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$60 million Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway renovation plan revealed

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Speedway Motorsports Inc. officials on Tuesday revealed their long-awaited $60 million renovation plan to bring NASCAR racing back to Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway.

This is the first public revealing of the renovation plan after several closed-door meetings between SMI officials and representatives of Nashville Mayor David Briley’s administration.

“This is your racetrack,” said Jerry Caldwell, Bristol Motor Speedway executive vice president told Metro Board of Fair commissioners, according to The Tennessean. “This racetrack belongs to the people of Nashville. We see tremendous potential … and are willing to offer our resources and experience in partnership with you.”

SMI’s plan would increase seating capacity of the .596-mile short track from its current size of 15,000 to 30,000, as well as include an expanded concourse, premium seating, pedestrian tunnels and sound barriers, according to The Tennesseean. Caldwell also revealed a financing plan that could be done through revenue bonds and revenue generated through the use of speedway property.

A previous funding plan by SMI for $54 million in bond payments and $2 million in a city cash subsidy was rejected by Briley’s administration, which wants the project to be a private investment and not include any funding from taxpayers, according to The Tennessean.

One other major obstacle remains: a new $275 million Major League Soccer stadium – and surrounding mixed-use development that would include private residences – will have one of its abutting walls only 20 feet from the Speedway’s main entrance. It has been a stumbling block that neither the city, the soccer team nor SMI have been able to reach a compromise on.

Nashville SC, the group that will bring MLS soccer to the city and is behind construction of the new stadium, has remained adamant that its plans are set in stone.

Our group has worked diligently over the past eighteen months to engage with stakeholders, the Fairgrounds staff and the architects to design a stadium and surrounding development that safely serves the property and future users of the Fairgrounds,” Zach Hunt, a spokesperson for the MLS ownership group, said in a statement, according to The Tennessean.

“The Mayor and Metro Council made the boundaries for our project very clear and we’ve maintained our commitment to building a first-class venue within those boundaries.”

Metro council member Robert Swope told The Tennessean, “We have a chance, if we redo the speedway along with this (soccer stadium), to turn this facility into the crown jewel of Nashville. But that only happens if you bring an operator like (Speedway Motorsports) to help with the speedway renovations.”

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Bristol official responds to report regarding Nashville efforts

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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.”

SMI executive discusses 2020 schedule, racing at Nashville

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Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., says many changes have been discussed for the 2020 NASCAR schedule and that he’s optimistic to have a NASCAR national series race in the future at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

The 2020 season marks the final year in the five-year sanctioning agreements between NASCAR and tracks. NASCAR President Steve Phelps has said that “everything is in play” when examining the Cup schedule.

“I think there are all sorts of ideas, and you always like to think about different ideas and not be constrained by the box you’re in, think creativity,” Smith said of discussions about the 2020 Cup schedule. “The thing I think will be encouraging for race fans out there is that everybody involved wants to do something that is fantastic for racing. Wherever we end up will be something that is great for racing and NASCAR and race fans.”

Smith did not reveal any specific ideas being discussed.

Smith also is looking to bring a NASCAR national series race to Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

Speedway Motorsports and Formosa Productions are exploring a joint effort to bring major motorsports to the Nashville track. Formosa Productions has a multi-year contract with the Metro Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners to promote and manage the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Cup last raced in Nashville in 1984.

“We’re continuing to speak to leaders in the city, to work towards the goal of being able to bring racing, NASCAR back to Nashville,” Smith said. “It’s fairly complicated, lots of people involved, lots of different parties involved. It’s a goal of ours, and I think it would be fantastic for the sport.”

Smith said that based on “construction and everything” 2021 “would probably be the soonest” the track could host a NASCAR national series event if deals can be made.

The key would be upgrading the track to NASCAR standards.

“We have a really good idea of what it would take to get it NASCAR ready,” Smith said. “There’s a wide range of what you could do. There’s a minimal level and there’s our level, so I think there’s tremendous potential for that facility. It’s a legendary facility in the world of racing, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, and it also serves as the location for the state fair, for regular community activities. My vision would be something that would serve all those purposes for the next 50 years.”

During the Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners meeting earlier this month, Councilman Robert Swope told the Board: “Since Nashville lost its Cup races in 1984, this is the first opportunity for a major vision for the future of our track. I encourage the Fair Board, Mayor (David) Briley and all stakeholders to seize this opportunity.”

