Jason Bergeron

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SMI pushes back on Nashville Fair commissioner’s comments

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Speedway Motorsports’ Marcus Smith and Jerry Caldwell each pushed back Tuesday on critical comments made by a Nashville Fair Board Commissioner alleging SMI has “failed to engage” with it regarding plans to bring NASCAR to the historic Fairgrounds Speedway.

The comments by Commissioner Jason Bergeron, reported by The Tennessean, were made at Nashville’s monthly Fair Board meeting and revolved around the dispute over a $335 million Major League Soccer stadium that has been approved by the city and, pending approval by the mayor, would be built next to the speedway.

“We need to decouple any notion of racing from this right now,” Bergeron said. “That process hasn’t even started because (Speedway Motorsports) has failed to engage.”

Smith, the CEO and president of SMI, responded on Twitter by calling Bergeron’s accusation “just not true.”

Bristol Motor Speedway, which has spearheaded the attempt to bring NASCAR racing back to Nashville, released the following statement from Caldwell, the track’s vice president and general manager:

We’ve presented the city – Mayor Cooper and the Fair Board – with a plan to restore the historic speedway and give it an economically viable future. In meetings with Mayor Cooper, his team and other city officials during the past several weeks, we’ve been asked to evaluate different operating scenarios and have provided information to the city as requested. We’ve done everything we have been asked to do and have met with everyone we have been asked to meet with. We will continue to provide any assistance necessary as the city considers what’s best for the future of the Fairgrounds.

Because the Fair Board has a Metro Charter-obligation to maintain the speedway, we have been and continue to be optimistic that the commissioners and the mayor will be supportive of a partnership with BMS to modernize and financially sustain the speedway.

Our team has long believed in the future of the historic speedway and the Fairgrounds. We became even more excited about that future when Nashville was awarded an MLS franchise and committed to build a new soccer stadium. It is within the city’s reach to have a thriving multi-use sports and entertainment complex to create a true landmark for the city

SMI seeks an agreement with Nashville to bring top-tier stock-car racing back to the city but has not been able to work through financing and other issues. SMI proposed a $60 million renovation plan in May for the historic .596-mile track that would increase seating capacity from 15,000 to 30,000, among other projects.

A previous plan for $54 million in bond payments was rejected by then-Mayor David Briley. John Cooper defeated Bailey to become the city’s mayor in September.

The Tennessean reported in December that the mayor’s spokesperson confirmed that the administration received a new proposal from SMI and it was being reviewed.

Cooper published an opinion column on Sunday expressing his desire to reach an agreement that works for both the soccer and racing communities.

“One historical use is auto racing, which is mandated by our Metro Charter,” Cooper wrote. “I’m working to find a path for racing’s success, and in these negotiations, I’ve secured additional space to allow for necessary speedway improvements. Higher-level auto racing will attract more visitors and ensure the long-term sustainability of the fairgrounds.”

Last month, Smith told NBC Sports that he was still “very optimistic” about NASCAR racing returning to Nashville, which is the new host of the Cup Series’ awards banquet.

“Everything we’re working on seems to be moving forward in a reasonable pace,” Smith said. “I don’t think I can really put a timeframe on it right now because it would just be speculation.”

There is a push for Nashville to potentially be part of the NASCAR schedule in 2021. The schedule is expected to be announced in early April.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said last month: “I would say Nashville as a market is a high priority for us in 2021.”

Bristol official responds to report regarding Nashville efforts

Fairgounds Speedway Nashville
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An executive involved in Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s efforts to bring NASCAR national series racing back to Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, responded Tuesday to a report about the company’s talks with city officials.

SMI officials have had discussions with Mayor David Briley and his administration about how to finance the upgrades needed to the track to bring NASCAR national series races there. The Tennessean reported Tuesday that SMI pitched a plan that called for $54 million in bond payments and $2 million cash from the city. The proposal was rejected by Briley’s administration.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, issued a statement responding to The Tennessean’s article.

“Our very first step has been to engage Mayor Briley to explore potential renovation of the speedway that would allow major races to return to Nashville. This renovation can be accomplished through a cooperative partnership by utilizing revenues from increased activity at the Fairgrounds and private investment without the use of current Metro tax dollars.

“Recognizing that the city has an obligation to maintain their racetrack long into the future, we are offering an opportunity for private partnership that delivers an attractive, long-term solution to improve a historic, public treasure that has been in decline in recent years.

“We look forward to sharing our proposal with the Fair Board, Councilman (Colby) Sledge and the neighboring community. We are confident that this partnership will achieve a brighter, more successful future for the speedway, the Fairgrounds and the community. We appreciate interest by the mayor and Fair Board so far because in the end we all want the same thing – a first class facility.”

During Tuesday’s Fair Board meeting, board member Jason Bergeron lamented a “transparency problem” with plans Speedway Motorsports Inc. has for Fairgrounds Speedway.

“It’s been eight months and we haven’t heard any details, and I don’t think there’s been any real talks with the community … it’s just a little frustrating,” Bergeron said during the meeting, according to video by The Tennessean. “We have these renovations ready to go with the speedway. It keeps going on and on. We have no concrete proposal and there has been no real engagement with the community.”

When asked earlier this month about Nashville hosting a national series race, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said on the Dale Jr. Download: “What’s going to happen moving forward into 2021? Are we going to be racing in Nashville or not? I don’t know. I know that at least I’ve been told, (Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO) Marcus (Smith) has had discussions with the folks in Nashville at the fairgrounds.

“How likely is that going to happen? Right now he has no sanctioning agreement for 2021, so he can’t bring anything there. If he wants to bring something there, obviously NASCAR has to have an involvement. They are our dates. We will absolutely (get involved) when it’s time.”