break Blaney's losing streak

Cindric lags his more experienced teammates in number of laps led, number of fastest laps and number of laps run in the top 15. But in the other stats, Blaney is the third out of three at Penske.

Average running position measures driver performance across all laps of a race, instead of just the last one. Blaney’s best average running position of the season was at Phoenix, with a 7.47. His worst was last week at COTA, where his average running position was 29.28. Apart from Phoenix, Blaney didn’t break the top 10 in average running position at any race this year.

The average speed-on-restarts rank compares a driver’s average speed in the first two laps of each green-flag run to other drivers’ speeds. Blaney ranks 32nd out of 35 full-time drivers in average restart speed rank. That places him behind Logano and Cindric.

Speed early in a run and speed late in a run measure a driver’s speed compared to everyone else on track during the first and last 25% of each green-flag run. In both metrics, Blaney again ranks 32 out of 35.

The fact that top-ranking Penske driver Logano only ranks 12th and 16th in early and late speed respectively suggests that the problem is at least partly company wide.

In overall green-flag speed — the average speed over a full green-flag run — Blaney ranks 29th out of 35. Logano ranks 12th and Cindric 19th.

These numbers identify one challenge that must be overcome to break Blaney’s losing streak.

Year over year

I’ll set aside Cindric’s numbers in this section for the sake of clarity. Blaney’s first six races this year show a large drop-off in most metrics relative to the first six races of 2022. Logano, however, either improved or stayed relatively constant in the same metrics.

In the table below:

  • Green indicates a 10% or better improvement in 2023.
  • Red indicates the 2023 value is at least 10% worse.
  • Black indicates a change (either way) less than 10%.

A table comparing statistics for Blaney and Logano in 2022 and 2023

Blaney has led a little more than 10% of the laps he led in 2022 and has less than half the number of fastest laps. His drop-offs on the speed metrics (the last four rows) are much greater than Logano’s changes.

In 2022, Blaney was beating Logano in all four speed metrics. This year, Logano is ahead.

The Promise of Richmond

The encouraging news to pull from this analysis is that Blaney’s numbers for Phoenix are the best of the 2023 season so far. He ranked seventh in green-flag speed, second in restart rank, eight in early-run speed and fourth in late-run speed. All of that bodes well for a good finish at Richmond.

Blaney won the pole in last spring’s Richmond race and finished seventh. He finished 10th in the fall race after qualifying 10th.

And Blaney himself is optimistic.

“Richmond will be a good gauge of where you stack up – slow, a bunch of mechanical grip, tire conservation,” Blaney said. “So I’m optimistic for it, for sure. I thought we had good cars there last year in both races from the whole team, and I’m excited to get there.”

But breaking Blaney’s losing streak is only the start to a successful season. He must improve his speed metrics at other tracks if he is to contend for a championship.

NASCAR weekend schedules: Richmond/Texas


NASCAR’s three major national series will be in action this weekend at two locations.

The Cup and Xfinity Series will race at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, and the Craftsman Truck Series will share the weekend with the IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth.

MORE: Drivers to watch at Richmond

Tyler Reddick won last Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas to put Toyota in the win column for the first time this season.

Here is a look at the weekend schedule for both tracks:

Richmond Raceway (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly cloudy. High of 72. Winds 10-20 mph. 13% chance of rain.

Saturday: Light rain early. Sunshine later. High of 75. Winds 20-30 mph. 24% chance of rain at start of Xfinity race.

Sunday: Sunny. High of 62. No chance of rain at start of Cup race.

Friday, March 31

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. — Cup Series

Saturday, April 1

Garage open

  • 6 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 7 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 8:05 – 8:35 a.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 10:05 – 10:50 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 10:50 – noon — Cup qualifying (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity race (250 laps, 187 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, April 2

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (400 laps, 300 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Texas Motor Speedway (Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Scattered thunderstorms in morning. Sunny and windy later. High of 79. Winds 20-30 mph. 50% chance of rain.

Saturday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 74. Winds 10-15 mph. No chance of rain at start of Truck race.

Friday, March 31

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • Noon – 5 p.m. — Truck Series

Saturday, April 1

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. — Truck Series

Track activity

  • 10:35 – 11:05 a.m. — Truck practice
  • 11:05 a.m. – noon — Truck qualifying
  • 4:30 p.m. — Truck race (167 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)



NASCAR fines Daniel Suarez $50,000 for pit road incident


NASCAR fined Daniel Suarez $50,000 for running into the cars of Alex Bowman and teammate Ross Chastain on pit road after last weekend’s race at Circuit of the Americas.

Suarez was upset after a potential top-five finish was lost in an incident in overtime.

MORE: Appeals Panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers 

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“It’s uncharacteristic of Daniel,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “There’s no excuse for what happened.”