Deal reached that could bring NASCAR back to Nashville Fairgrounds

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A deal has been reached between track operator Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway that could lead to the return of NASCAR to the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, BMS announced Wednesday.

The deal is “an agreement to explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” to the .596-mile track.

The two entities will work “on a long-range plan of significant track improvements and high-profile race events that could include NASCAR events upon the facility meeting standards.”

The deal must be approved by Nashville’s Metro Board of Fair Commissioners.

“Tony and our team both see the same bright future for Fairgrounds Speedway,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of BMS, in a press release. “Nashville has a special reputation as one of the most exciting tracks in the history of motorsports, and the region has a remarkably large and passionate fan base. The motorsports industry – the sanctioning bodies, drivers and race teams – is excited about Nashville’s potential to be a regular site for major events. With Metro supportive of that vision, we are eager to start working tomorrow with the city, Tony (Formosa) and other stakeholders at the Fairgrounds and beyond, to develop a first-class racing facility and program.”

2018 was Formosa’s first year in a five-year agreement to run and promote the track after beating Bristol Motor Speedway’s bid to operate the track last year. Bristol is owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

“This is terrific news for fans of racing and drivers all across the country and will bring a brighter future for Nashville Fairgrounds,” Formosa said in a press release. “I’m excited to work with Bruton and Marcus Smith and the Bristol team who I feel will bring this historic facility back to where it belongs. Today marks an exciting new beginning for the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.”

Autoweek reports that if the deal is approved it would see Claire Formosa, vice president of Formosa Productions, become a full-time employee at BMS as a liaison between the two tracks.

Tom Formosa told the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners in October a deal was “still very premature” according to a report by The Tennessean that said a possible deal could lead to the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series competing on the track.

Fairgrounds Speedway last hosted a Cup race in 1984 and Xfinity and Truck Series races in 2000.

Marcus Smith, the CEO of SMI, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway” that “there is potential” for Cup to make a return to the track.

“That is really dependent on how big the vision is we all settle in on,” Smith said. “My preference is to always go big. If we really set our sights on it, that would be the ultimate goal.”

Smith said the track, located roughly four miles from downtown Nashville, “would be a great place” to try holding a mid-week race.

But before any of that can happen, the track would need to see some major improvements.

“I love the classic style, the huge canopy that hangs over the grandstand,” Smith said. “I think there’s a lot of the character and the history you want to preserve. But you have to bring it up to current specs with proper crash wall, with SAFER foam, a catch fence and network-worthy lighting. There’s a lot that needs to be done.

“The good news is we’ve done it before.”

Smith said work on the track would “ideally” begin in 2019. The earliest any major changes to the NASCAR schedule can occur is 2020.

Smith also said the partnership between SMI and the Formosa’s has “gotta be long-term” and “that’s the only way it really makes sense to do the things we want to do.”

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SMI executive says it won’t add Roval concept to its other tracks

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CONCORD, N.C. — Don’t expect the Roval to be incorporated into other tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. even after Sunday’s debut at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m not looking at any of our properties to add a road course …  Rovalizing as you said,” Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said after Ryan Blaney’s victory. “I feel like this is unique to Charlotte, and we’ve got other speedways out there that produce their own unique action.”

MORE: Roval provides roller coaster of emotions to playoff drivers

SMI owns eight tracks that host 12 Cup points races annually. SMI’s tracks are Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway.

Charlotte Motor Speedway spent millions to upgrade the road course in its infield and attach it to the oval to create the 17-turn, 2.28-mile track. The move was made to add excitement to Charlotte’s playoff date, an event that had seen a steady decline in attendance in recent years.

Sunday’s race was one of the most anticipated NASCAR races in years because of the new concept and unknowns in a first event.

Charlotte has been innovative through the years. It was the first large NASCAR track to have lights. But after many other tracks added lights, the concept was no longer novel or fresh for fans.

Smith doesn’t want that to happen to the Roval.

“I do think that we can learn from our history,” he said.

Also, he suggests additional Rovals aren’t needed at his company’s tracks — even though five of SMI’s tracks are 1.5-miles long — because of the 2019 rules package that NASCAR is set to unveil this week. The new package, which has elements of what was run in the All-Star Race in May, is intended to tighten the competition.

“I’m really excited about all the things I’m hearing about next year’s racing with the new aero and power package,” Smith said. “I think it’s going to be fantastic for the whole sport.”